Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Evidence for acupuncture in impotence is weak

Posted in News by Skepdude on August 4, 2009


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Men may not want to pin their hopes on acupuncture as a treatment for impotence, or erectile dysfunction, a new review of evidence suggests.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method of stimulating specific body points through the insertion of specialized pins that sometimes carry faint electrical charges. Traditionally, acupuncture has been used to maintain and restore body functions.

Several studies had reported “acupuncture increases nitric oxide,” which has been tied to the ability to maintain erections, Dr. Myeong Soo Lee, at Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, told Reuters Health by email.

Yet to date, published studies that evaluated acupuncture as a treatment for erectile dysfunction provide “no convincing evidence” that acupuncture is beneficial for this condition, Lee and colleagues report in the journal BJU International.


Organic Food No Better Nutritionally Than Conventionally Produced, Research Review

Posted in News by Skepdude on August 4, 2009


Scientists in the UK who systematically reviewed research from the last 50 years concluded that from a nutritional point of view, organically produced foods are no better than conventionally produced.

The study was the work of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and appears in the 29 July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Based on figures from 2007, the organic food industry is estimated to be worth 29 billion pounds (about 48 billion US dollars) worldwide and continues to grow while consumers appear willing to pay premium prices for food they believe to be superior in health and nutritional benefits.

Although some previous reviews have concluded that organic food is superior in nutritional content compared to conventionally produced food, nobody has yet done a systematic review of the literature, said a press statement from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

For this study, which was funded and commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), the authors sought to:

“Quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”

They systematically searched abstracts databases for details of papers dating from the beginning of 1958 to the end of February 2008, contacted experts on the subject, and also manually searched bibliographies.

They included reports of research where the abstracts were written in English and the researchers had measured and compared the nutrient content of organic and conventional food.

To be of satisfactory quality and be included in the analysis, a study had to show it was designed with rigour. For instance, it had to include evidence of the organic certification scheme from which the studied foodstuffs were derived, the breed of livestock, the crop cultivar, plus details of lab methods and statistical tools used in the analysis.

The reviewers then analysed data on 13 nutrient categories.

They did not examine the content of contaminants or chemical residues.

The results showed that:

  • From a total of over 52,000 articles, there were 162 (137 on crops and 25 on livestock products) that met the researchers’ first level of inclusion criteria but only 55 of these were of satisfactory quality and went into the analysis.
  • Conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen.
  • Organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity.
  • There was no evidence of a difference among the remaining 8 crop nutritient categories.
  • Analysis of the few quality studies on livestock products showed no evidence of differences in nutritient content between those that were organically and those that were conventionally produced.

The researchers concluded that:

“On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”


My e-mail to the NCI

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 4, 2009

In my previous entry I railed against the NCI’s portrayal of acupuncture on their website. After blowing off some steam, I wrote a nice, polite, but direct e-mail to the folks at the NCI with the hopes that someone would forward it to the Director. Below I reproduce the e-mail. I will keep folks posted if I get a reply.


I am trying to reach Dr. Niederhuber, but was unable to find a direct contact e-mail address online. Please forward this message to his attention.

Dear Dr. Niederhuber,

I am writing to you to direct your attention, and to express my indignation, at the appallingly credulous portrayal of acupuncture in the NCI website’s Q&A section. The answers to the questions show complete disregard for the scientific evidence, and its verdict so far on acupuncture; that is performs no better than placebo when properly designed trials are conducted. Yet the NCI website leaves the reader with the impression that not only does acupuncture work when it comes to cancer, but that it is also endorsed/recommended by the NCI, which is quite a dangerous impression to leave your readers with.

I do not intend to take too much of your time with this e-mail, so I will direct you to my lengthier blog entry ( on this, in the hopes that you can, and will be willing to, address this unforgivable oversight and correct the language in the website to align it with the best available scientific evidence. The NCI website is one of the first stops that people dealing with cancer go to, and I believe that NCI must hold itself to the highest standards and commit to distributing science based advice, and not lend credibility to discredited CAM modalities.

