The Best Acupuncture Study EVER!

I have previously discussed in detail the reasons why, despite a fairly large and often positive research literature, I believe the evidence is strong that acupuncture works almost entirely as a placebo. Shortly after posting my most recent discussion of this issue, I ran across a paper which illustrates the phenomenon in an unusual and unexpected way. Steven Novella has already reviewed this paper on his blog, so I won’t go through it in detail, but I did want to call attention to this odd and interesting bit of evidence.

Chae Y, Lee IS, Jung WM, Park K, Park HJ, Wallraven C. Psychophysical and neurophysiological responses to acupuncture stimulation to incorporated rubber hand. Neurosci Lett. 2015 Feb 11;591C:48-52. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2015.02.025. [Epub ahead of print]

The researchers in this paper used a process called “incorporation,” a bit of psychological sleight-of-hand (pun intended) that allowed them to create in their subjects the sensation that a rubber model of a hand was actually part of their own body. In brief, then hand subjects sit with one hand hidden from view below a table and with a rubber hand positioned where their own hand would be if it was rested on the table. They then stroked the rubber hand and the subjects’ own hand simultaneously, creating the sensory illusion that the rubber hand belonged to the subject’s body.

This is weird enough, and says some interesting things about how our brains work and how they don’t always interpret the world around us correctly. But in this experiment, the incorporation was just the first step. The investigators then performed acupuncture on the rubber hand and measured responses in a couple of ways. They asked patients about signs of what is called DeQi, a sensation associated with acupuncture that is sometimes used in acupuncture studies as a marker of treatment effects. They also looked at activity in the subjects’ brains using a functional MRI unit.

What they found was that performing acupuncture on a rubber hand that one had been tricked by a visual and tactile illusion into seeing as one’s own hand had the same kinds of effects on the subject as acupuncture practices on their real body.

The findings of the present study clearly demonstrate that acupuncture stimulation to a rubber hand resulted in the expe-rience of the DeQi sensation when the rubber hand was fully incorporated into the body.

The present study also demonstrated that acupuncture stimu-lation to the incorporated rubber hand was associated with brain activations in the DLPFC, insula, SII, and MT visual area. These findings are consistent with those of previous studies which found that acupuncture stimulation leads to common brain activations inthe sensorimotor cortical network, including the insula and SII Although acupuncture stimulation was only applied to the incor-porated rubber hand in the present study, the stimulation clearly produced similar brain activations as does acupuncture to the realhand.

Interestingly, this is not the first study showing that so-called phantom acupuncture can mimic real acupuncture, though what “real” means in this context is unclear.

Though I am certain acupuncturists will disagree, what does seem clear is that if you can induce the sensations and brain activity associated with acupuncture by using needles in places not considered “real” acupuncture points, fake needles that don’t penetrate the skin, toothpicks, and now even needles poked into a fake hand not even connected to a subject’s body, the sensations and brain activity you are invoking come from the mind of the subject, not the acupuncture. What clearer definition of a placebo is there than a treatment that exerts its effects entirely through the beliefs of the subject without ever having to actually be applied to their body?

 

 

Posted in Acupuncture | 2 Comments

What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So: Pre-anesthetic Bloodwork in Dogs & Cats

I recently gave a lecture at the Western Veterinary Conference called “What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So.” The purpose of this was to take some common or controversial beliefs and practices in veterinary medicine and discuss the scientific evidence pertaining to these. This was not intended as a definitive, “final word” on these subjects, but as an illustration of how weak and problematic the evidence often is even behind widely held beliefs. In some cases, these practices or ideas may actually be valid, but without good quality scientific evidence, we should always be cautious and skeptical about them.

Eventually, I will post recordings of the presentations themselves, but for now I am posting a summary of each topic.

Each starts with a focused clinical question using the PICO format.

P- Patient, Problem Define clearly the patient in terms of signalment, health status, and other factors relevant to the treatment, diagnostic test, or other intervention you are considering. Also clearly and narrowly define the problem and any relevant comorbidities. This is a routine part of good clinical practice and so does not represent “extra work” when employed as part of the EBVM process.

I- Intervention Be specific about what you are considering doing, what test, drug, procedure, or other intervention you need information about.

C- Comparator What might you do instead of the intervention you are considering? Nothing is done in isolation, and the value of most of our interventions can only be measured relative to the alternatives. Always remember that educating the client, rather than selling a product or procedure, should often be considered as an alternative to any intervention you are contemplating.

O- Outcome What is the goal of doing something? What, in particular, does the client wish to accomplish. Being clear and explicit, with yourself and the client, about what you are trying to achieve (cure, extended life, improved performance, decreased discomfort, etc.) is essentially in evidence-based practice.

This is then followed by a summary of the evidence available at each of the levels in the following pyramid (which is a pragmatic reinterpretation of the classical pyramid of evidence that is a bit more useful for general practice veterinarians).

evidence pyramid

Finally, I list the Bottom Line, which is my interpretation of the evidence.

