Dr. Leslie Batten
Naturopathic Physician

(p) 503.860.4338 | (f) 866.561.8033

Musings of a Portland Naturopathic Physician

Getting Defensive. Or Not. Either Way, I'll Bite.

If you are on Twitter and follow health-related blogs or people, you likely saw reference earlier this month to an essay which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Its topic? "Refocus Questionable US-Funded Complementary and Alternative Therapies Research." Its content? A litany of how the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) "has failed to uncover many successful uses for complemetary and alternative medicine, and these negative findings have had little effect on changing certain practices and patient perceptions."

Negative findings are useful, actually. It helps guide us when educating patients, when considering modalities in our treatment plans. So, what negative findings did this author focus on? Here is a sampling: inhaling lemon and lavender scents does not promote wound healing; prayer does not cure AIDS or speed recovery from breast reconstruction surgery; magnets do not offer relief from arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or migraine headaches.

Fair enough. Worded as they are above, I honestly don't know a single licensed naturopathic physician who would have thought that any of those would show a positive outcome. So, what's really going on?

Let's start with the lavender study, published in 2008 (read it here). The question was how aromatherapy affects health and whether it would improve immune status, wound healing, or pain control if people were exposed to either lemon or lavender. The results of the study were that lemon enhanced mood and lavender had no effect on mood. In 2012, it was found that lavender is "an effective medical plant in treating inflammation, depression, stress and mild anxiety in Europe and USA" (2012 lavender study). Two different studies four years apart, two different conclusions.

Prayer. According to the JAMA article, prayer did not cure AIDS or speed recovery from breast reconstruction surgery. One study (prayer study), published in 2006, showed that "some spiritual practices may help people with HIV cope with psychological distress and improve quality of life." No mention was made about curing AIDS. Other studies on the NCCAM site had similar conclusions. I am unsure where the JAMA author got his.

The final negative finding discussed in this article was magnets and their inability to relieve pain from various ailments. Although "scientific evidence does not support the use of magnets for pain relief", the very next paragraph (magnets for pain study) references some studies that suggest "a benefit from using magnets". One of those studies is from 2005, "A Critical Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Static Magnets for Pain Relief" (critical review study). It had the following conclusion: "The weight of evidence from published, well-conducted controlled trials suggests that static magnetic fields are able to induce analgesia." ("Analgesia" is a fancy word for "pain relief".) And a 2012 study on PubMed (PubMed 2012 study), which was randomized and controlled concluded that static magnetic field exposure "as a drug-free, fast and easy to use method could potentially help stomatologists, who seek for alternative methods of local anesthesia, especially when systemic anesthesia is contraindicated." In other words, dentists and other doctors who work in people's mouths can use magnets for local anesthesia.

Bottom line? When you read an essay like the one in JAMA, don't take its opinion as indisputible truth. Do a little bit of digging, see if what the author states is true (your chance to play medical detective!) or conjecture. In this case, my sense is that the author really needed to blow off steam. So did I.

Interested in the studies NCCAM has done? Take a peek at their very extensive health info page and put on your "prove it to me" cap!

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         What is a Naturopathic Physician?
         "I Have Cancer"
         Take Back Your Health
         The ABCs of Health
         I'll Bite
         Health...The Absence of Disease?