Anyone who has followed me knows that I am not a big fan of alternative medicine. Not because I have anything against it, it is just because it doesn´t really work. Study after study has found that alternative medicine is just NO good (1-4), and when they have found that something really works, well, it stopped being called alternative medicine and started being called MEDICINE.
The thing is, sometimes when you visit one of these ¨alternative therapists¨, you may come out feeling better and thinking ¨his medicine or therapy is working¨. Now, a couple of factors may come into play why ¨his therapy may be working¨, like the ones I mentioned in one of my previous blogs (click here). But, people sometimes don´t understand this quite well so I want to explain it with an example.
Three years ago they did a study on asthma (5). Now, I first want to mention that we know how to treat asthma. If you have asthma and take your medication you probably won´t have any problems and can live a normal life. However, if asthma is not treated properly it can lead to complications and even death. annually 250,000 people worldwide die due to asthma (6).
Ok, so the experiment went like this: There were 4 groups of people with asthma. Each group was treated with a different technique. One group was given the real medicine (albuterol), another group was given fake medicine (fake albuterol or fake inhaler), another group received sham acupuncture (there is really no difference between sham acupuncture and real acupuncture (7-12)), and the last group received nothing, they were only controlled.
SUBJECTIVELY all 4 groups improved a lot. A visual analogue scale was used to measure this (with 0 indicating no improvement and 10 indicating complete improvement). The results went as follows:
- ALBUTEROL- 50% improvement
- FAKE ALBUTEROL- 45% improvement
- SHAM ACUPUNCTURE- 46% improvement
- NO INTERVENTION CONTROL- 21% improvement
This is so important because there was really no difference between the fake treatments and the real treatments. After the experiment the patients felt quite good.
Now, OBJECTIVELY, meaning they can measure it (they measured the percent change in Maximum Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 Second), they all improved!! And here are the results:
- ALBUTEROL- 20.1% improvement
- FAKE ALBUTEROL- 7.5% improvement
- SHAM ACUPUNCTURE- 7.1% improvement
- No-INTERVENTION CONTROL- 7.1% improvement
The real medicine worked 3 TIMES BETTER than all the fake medicines, even though subjectively there was barely any difference. This is important because, like I said before, if asthma is not treated properly it can lead to a lot of complications and even death!! Subjectively you may go to an ALTERNATIVE THERAPIST and feel great, but objectively it probably isn´t helping you too much. Because alternative medicine is no better than Placebo (1-4).
Another thing to take into account from this study, is the power of the brain. Because even though the 3 ¨fake groups¨ are inefficient in treating asthma, they (objectively) improved the outcome of each patient. Even the group that was only being observed!!! This phenomenon is called Hawthorne effect and it means: Clinical improvement in a group of patients in a clinical trial that is attributable to the fact of being under study!!
Hoped you liked it
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- Asbjørn Hróbjartsson, M.D., and Peter C. Gøtzsche, M.D. Is the Placebo Powerless?-An analysis of clinical trials comparing Placebo with no Treatment.N Engl J Med 2001; 344:1594-1602.
- Michael E. Wechsler, M.D., John M. Kelley, Ph.D., Ingrid O.E. Boyd, M.P.H., Stefanie Dutile, B.S., Gautham Marigowda, M.B., Irving Kirsch, Ph.D., Elliot Israel, M.D., and Ted J. Kaptchuk. Active Albuterol or Placebo, Sham Acupuncture, or No Intervention in Asthma.N Engl J Med 2011; 365:119-126
- Linde K, Streng A, Jürgens S, Hoppe A, Brinkhaus B, Witt C, Wagenpfeil S, Pfaffenrath V, Hammes MG, Weidenhammer W, Willich SN, Melchart D. Acupuncture for patients with migraine: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2005;293:2118–25
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- Haake M, Müller HH, Schade-Brittinger C, Basler HD, Schäfer H, Maier C, Endres HG, Trampisch HJ, Molsberger A. German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low back pain: randomized, multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1892–8
- Witt C, Brinkhaus B, Jena S, Linde K, Streng A, Wagenpfeil S, Hummelsberger J, Walther HU, Melchart D, Willich SN. Acupuncture in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomised trial. Lancet. 2005;366:136–43
- Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Avins AL, Erro JH, Ichikawa L, Barlow WE, Delaney K, Hawkes R, Hamilton L, Pressman A, Khalsa PS, Deyo RA. A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:858–66
- Madsen MV, Gøtzsche PC, Hróbjartsson A. Acupuncture treatment for pain: systematic review of randomised clinical trials with acupuncture, placebo acupuncture, and no acupuncture groups. BMJ. 2009;338:a3115
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