Pre-anesthetic Bloodwork in Healthy Animals

  1. Clinical question

P- healthy dogs & cats

I- routine cbc/chem before anesthesia

C- no bloodwork

O- mortality, complications, change plan

2. Synthetic Veterinary Literature

a. Systematic Reviews- none
b. CATs- none
c. Guidelines- none

3. Primary Veterinary Literature-

  • cbc/biochemistry profiles for 1537 dogs
  • university surgery population
  • variety of ASA stages
  • No indication in PE/Hx for labwork in 84%
  • Recategorized in ASA level- 8%
  • Procedure postponed- 0.8%
  • Additional therapy- 1.5%
  • Change in protocol- 0.2%
  • Complications in 1.9% of patients
    • Lab values normal or unrelated in 84% of these
    • 3.8% incidence with lab abnormalities
    • 1.8% incidence with normal labs (no statistical difference)

The changes revealed by pre-operative screening were usually of little clinical relevance and did not prompt major changes to the anaesthetic technique…In dogs, pre-anaesthetic laboratory examination is unlikely to yield additional important information if no potential problems are identified in the history and on physical examination.

(Alef, 2008)

  • 101 dogs
  • Private practice
  • > 7 years of age (avg=11)
  • Routine and emergent cases
  • 87% had no pre-existing conditions
  • New problem found- 29.7%
  • Anesthesia cancelled- 12.9%
  • Further tests- 5.9%
  • Euthanized- 4%
  • Procedure postponed- 1%
  • Additional therapy- 1%
  • Age did not predict abnormalities
  • Abnormalities not associated with complications

This study concluded that screening of geriatric patients important and that sub-clinical disease could be present in nearly 30 % of these patients. The value of screening before anaesthesia is perhaps more questionable in terms of anaesthetic practice but it is an appropriate time to perform such an evaluation.

(Joubert, 2007)

  • 100 cats > 6 years old
  • Not pre-anesthetic screening, just general screening
  • No know abnormalities on Hx
  • Many not normal on PE
  • Lots of abnormalities
    • 13% increased wbc
    • 29% increased creatinine
    • 15% increased BUN
    • 25% increased glucose
    • 4% increased T4
    • 6% increased ALT

Some new diagnoses

  • 14% FIV positive
  • 2% CKD
  • 1% hyperthyroidism
  • 1% UTI
  • Relevance to pre-anesthetic screening?
  • Some abnormalities were related to choice of reference interval
  • Many abnormalities were clinically irrelevant
  • Not truly screening since some had PE abnormalities

(Paepe, 2013)

4. Human Literature

a. Systematic Reviews

CBC

  • Abnormal <1% to 5%
  • Change protocol- 0.1% to 2.7%

Hemostasis

  • Abnormal 3.8-15.6%
  • Change protocol- rarely

Biochemistry

  • Abnormal <1% to 5%
  • Change protocol- rarely

Urinalysis

  • Abnormal 1-35.1%
  • Change protocol- 1% to 2.8%

The tests reviewed produce a wide range of abnormal results, even in apparently healthy individuals.

The tests lead to changes in clinical management in only a very small proportion of patients, and for some tests virtually never.

The clinical value of changes in management which do occur in response to an abnormal test result may also be uncertain in some instances.

The power of preoperative tests to predict adverse postoperative outcomes in asymptomatic patients is either weak or non-existent.

For all the tests reviewed, a policy of routine testing in apparently healthy individuals is likely to lead to little, if any, benefit.

The clinical importance of many of these abnormal results is uncertain.

(Munro, 1997)

b. Guidelines

  • Don’t obtain baseline laboratory studies in patients without significant systemic disease (ASA I or II) undergoing low-risk surgery
  • Performing routine laboratory tests in patients who are otherwise healthy is of little value in detecting disease.
  • Evidence suggests that a targeted history and physical exam should determine whether pre-procedure laboratory studies should be obtained.
  • American Society of Anesthesiologists

Bottom Line

  • If you test, you will find abnormalities
  • The clinical significance of these abnormalities is unclear
  • You will find more abnormalities if pre-test probability is high
  • Indication for test in Hx
  • Abnormality on PE
  • There is no evidence testing healthy patients reduces morbidity or mortality

What’s the harm?

  • Expense
  • Risk of testing
  • Overdiagnosis
  • Expense
  • Stress
  • Direct harm

References

Alef, M.; Praun, F. von; Oechtering, G. Is routine pre-anaesthetic haematological and biochemical screening justified in dogs? Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia 2008 Vol. 35 No. 2 pp. 132-140

Munro J, et al. Routine preoperative testing: a systematic review of the evidence. Health Technol Assess. 1997;1(12):i-iv; 1-62.

Paepe D, et al. Routine health screening: findings in apparently healthy middle-aged and old cats. J Feline Med Surg. 2013 Jan;15(1):8-19.

Joubert K.E., Pre-anaesthetic screening of geriatric dogs. J S Afr Vet Assoc. March 2007;78(1):31-5.

Posted in General | 4 Comments

What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So: ACE-I and MVD in Dogs

 

I recently gave a lecture at the Western Veterinary Conference called “What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So.” The purpose of this was to take some common or controversial beliefs and practices in veterinary medicine and discuss the scientific evidence pertaining to these. This was not intended as a definitive, “final word” on these subjects, but as an illustration of how weak and problematic the evidence often is even behind widely held beliefs. In some cases, these practices or ideas may actually be valid, but without good quality scientific evidence, we should always be cautious and skeptical about them.

Eventually, I will post recordings of the presentations themselves, but for now I am posting a summary of each topic.

Each starts with a focused clinical question using the PICO format.

P- Patient, Problem Define clearly the patient in terms of signalment, health status, and other factors relevant to the treatment, diagnostic test, or other intervention you are considering. Also clearly and narrowly define the problem and any relevant comorbidities. This is a routine part of good clinical practice and so does not represent “extra work” when employed as part of the EBVM process.

I- Intervention Be specific about what you are considering doing, what test, drug, procedure, or other intervention you need information about.