Being a doctor yourself, I am sure that you’ll agree with me that there is no such thing as “alternative” medicine. If it works it is medicine, if not it is myth and superstition. I believe the NCI has an obligation to embrace real medicine and science in its dealings with the public, and it needs to proudly express its devotion to the scientific method. Unfortunately, the above mentioned, Q&A section on acupuncture does exactly the opposite by endorsing acupuncture.

Thank you very much for your time.

I would like to invite all Skepfeeds enthusiasts to use a similar version and let the NCI know that their behavior is unacceptable.

The National Cancer Institute on Acupuncture- A travesty!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 4, 2009

Via the never tiring James Randi we get our attention directed to the acupuncture section in the National Cancer Institute’s  (NCI), a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, section on acupuncture. You may head over to the JREF entry to get Randi’s story. My concern in this entry is along the same lines, to go over the Q&A section on acupuncture and how appallingly credulously the NCI is reporting on acupuncture, despite the complete lack of scientific evidence that it does anything that it purports to do!

If you agree with me, I invite everyone to write an e-mail to the NCI and express your indignation that the NCI is so clearly implying its acceptance of this most easily demonstrable form of woo. Here go the NCI’s Q&A about acupuncture.

1. What is acupuncture? Acupuncture applies needles, heat, pressure, and other treatments to certain places on the skin to cause a change in the physical functions of the body. The use of acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is a medical system that has been used for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.

Acupuncture is based on the belief that qi (vital energy) flows through the body along a network of paths, called meridians. Qi is said to affect a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical condition. According to TCM, qi has two forces, yin and yang. Yin and yang are opposite forces that work together to form a whole. The forces of yin and yang depend on each other and are made from each other in an unending cycle, such as hot and cold, day and night, and health and disease. Nothing is ever all yin or all yang, both exist in all things, including people. Many of the major organs of the body are believed to be yin-yang pairs that must be in balance to be healthy. When a person’s yin and yang are not in balance, qi can become blocked. Blocked qi causes pain, illness, or other health problems. TCM uses acupuncture, diet, herbal therapy, meditation, physical exercise, and massage to restore health by unblocking qi and correcting the balance of yin and yang within the person.

According to TCM, qi can be unblocked by using acupuncture at certain places on the skin, called acupoints. Acupoints are places where the meridians come to the surface of the body. There are more than 2,000 acupoints on the human body, with specific acupoints for each condition being treated.

From the very first sentence it is clear the the NCI has no intention of providing the scientific version of the acupuncture fable, but it intends to stick with the politically correct version of disregarding the science and not coming off as, dare I say, scientific? I challenge the NCI to provide the scientific evidence that shows that acupuncture causes a change in the physical functions of the body, beyond being poked with a steel needle! In fact, I can show that using acupuncture is no different from sham acupuncture which doesn’t even penetrate the skin! Check out my Acupuncture section on my Important Studies page. Not all inclusive by any means, but quite telling.

The other two paragraphs are a concise summary of what acupuncture purports to be, but where is any mentioning of the evidence to back up such claims? Shouldn’t we expect at least a token “no scientific evidence exists to support this idea” sentence on the NCI’s website?

2. What is the history of the discovery and use of acupuncture as a complementary and alternative treatment for cancer?

The oldest medical book known, written in China 4000 years ago, describes the use of acupuncture to treat medical problems. The use of the treatment spread to other Asian countries and to other regions of the world, including to Europe by the 1700s. In the United States, acupuncture has been used for about 200 years.

Research on acupuncture began in the United States in 1976. Twenty years later, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the acupuncture needle as a medical device. Many illnesses are treated with acupuncture, but it is used mainly to control pain, including pain in cancer patients. Its primary use in cancer patients has been as an addition to conventional (standard) therapy.

Again, I challenge the folks at NCI to provide the evidence that “many illnesses are treated with acupuncture”. Which illnesses are successfully treated with it? Dare I say none? Why is the NCI not mentioning that acupuncture is virtually indistinguishable from placebo? That it is virtually the placebo effect in action? Why this deafening silence? This is a government sponsored, read our tax dollars sponsored, website that’s supposed to be one of the premiere  stops for cancer information, and this is the sort of nonsense they have up there? Disappointing, very disappointing!

