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Alternative medicine studies criticised by researchers

Academics call to end clinical trials involving "highly implausible treatments" such as homeopathy

Researchers have called for an end to clinical trials that involve alternative treatments such as homeopathy, reiki, acupuncture and reflexology.

Writing in Trends in Molecular Medicine, David Gorski of Wayne State University School of Medicine and Steven Novella of Yale University, say that randomised clinical trials testing these therapies 'cannot be scientifically or ethically justified” due to the low likelihood of success.

“In these days of extreme scarcity of research funding, it is difficult to justify spending precious research dollars carrying out randomised clinical trials of treatments where the likelihood of producing a true positive trial is so low and that have real risks,” say the authors in the paper 'Clinical trials of integrative medicine: testing whether magic works?'

The duo point out that in a system of evidence-based medicine, treatment do not reach the stage of a randomise clinical trial without first having amassed preclinical evidence – via experimentation in animal models or cell cultures - to justify the great cost and effort associated with large-scale trials on human subjects.

This has not been the case for many complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs), according to Gorski and Novella. They single out homeopathy -  a remedy that contains an extremely diluted version of a compound that causes the symptoms of the disease it's intended to treat – as a treatment that “violates multiple laws of physics”.

Despite this the trial registry www.clinicaltrials.gov contains many examples of ongoing studies involving these CAMS, which have not demonstrated evidence  in preclinical studies.

“We hope this will be the first of many opportunities to discuss in the peer-reviewed literature the perils and pitfalls of doing clinical trials on treatment modalities that have already been refuted by basic science," said Gorski. "The two key examples in the article, homeopathy and reiki, are about as close to impossible from basic science considerations alone as you can imagine.

Novella added: "Such studies are unlikely to demonstrate benefit, and proponents are unlikely to stop using the treatment when the study is negative. Such research only serves to lend legitimacy to otherwise dubious practices."

26th August 2014

From: Research



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