C- Comparator What might you do instead of the intervention you are considering? Nothing is done in isolation, and the value of most of our interventions can only be measured relative to the alternatives. Always remember that educating the client, rather than selling a product or procedure, should often be considered as an alternative to any intervention you are contemplating.

O- Outcome What is the goal of doing something? What, in particular, does the client wish to accomplish. Being clear and explicit, with yourself and the client, about what you are trying to achieve (cure, extended life, improved performance, decreased discomfort, etc.) is essentially in evidence-based practice.

This is then followed by a summary of the evidence available at each of the levels in the following pyramid (which is a pragmatic reinterpretation of the classical pyramid of evidence that is a bit more useful for general practice veterinarians).

evidence pyramid

Finally, I list the Bottom Line, which is my interpretation of the evidence.

  1. Clinical question

P- dogs with naturally occurring mitral valve disease (MVD)

I- angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (ACE-I) before onset of congestive heart failure (CHF)

C- no ACE-I before onset CHF

O- time to CHF, survival

2. Synthetic Veterinary Literature

a. Systematic Reviews- none

b. Critically Appraised Topics (CAT)-

Best Bets for Vets
Benazepril in dogs with asymptomatic mitral valve disease
(1 study, significant weaknesses)

There is insufficient evidence to suggest that dogs with asymptomatic mitral valve disease treated with benazepril will live longer.

3. Primary Veterinary Literature

Long-term treatment with enalapril in asymptomatic dogs with MVD and MR did not delay the onset of heart failure regardless of whether or not cardiomegaly was present at initiation of the study.

(Kvart, 2002) SVEP: Scandinavian Veterinary Enalapril Prevention Trial

Chronic enalapril treatment of dogs with naturally occurring, moderate to severe MR significantly delayed onset of CHF…Improvement in the primary endpoint, CHF-free survival, was not significant. Results suggest that enalapril modestly delays the onset of CHF in dogs with moderate to severe MR.

  • No difference in primary endpoint (time to CHF)
  • Questionable secondary endpoint (all-cause mortality)
  • Selective exclusion of some subjects from analysis
  • Questionable selection of time points for comparisonBNZ had beneficial effects in asymptomatic dogs other than CKC and KC affected by MVD with moderate-to-severe MR.

(Atkins, 2007) VETPROOF

  • No difference overall in development of CHF or “cardiac events”
  • Questionable endpoints (all-cause mortality)
  • Differences between groups in disease severity

(Pouchelon, 2008)

4. Human Literature-

a. Systematic Reviews

CE inhibitors…reduced the RF, RV, and left ventricular size by a modest degree in chronic primary MR.. and may offer a pharmacologic treatment option to delay the deleterious hemodynamic effects of left ventricular volume overload.

(Strauss, 2012)

b. Guidelines

  • In the asymptomatic patient with chronic MR, there is no generally accepted medical therapy.
  • There has not been a consistent improvement in LV volumes and severity of MR in the small studies that have examined the effect of ACE inhibitors.
  • in the absence of systemic hypertension, there is no known indication for the use of…ACE inhibitors in asymptomatic patients with MR and preserved LV function.
  • If LV systolic dysfunction is present, primary treatment of the LV systolic dysfunction with drugs such as ACE…[has] been shown to reduce the severity of functional MR
  • (American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association, 2006)

Bottom Line-

  • Research is conflicting
  • Cardiologists disagree
  • Critical review of the evidence does not suggest ACE-I
    • Delay onset of CHF
    • Prolong survival when begun before CHF

 

References

Atkins CE, et al. Results of the veterinary enalapril trial to prove reduction in onset of heart failure in dogs chronically treated with enalapril alone for compensated, naturally occurring mitral valve insufficiency. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007 Oct 1;231(7):1061-9.

Kvart C, et al. Efficacy of enalapril for prevention of congestive heart failure in dogs with myxomatous valve disease and asymptomatic mitral regurgitation. J Vet Intern Med. 2002 Jan-Feb;16(1):80-8.

Pouchelon JL, et al. Effect of benazepril on survival and cardiac events in dogs with asymptomatic mitral valve disease: a retrospective study of 141 cases. J Vet Intern Med. 2008 Jul-Aug;22(4):905-14.

Strauss CE, et al. Pharmacotherapy in the treatment of mitral regurgitation: a systematic review. J Heart Valve Dis. 2012 May;21(3):275-85.

 

Posted in General | Leave a comment

What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So: Neutering & Mammary Tumors in Dogs

I recently gave a lecture at the Western Veterinary Conference called “What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So.” The purpose of this was to take some common or controversial beliefs and practices in veterinary medicine and discuss the scientific evidence pertaining to these. This was not intended as a definitive, “final word” on these subjects, but as an illustration of how weak and problematic the evidence often is even behind widely held beliefs. In some cases, these practices or ideas may actually be valid, but without good quality scientific evidence, we should always be cautious and skeptical about them.

Eventually, I will post recordings of the presentations themselves, but for now I am posting a summary of each topic.

Each starts with a focused clinical question using the PICO format.

P- Patient, Problem Define clearly the patient in terms of signalment, health status, and other factors relevant to the treatment, diagnostic test, or other intervention you are considering. Also clearly and narrowly define the problem and any relevant comorbidities. This is a routine part of good clinical practice and so does not represent “extra work” when employed as part of the EBVM process.

I- Intervention Be specific about what you are considering doing, what test, drug, procedure, or other intervention you need information about.