3. What is the theory behind the claim that acupuncture is useful in treating cancer? Acupuncture may cause physical responses in nerves cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. It is proposed that, by these actions, acupuncture affects blood pressure and body temperature, boosts immune system activity, and causes the body’s natural painkillers, such as endorphins, to be released.

May do this, may do that. I call bullshit. In question 1 they went over the Qi, yin-yang version, and here they start blabbering about proteins, hormones, endorphins etc etc. And they have the audacity to use the phrase “boost the immune system” in here? How preposterous is that?

5. Have any preclinical (laboratory or animal) studies been conducted using acupuncture? Scientific studies on the use of acupuncture to treat cancer and side effects of cancer began only recently. Laboratory and animal studies suggest that acupuncture can reduce vomiting caused by chemotherapy and may help the immune system be stronger during chemotherapy.

Oh stop your weaseling will you? There is no need to refer to animal studies, or preclinical studies, there are many double-blind, randomized clinical trials,  in real humans that one can refer too. Again, I challenge the folks at NCI to provide us with the studies that show that acupuncture may “help the immune system be stronger during chemotherapy.” You wanna bet that no study the purports to show this will pass the weakest of smell tests?

6. Have any clinical trials (research studies with people) of acupuncture been conducted? Most studies of the use of acupuncture in cancer patients have been done in China. In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began evaluating the safety and effectiveness of acupuncture as a complementary and alternative therapy.

  • Studies of the effect of acupuncture on the immune system Human studies on the effect of acupuncture on the immune system of cancer patients showed that it improved immune system response.
  • In clinical studies, acupuncture reduced the amount of pain in some cancer patients. In one study, most of the patients treated with acupuncture were able to stop taking drugs for pain relief or to take smaller doses. The findings from these studies are not considered strong, however, because of weaknesses in study design and size. Studies using strict scientific methods are needed to prove how acupuncture affects pain.
  • The strongest evidence of the effect of acupuncture has come from clinical trials on the use of acupuncture to relieve nausea and vomiting. Several types of clinical trials using different acupuncture methods showed acupuncture reduced nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, surgery, and morning sickness. It appears to be more effective in preventing vomiting than in reducing nausea.
  • Clinical trials are studying the effects of acupuncture on cancer and symptoms caused by cancer treatment, including weight loss, cough, chest pain, fever, anxiety, depression, night sweats, hot flashes, dry mouth, speech problems, and fluid in the arms or legs. Studies have shown that, for many patients, treatment with acupuncture either relieves symptoms or keeps them from getting worse.

Yeah, yeah sure. Links please!  Citations please so we may look at all these great studies. The point that NCI doesn’t seem to get, or is willingy refusing to accept, is not if it “reduced pain is some patients”. The point is this: did it perform better than placebo? Better than sham acupuncture? How weakly designed were these studies?  Studies using strict scientific methods have been performed and shown it not to work better than placebo. Need I direct people to my Important Studies page again? Who is writing these answers for the NCI, Jenny McCarthy?

7. Have any side effects or risks been reported from acupuncture? There have been few complications reported. Problems are caused by using needles that are not sterile (free of germs) and from placing the needle in the wrong place, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle. Problems include soreness and pain during treatment; feeling tired, lightheaded, or sleepy; and infections. Because chemotherapy and radiation therapy weaken the body’s immune system, a strict clean needle method must be used when acupuncture treatment is given to cancer patients. It is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner who uses a new set of disposable (single-use) needles for each patient.

I guess this is fairly correct, unless you take these into account obviously. I’d say death is a pretty important side effect, no?

8. Is acupuncture approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a cancer treatment in the United States?

The FDA approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

THEY’RE NOT EVEN ANSWERING THEIR OWN QUESTION! The question was not about the needles. It was asking if the FDA has approved acupuncture for use as a cancer treatment. That about says it all. Spineless cowardice and refusal to call a cow, a cow! NCI you fail. F !

My Galileoscope is here

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 4, 2009

That’s excellent news. Now the problem is that I am so heavily ignorant of astronomy the besides pointing it to the moon, I don’t really know how to use it. Can’t find a celestial body if I had a gun pointed in my head. Anyone has any pointers on how I can get the quick basics online?