Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine

Time to update the Academic Woo Aggregator

My post from Monday finally goaded me to do it. Yes, it’s time to update the Academic Woo Aggregator. I’ve been far too remiss in doing so, and at least a couple of new candidates have come to my attention as I continue to keep my eye out for more.

First, from the U.S. News & World Report article, I find a “worthy” candidate for inclusion, namely Children’s Memorial Hospital, which is affiliated with Northwestern University. As evidence, I submit excerpts from its website:

  1. Energy healing: Our bodies are always trying to move toward balance and health. Energy healing encourages the flow of our natural energies. The term “energy healing” covers a wide range of styles and techniques which serve to positively affect the human energy field. Hands-on energy work assesses disturbances in the human energy field, and helps to aid the individual’s body to enhance the natural flow of healthy life force. Patients and their families report that energy healing often provides a sense of deep relaxation, and reduction in the experience of pain. Energy healing is also called “touch healing” in our studies. Research is presently being conducted to provide evidence to show how the disturbances and movement of these subtle energies may affect the physical condition of the human body.
  2. Touch healing: Megregian is also a trained touch healer. She says that touch healing is an ancient form of healing with no known adverse reactions. The technique is based on the idea that energy and consciousness underlies the physical and biochemical structure of the body. Touch healing practitioners gently place their hands on different places on the body to manipulate and/or increase the flow of the body’s own energy. The lack of flow is thought to create energy blocks which prevent the cells from getting the subtle energy they need to maintain health or return to health.
  3. Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient form of treatment that has been used in China for more than 2000 years. Extremely thin needles are placed in the skin to improve energy flow along energy meridians that correspond to different body organs. Acupuncture has been reported to be effective in reducing pain, nausea and vomiting and headaches.

I’d say it’s a worthy addition, given that its text sounds more as though it came from Dr. Mercola’s website or than from that of a serious academic medical center. I’ll add it as offering reiki or energy healing modalities.

The other addition is the Integrative Care Project of the University of Kentucky Colleges of Medicine and Health Sciences. I’m a little ambivalent about adding this one to the Woo Aggregator. After all, it does a pretty good job of talking the talk of applying science and evidence-based medicine to “integrative” medicine. Perusing the various webpages there, I see all sorts of pious prose about how the faculty there is seeking to apply only the most rigorous standards of evidence-based medicine to CAM therapies. However, it makes the grade for inclusion through its claim that “the body of scientific evidence continues to build regarding CAM therapies.” In reality, the body of scientific evidence supporting the vast majority of CAM therapies is no more convincing now than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I also give UK props for these admissions, though:

  • “The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually, as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to health care emerge.”
  • “Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not been scientifically proven.”

It just goes to show, though, that even advocates of CAM realize that conventional medicine will happily appropriate formerly “alternative” therapies if sufficient scientific and clinical evidence is developed to show that they work, which is why I continue to insist that there should be no such thing as “alternative” medicine. It’s a false dichotomy. There is medicine that works, medicine that doesn’t, and medicine whose efficacy is unknown.

Another reason I decided to add it to the list is from what I found in a discussion on the Quantum Touch forums:

Here in KY, our University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center has palliative care that utilizes Reiki, Healing Touch, and Jin-Shin Jyutsu practitioners. On the other end of the spectrum, my Mom had a friend when she worked there in the early 90’s that was simply a “faith healer,” and this nurse worked in the trauma ward. While doing vital rounds, med rounds, etc., she’d give a 5 minute session to the patients that seemed open to the idea.

UK now has a quantum physics program in their Masters degree options…since that happened, the hospital has REALLY “opened up” to allowing CAM (complimentary & alternative medicine) practitioners to work within the parameters of networking with patients, primary care doctors, supporting staff (nurses, etc.), and other specialists. It’s happening here too…just maybe a bit slower than other areas of the country.

So which is correct? The expected prose about devotion to science, scientific evidence, and evidence-based medicine is there, but “on the ground” the impression seems to be much different, at least to this particular woo maven. This could indicate either that the woo maven is mistaken, or that all that lip service to evidence-based medicine is nothing but talk.

Finally, there’s the Department of Integrative Medicine at Hartford Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Connecticut. Here’s what its website says about reiki:

The technique is based on the idea that everything in the universe is made up of energy and this life force energy flows around us and through us nourishing our cells, organs, and glands. When one’s energy is low, imbalanced, or restricted by stress, injury, or illness, we are more susceptible to discomfort, further illness and disease. When one’s energy is high or balanced, one is more likely to feel relaxed and the body’s own innate healing abilities are awakened and utilized for healing. Reiki has also been called hands-on healing and energy work…Research on various types of energy work has shown that, in addition to deep relaxation, Reiki can promote a reduction in anxiety, muscle tension, and pain, can promote accelerated wound healing, and can promote wellness and a greater sense of well-being. It is useful during illness, after injuries, pre- and post-op, as well as for health promotion.

Nope, not a single word about evidence, science, or that there is no evidence that reiki does any of the things claimed for it better than placebo. Here’s what the website says about therapeutic touch:

It is an intentionally directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses his hands as a focus to facilitate the healing process. TT re-patterns the body’s energy field so that one can use the body’s own natural healing potential. There have been over 33 doctoral thesis and many research studies compiled to attest to its benefits. Some of the research was funded by the National Institute of Health.

What are the Benefits of TT?

  • Induces a relaxation response
  • Alleviates tension and anxiety
  • Alters the perception of pain
  • Noticeably enhances the body’s natural healing process

No, therapeutic touch most certainly does not enhance the body’s natural healing process; at least no well-designed study has shown that it can. It may induce a relaxation response, but that’s because of the manner in which it is given, which is designed to try to get the patient to relax. In any case, therapeutic touch is so ludicrous that even a 9-year-old girl was able devise a blinded study that showed that therapeutic touch practitioners are completely unable to detect “life energy” better than random chance alone. Therapeutic touch is no better than reiki and is nothing more than rank quackery. Yet, developed by a nurse at NYU, it is being taught in nursing schools and offered in academic medical centers all over the world.

Yes, I think that Hartford Hospital richly deserves to be added to the Woo Aggregator. It just occurred to me that, at this rate, I’ll soon alienate pretty much every academic medical center in the country, and then I’ll be screwed if I ever need to find a new job. Be that as it may, I plan to soldier on for now. So please check out the updated Academic Woo Aggregator. If there’s an academic CAM or integrative medicine program that you know about and that I haven’t included on the list, by all means let me know about it! I want to keep this list as up-to-date as possible with regular updates.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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