C- Comparator What might you do instead of the intervention you are considering? Nothing is done in isolation, and the value of most of our interventions can only be measured relative to the alternatives. Always remember that educating the client, rather than selling a product or procedure, should often be considered as an alternative to any intervention you are contemplating.

O- Outcome What is the goal of doing something? What, in particular, does the client wish to accomplish. Being clear and explicit, with yourself and the client, about what you are trying to achieve (cure, extended life, improved performance, decreased discomfort, etc.) is essentially in evidence-based practice.

This is then followed by a summary of the evidence available at each of the levels in the following pyramid (which is a pragmatic reinterpretation of the classical pyramid of evidence that is a bit more useful for general practice veterinarians).

evidence pyramid

Finally, I list the Bottom Line, which is my interpretation of the evidence.

 

Neutering and Mammary Neoplasia in Dogs

1. Clinical question

P- female dogs

I- neutering (timing)

C- remaining intact (timing)

O- incidence/mortality mammary neoplasia

What is Risk in Intact Females?

  • 53.3% (varies by breed and age: 4-35/1,000/yr)
    (Moe, 2001)
  • 1% 6yrs, 6% 8yrs, 13% 10yrs
  • 111/10,000 DYAR (5-319/10,000 DYAR)
    (Egenvall, 2002)
  • 205 tumors/100,000 dogs/year SI
    (Dobson, 2002)

2. Synthetic Veterinary Literature

a. One systematic review:

13 peer-reviewed journal articles in English

     9 high risk of bias

     4 moderate risk of bias

          1 found protective association

         2 found no association

         1 found“some protective effect” but no numbers

(Beauvais, 2012)

b. One critically appraised topic

Best Bets for Vets Age at neutering and mammary tumours in bitches

Spaying bitches before the first or second season, or before the age of 2.5 years, may be associated with a reduced risk of developing malignant mammary tumours later in life…However, the evidence is relatively weak, and this should be taken into account alongside other considerations when recommending whether and when to neuter.

3.  Primary Veterinary Literature

  • Strong protective effect
  • No confidence interval or p-value
  • Matched cases/controls, matched analysis?
  • Cases/controls from different time periods
  • Only for cases with histopathology
  • Previous hormone use?

(Schneider, 1969)

  • “inconsistent although some protective effect”
  • No quantitative assessment
  • No control for age, previous hormone use
  • Research Beagles
  • Neutered at 10-12 years of age
  • Primary purpose to evaluate Rad Tx

(Bruenger, 1994)

  • No association (neutering & any type of mammary mass)
  • Age at neutering not reported
  • No control for age, breed, previous hormone use
  • Only for cases with histopatholog
  • Primary purpose diet and mammary tumors

(Pérez Alenza 1998)

  • No association (neutering & proportion of submitted tumor samples neoplastic)
  • Age and age at neutering not reported
  • No control for age, previous hormone use
  • Only for cases with histopathology
  • No confidence intervals

(Richards, 2001)

  • No association between age at neutering and neoplasia
  • All neutered 6 weeks-12 months
  • Mammary neoplasia not specifically addressed
  • Shelter dogs
  • Underpowered for uncommon outcomes

(Spain, 2004)

4. Human Literature- Primary

> 66,000 women studied, observational

The risk for breast cancer was reduced by 27% among women who had hysterectomy and BSO before 45 years of age, and by 20% among those who had simple hysterectomy before age 45 years.

(Gaudet, 2014)

~4,500 women studied, case/control

Bilateral ovariectomy was associated with reduced breast cancer risk overall (odds ratio (OR) = 0.59, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.50, 0.69) and among women <45 years of age (ORs ranged from 0.31 to 0.52), but not among those who were older at surgery.

(Press, 2011)

Bottom Line-

  • Available evidence suggests neutering reduces mammary cancer risk
  • Earlier neutering may be more protective
  • Great variation with breed, age, other factors
  • Existing evidence is very weak
  • Strong or numeric claims not justified

Reference

Beauvais W, Cardwell JM, Brodbelt DC. The effect of neutering on the risk of mammary tumours in dogs–a systematic review. J Small Anim Pract. 2012 Jun;53(6):314-22.

Bruenger, FW, et al. Occurrence of mammary-tumors in beagles given RA-226. Radiation Research 1994;138:423-434.

Dobson JM, Samuel S, Milstein H, Rogers K, Wood JL. Canine neoplasia in the UK: estimates of incidence from a population of insured dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice 2002;43(6);240-6.

Egenvall A, Bonnett BN, Ohagen P, Olson P, Hedhammar A, von Euler H. Incidence of and survival after mammary tumors in a population of over 80,000 insured female dogs in Sweden from 1995 to 2002. Preventative Veterinary Medicine 2002;69:109-27.

Gaudet MM, et al. Obstet Gynecol. Oophorectomy and Hysterectomy and Cancer Incidence in the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort. 2014:123;1247-1255.

Moe L. Population-based incidence of mammary tumors in some dog breeds. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 2001;57:439-43.

Pérez Alenza D. et al. Relation between habitual diet and canine mammary tumors in a case-control study. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 1998;12;132-139.

Press DJ, et al. Breast cancer risk and ovariectomy, hysterectomy, and tubal sterilization in the Women’s Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2011;173(1):38-47.

Richards HG, et al. An epidemiological analysis of a canine-biopsies database compiled by a diagnostic histopathology service. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 2001;51:125-136.

Schneider R, Dorn CR, Taylor DO. Factors influencing canine mammary cancer development and postsurgical survival. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1969;43:1249-61.

Spain CV, Scarlett JM, Houpt KA. Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2004;224(3):380-7.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

What You Know That Ain’t Necessarily So: Glucosamine & Arthritis in Dogs

I recently gave a lecture at the Western Veterinary Conference called “What You Know that Ain’t Necessarily So.” The purpose of this was to take some common or controversial beliefs and practices in veterinary medicine and discuss the scientific evidence pertaining to these. This was not intended as a definitive, “final word” on these subjects, but as an illustration of how weak and problematic the evidence often is even behind widely held beliefs. In some cases, these practices or ideas may actually be valid, but without good quality scientific evidence, we should always be cautious and skeptical about them.

Eventually, I will post recordings of the presentations themselves, but for now I am posting a summary of each topic.

Each starts with a focused clinical question using the PICO format.

P- Patient, Problem Define clearly the patient in terms of signalment, health status, and other factors relevant to the treatment, diagnostic test, or other intervention you are considering. Also clearly and narrowly define the problem and any relevant comorbidities. This is a routine part of good clinical practice and so does not represent “extra work” when employed as part of the EBVM process.

I- Intervention Be specific about what you are considering doing, what test, drug, procedure, or other intervention you need information about.

C- Comparator What might you do instead of the intervention you are considering? Nothing is done in isolation, and the value of most of our interventions can only be measured relative to the alternatives. Always remember that educating the client, rather than selling a product or procedure, should often be considered as an alternative to any intervention you are contemplating.

O- Outcome What is the goal of doing something? What, in particular, does the client wish to accomplish. Being clear and explicit, with yourself and the client, about what you are trying to achieve (cure, extended life, improved performance, decreased discomfort, etc.) is essentially in evidence-based practice.

This is then followed by a summary of the evidence available at each of the levels in the following pyramid (which is a pragmatic reinterpretation of the classical pyramid of evidence that is a bit more useful for general practice veterinarians).

evidence pyramid

 

Finally, I list the Bottom Line, which is my interpretation of the evidence.

Glucosamine for Dogs with Arthritis

  1. Clinical question

P- Dogs with naturally occurring arthritis

I- oral glucosamine

C- NSAID, nothing

O- Reduced pain, lameness

2. Synthetic Veterinary Literature

a. Three systematic reviews:

the global strength of evidence of efficacy was low…In addition, results were contradictory in the 2 studies conducted in dogs.  (Vandeweerd et al., 2012)

Low quality & quantity of evidence, no overall recommendation. (Sanderson et al., 2009)

One study included, good quality, no benefit (Aragon, Hofmeister, & Budsberg, 2007)

b. Three critically appraised topics (include same 2 studies as systematic reviews)

Best Bets for Vets Nutraceuticals versus carprofen in dogs with osteoarthritis

Carprofen is superior to glucosamine/chondroitin supplements in reducing the clinical signs of osteoarthritis (McCarthy et al. 2007). Glucosamine and chondroitin supplement efficacy cannot be commented on, as there was no placebo group or there was no comparison made with the placebo group in the studies.

Banfield Evaluation of glucosamine hydrochloride/ chondroitin sulfate nutraceuticals as a treatment to improve symptoms associated with canine and feline joint disease

Despite some evidence that a combination of glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate nutraceuticals improves symptoms associated with joint disease in dogs and cats, strong clinical evidence of efficacy is lacking, and these compounds are understudied.

What’s the Evidence? Glucosamine for osteoarthritis in dogs 2 studies, mixed results, better quality study found no benefit, carprofen better (McKenzie, 2010)

2. Primary Veterinary Literature

Already reviewed in synthetic literature

3. Human Literature

a. Systematic Reviews (dozens, these are just a few representative ones)

[Glucosamine] is ineffective for pain reduction in patients with knee OA. GS may have function-modifying effects in patients with knee OA when administered for more than 6 months. However, it showed no pain-reduction benefits after 6 months of therapy. (Wu, 2013)

Significant improvement in pain and functional indices and a decrease in the loss of joint space width were demonstrated in some but not all studies…The safety of these nutraceuticals has been demonstrated across all of the reviewed trials, and there were no significant issues with tolerance…An overall recommendation to use nutraceuticals in the treatment of all patients with OA is not strongly supported by the available data. (Ragle, 2012)

Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space. Health authorities and health insurers should not cover the costs of these preparations, and new prescriptions to patients who have not received treatment should be discouraged. (Wandel, 2010)

Pooled results from studies using a non-Rotta preparation or adequate allocation concealment failed to show benefit in pain and WOMAC function while those studies evaluating the Rotta preparation showed that glucosamine was superior to placebo in the treatment of pain and functional impairment resulting from symptomatic OA. (Towheed, 2005)

Most of the observed heterogeneity in glucosamine trials is explained by brand…Large inconsistency was found though. Low risk of bias trials, using the Rottapharm|Madaus product, revealed a small effect size. (Eriksen, 2014)

b. Clinical Practice Guidelines

We cannot recommend using glucosamine and chondroitin for patients with symptomatic osteoarthritis of the knee…. At this time, both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been extensively studied. Despite the availability of the literature, there is essentially no evidence that minimum clinically important outcomes have been achieved compared to placebo, whether evaluated alone or in combination. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

We conditionally recommend that patients with OA should not use the following:

Chondroitin sulfate Glucosamine

American College of Rheumatology

Glucosamine and chondroitin were both found to be “not appropriate” for all patients when used for disease modification and “uncertain” for all patients when used for symptom relief.  Osteoarthritis Research Society International

c. Primary Human Literature

Glucosamine/Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT)

Over 2 years, no treatment achieved a clinically important difference in WOMAC pain or function as compared with placebo…. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone or in combination did not reduce pain effectively in the overall group of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Exploratory analyses suggest that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may be effective in the subgroup of patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain.

At 2 years, no treatment achieved a predefined threshold of clinically important difference in JSW loss as compared with placebo.

Bottom Line-

  • Almost certainly safe
  • Basic science supports potential benefits
  • Very limited research in dogs
    • Weak and conflicting evidence
    • Little reason to believe significant benefits
  • Extensive human research
    • Conflicting evidence
    • Most likely little to no benefit

 

References

Aragon, C. L., Hofmeister, E. H., & Budsberg, S. C. (2007). Topics in Drug Therapy of treatments for osteoarthritis in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 230(4).

McKenzie, B. A. (2010). What Is the Evidence?? Glucosamine for osteoarthritis in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 237(12), 1382–1383.

Ragle, RL. et al. Nutraceuticals in the management of osteoarthritis : a critical review. Drugs Aging. 2012 Sep;29(9):717-31.

Sanderson, R. O., Beata, C., Flipo, R.-M., Genevois, J.-P., Macias, C., Tacke, S., … Innes, J. F. (2009). Systematic review of the management of canine osteoarthritis. The Veterinary Record, 164, 418–424. doi:10.1136/vr.164.14.418

Vandeweerd, J.-M., Vandeweerd, S., Gustin, C., Keesemaecker, G., Cambier, C., Clegg, P., … Gustin, P. (2012). Understanding Veterinary Practitioners’ Decision-Making Process: Implications for Veterinary Medical Education. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 39, 142–151. doi:10.3138/jvme.0911.098R1

Wu, D. et al.  Efficacies of different preparations of glucosamine for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis of randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. Int J Clin Pract. 2013

 

 

Posted in Herbs and Supplements | Leave a comment

Don’t Believe Your Eyes (or Your Brain)

Without question, the most frequent comment I get in response to my articles is that people feel some of the therapies I write about must be effective regardless of the scientific evidence because they have had personal experiences that suggest this. The experience of having used a therapy and seen an improvement is very powerful psychologically, and it makes us very confident that the therapy we used caused the improvement we saw. Unfortunately, the evidence that this kind of conclusion is not reliable is overwhelming. This kind of thinking is so common, and so untrustworthy, it constitutes a unique ogical fallacy, the post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “false cause” fallacy.

Reality is complex, and our minds seek simple, direct causal explanations and satisfying narratives to explain things. Sometimes, of course, these explanations are true. But they are false much more often than we realize. The dismissal of anecdotal evidence by scientists isn’t casual, and it isn’t based on the idea that people who have anecdotal experiences must be stupid. It is based on centuries of study of the human mind, including decades of controlled research in cognitive psychology that shows things simply aren’t always as they seem.

John Stuart Mill described eloquently the problem that while we all realize we are imperfect and acknowledge in general terms that we can be wrong, we are very, very reluctant to ever admit we are wrong about any specific belief:

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while everyone knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion, of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable.

This helps to explain why I so often have to repeat, to pet owners and other veterinarians alike, that just because they have seen something appear to work with their own eyes, that isn’t really a good reason to believe it actually does work without supporting controlled scientific evidence.

A recent article on the subject both explains the problem, and discusses some of the possible solutions.

Your Brain is Primes to Reach False Conclusions by Christie Aschwanden

Here’s her conclusion:

With a lot of evidence that erroneous beliefs aren’t easily overturned, and when they’re tinged with emotion, forget about it. Explaining the science and helping people understand it are only the first steps. If you want someone to accept information that contradicts what they already know, you have to find a story they can buy into. That requires bridging the narrative they’ve already constructed to a new one that is both true and allows them to remain the kind of person they believe themselves to be.

The good news is that the fallibility of uncontrolled personal observation is well-documented, and this has been known for hundreds of years. This means it should be possible to inoculate people against excessive confidence in their own experiences early, teaching critical and skeptical thinking early in school, even before formal teaching of scientific facts. The bad news, however, is that once people reach a conclusion based on anecdotal experience, facts are not very effective at challenging that conclusion. Being given evidence that we are wrong tends to strengthen our false beliefs and impel us to build more and stronger arguments to support them.

Sadly, simple presentation of facts isn’t enough. People need to be led to reconsider their opinions through arguments that speak to their emotions and their core values, not simply their intellect. This is certainly more challenging than simply presenting the facts, especially for scientists who tend to think in terms of objective evidence and are suspicious or arguments that appeal primarily to emotions of beliefs rather than facts. And, of course, the biggest challenge in changing minds about scientific topics is that the stronger one’s belief, the less willing one is to seriously consider alternative explanations. The very people who most need to read about why anecdotes can’t be trusted won’t.

Despite all that, since I have to make the same argument over and over again, I have collected a few resources on this subject to which I refer anyone interested and open-minded enough to consider them:

Medical Miracles: Should We Believe?

Testimonials Lie

Alternative medicine and placebo effects in pets

Placebo effects in epileptic dogs

Medical Practices Once Widely Accepted that Proved Ineffective or Harmful when Studied Scientifically

 

 

 

 

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Acupuncture is All Placebo

Acupuncture is among the most popular alternative therapies in the mainstream medical community. There appears to be a widespread belief that it has been scientifically proven to be a safe and effective therapy, at least for pain and nausea, and possibly for other conditions as well. This belief is based on a decades-long marketing campaign by acupuncture proponents, which has included a great deal of scientific research. As always, however, the devil is in the details, and there is strong reason to believe that a careful reading of the thousands of acupuncture studies strongly supports the interpretation that acupuncture “works” only as a placebo. That is, it only has effects on how we perceive the symptoms of our disease, not the objective disease itself.

The objections to this will include citation of individual studies in which acupuncture appears to be better than other treatments or than sham acupuncture placebo controls. While such studies certainly exist, it is necessary to look carefully at the quality of these and the potential risks for bias and error. When we do this, and when we focus only on the best quality studies, this apparent effect above placebo generally disappears. There is consistent and repeatable experimental evidence that the effects of acupuncture are generated almost entirely by the beliefs and expectations of patients, and that any non-specific physiologic effects are not clinically meaningful. Sticking needles into your body certainly has such physiological effects, but then so does stubbing your toe on the coffee table. This does not a truly effective medical therapy make.

Another objection to the assertion that acupuncture works primarily as a placebo is that this would not explain the apparent effects in non-human animals. However, having evaluated many of the studies that purport to identify such effects, (e.g. 1, 2, 3), they do not do a very convincing job of controlling for sources of error, including the caregiver placebo effect, which frequently leads both pet owners and veterinarians to believe placebo therapies actually have real effects.

There are two recent papers which add to the growing literature identifying the effects of acupuncture as purely placebo effects. The first comes from a somewhat unexpected source, a journal devoted to alternative therapies.

Zheng YC, Yuan TT, Liu T. Is acupuncture a placebo therapy? Complement Ther Med. 2014;22:724-730.

The authors’ conclusion, based on the decades of research into acupuncture, is:

Although current research data are not sufficient for us to ultimately determine whether or not acupuncture possesses a small specific effect, it should be noted that even if this small effect does exist… it will not constitute any change to the fact that what is largely responsible for overall therapeutic effects of acupuncture is actually its robust placebo effect, rather than the assumed ‘small specific effect’…A more likely interpretation of those RCTs of acupuncture is that acupuncture has no specific effect above and beyond a placebo at all;

These authors tend to have a rosier view of the clinical value of placebo effects than I think is warranted, so they contend acupuncture may be worthwhile even if its effects are entirely mediated by belief and expectation. This notion of the “powerful placebo” has some serious problems. For one thing, while it is true that such effects may have value in terms of lessening subjective symptoms, such as pain and nausea, it must be remembered that such effects do not change objective measures of disease or outcomes such as function or mortality. Relieving suffering by fooling people into thinking they are being given a real medical therapy may truly relieve some of their suffering, but it requires deceiving patients, and again it doesn’t make them objectively better even if it makes them feel better. This can lead people into rejecting therapies that might actually improve their health rather than just their perceived symptoms, either because they may feel like they no longer need them or because they fear the side effects of real medical treatment.

As always, we must be particularly wary of employing therapies that act primarily as placebos in veterinary medicine. Most often, such therapies simply make us, as vets and pet owners, feel better, not the patient. I have certainly seen patients in obvious pain who were denied effective treatment for this pain because their owners erroneously believed a placebo therapy like acupuncture or homeopathy was working.

The second paper is the most succinct and comprehensive explanation for why the belief that acupuncture has benefits beyond placebo effects is mistaken.

McGeeney, BE. Acupuncture is all placebo and here is why. Headache. 2015 Feb 6. doi: 10.1111/head.12524. [Epub ahead of print]

The article covers most of the major reasons why doctors may believe acupuncture is more than a placebo, and effectively illustrates why these are false. These are referred to as “sixteen logical traps” plus a couple of added reasons:

Scientific Basis for Acupuncture
Argument From Antiquity
Personal Testimony
Argument From Popularity
More Patient Centered
Underestimating the Placebo Response
Not Appreciating That Procedures Have a Superior Placebo Effect
Not Appreciating the Extra Biases in Subjective Outcomes
The Blinding Problem
“P” Worship
Misinterpretation of Positive Acupuncture Studies
Meta-Analysis Shortcomings
Surrogate Outcomes
Funding
Investigators
Hidden Giant Cognitive Leap
Consumerism
Magical Thinking
The author also acknowledges that these problems are not unique to acupuncture and represent a threat to effective science and evidence-based medicine that is much broader:

 

This problem is not unique to acupuncture and is seen in other non-scientific alternative medicine therapies which can ride on the coat tails of real science in clinical practice, conferences, and academic journals, the epitome of quackademic medicine. Responsible clinicians need to speak up and not allow nonscientific medicine to go unchallenged…A perfunctory and poorly informed media contribute to the misinformation. Practitioners need to do a better job of discerning truth from information and data available on acupuncture.

The same is certainly true for all therapies, whether those promoted by pharmaceutical companies or practitioners of alternative medicine.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Acupuncture | 2 Comments

Discussing Pet Vaccine Refusal on The Pet Buzz

I had the opportunity recently to discuss the issue of vaccines and vaccine refusal among pet owners on The Pet Buzz, WSRQ Sarasota. You can listen to this very brief discussion here:

 

PetBuzz-630x125

 

Posted in Presentations, Lectures, & Interviews | Leave a comment

Does Music Have Charms to Soothe the Worried Beast?

Introduction

Yes, I know the title is a misquotation of the original line, but I couldn’t resist.

The idea that music might be useful in calming animals or otherwise influencing their mood and behavior is not new, but there seems to have been increased interest in it lately in veterinary medicine, specifically in the use of music to reduce anxiety and stress in hospitalized animals. Given the profound effect music has on human emotions, it is reasonable to ask the question, could animals experience the same kind of emotional effects and could music help soothe them in times of stress? As a veterinarian, a musician (well, I play mandolin a bit, anyway), and a former primatologist working in environmental enrichment, I find this an intriguing idea.

I’m sure, though, that it will come as no surprise to regular readers that I have some skepticism about the idea as well. I know from my own behavior research work and clinical veterinary practice that it is extremely difficult to consistently and objectively define and measure stress and mood in non-human animals. I also know that it is all too easy to assume that the world seems much the same to our animal companions as it seems to us, and that they share our likes and dislikes. Finally, I also know that nothing in medicine is free, and if music has meaningful benefits for our pets and patients, it likely has some risks as well.

Humans are unique in the extent to which they deliberately create patterns of sounds, often using tools made for that purpose, with the specific intent of inducing emotional responses in others of our species. Arguably, many species create music of a sort. Birds, humpback whales, and others, can create quite complex and engaging sound patterns. But I think it is fair to say that these differ in many ways from the type of music humans create and the purposes these sounds serve. So I think it fair to be cautious in assuming other animals will perceive or respond to human music as we do.

And as we all know, music is incredible in its variety, with dramatic differences in musical styles and tastes between cultures, generations, and individuals. What I find energizing or entertaining, my wife may find grating and annoying. So again, we should be careful in making confident generalizations about what other animals may like or dislike, or whether music will have the kinds of effects on them we anticipate. Still, the relationship between music and behavior, physical stress, and even health is worth exploring.

What’s the Evidence?

There are quite a few studies looking at the effect of various sounds, including music, on a variety of animal species. Many of these involve laboratory animals, such as rodents and primates. There are also a few looking at livestock species and dogs. A nice narrative review of this literature was published not long ago in the journal Lab Animal:

Alworth LC, Buerkle SC. The effects of music on animal physiology, behavior and welfare.  Lab Anim (NY). 2013 Feb;42(2):54-61.

The clearest answer that comes out of this review to the question, “Does music have beneficial effects on animals?” is, “It depends.” A wide variety of physiologic and behavioral responses to various types of musical stimuli have been observed, and they seem to vary not only from species to species but with the type of music and even with the particular study. And while many of the results are consistent with the investigator’s expectations, there are plenty of findings that were surprising. Music can have effects that might be beneficial or harmful or, in some cases, it might have no measurable effects at all.

As an example of the variety of results, one set of studies showed that playing Mozart reduced blood pressure in hypertensive rats. However, other studies found no effect of Mozart on blood pressure. This may have been due to the use of different specific pieces of music, to differ methods of measuring blood pressure, to differences in the types of rats used, or to any of a hundred other differences between the studies.

Similarly, different types of music seem to have different effects, but the differences don’t always form a clear, predictable pattern. In general, “quieter” types of music, such as classical or “New Age” music seem to reduce physiologic and behavioral responses associated with stress, and other genres either have no effect or may even worsen these measures. However, some studies looking at classical music find no effects, or effects for some composers and not others, and other studies find positive effects from other genres, or even white noise.

Finally, apart from the variety in results of different studies, there are serious problems with the way the effects of music are measured and interpreted. Most of the studies in dogs, for example, contain few of the usual controls for bias and error so important in making scientific research results reliable. Subjects are often chosen and allocated to different groups by convenience rather than randomly, and the investigators observing and recording behaviors are rarely blinded to the music condition.

If you think classical music is more likely to calm dogs than country music and you watch dogs and note their behavior while you and they listen to each kind of music, it is quite likely you will unconsciously interpret what you see and what you think it means through the filter of your own expectations. This is why, after all, controlled scientific research is necessary in the first place.

The authors of this review provide what I think is a very fair summary of what we know so far:

The studies reviewed in this paper show that music can affect the physiology, production, and behavior of multiple non-human species and provide evidence that some effects of music exposure are similar between humans and animals. The studies identify the potential for music to benefit the welfare of animals in many captive environments…As the reviewed studies show, however, the effects of music exposure are not the same for all music styles, animal species, or situations, and playing music for captive species has the potential to increase stress or impair welfare. Therefore, each situation should be considered individually and the outcome evaluated for positive and negative effects.

Bottom Line

The best summary of what we know now about the effects of music on animals comes again from the review cited above:

The studies described above support the idea that physiological and neurochemical changes can result from music exposure. Music’s ability to improve learning and memory and diminish stress suggests that music can result in positive physiologic effects. Other studies, however, suggest that music has no observable effect or can have a detrimental effect on animals. There is not yet sufficient evidence to suggest that animals react physically to music in a way that can be manipulated predictably and consistently.

This means that while it is very likely some kinds of music can be beneficial to our pets and veterinary patients under some circumstances, the devil is, as usual, in the details, and we don’t know much about the details yet. It is reasonable to experiment with music in veterinary environments, especially with more quiet, instrumental genres, but we must try to develop objective measures of the effect to be sure we are not imply wasting our effort or, even worse, actually adding stress for our patients.

Posted in General | 5 Comments

EBVM 2014 Conference Presentations

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak at an evidence-based veterinary medicine conference organized by RCVS Knowledge in London last October. The recordings of those presentations, and all the others given at the conference, are now available online. I hope they contain something interesting or useful for you.

Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine in the Trenches

Potential Sources of Bias in the Veterinary Literature

 

Posted in Presentations, Lectures, & Interviews | 2 Comments