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Critical Thinking in Medicine Eric S. Farbman, MD Scams Hoaxes Parkinson’s Disease: Bogus Treatments Eric S. Farbman, MD Quackery Hoaxes, Scams, Quackery Non-medical treatments without proven benefit Medical fraud Designed to enrich the promoter of the treatment more so than the patient

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parkinson s disease bogus treatments



Parkinson’s Disease:Bogus Treatments

Eric S. Farbman, MD


hoaxes scams quackery
Hoaxes, Scams, Quackery
  • Non-medical treatments without proven benefit
  • Medical fraud
  • Designed to enrich the promoter of the treatment more so than the patient
  • In some cases, these can be dangerous to the health of the patient as well
why are people vulnerable
Why Are People Vulnerable?
  • Lack of suspicion—if it is on television, the internet, etc., then it must be true
  • Overconfidence—some people believe that they are better equipped than scientists in determining whether something works
  • Desperation—the sincere hope that something works when nothing else has
  • Conspiracy—distrustful of the medical profession but attracted to “natural” methods
why do the methods seem to work
Why Do the Methods Seem to Work?
  • There is a poor grasp of innate probability
    • In a group of 23 people, what are the odds that two share the same birthday?
  • There is a belief that all effects must have deliberate causes
  • There is a tendency towards selective memory
  • There is the placebo effect
  • There is a desire to please the individual
  • There is the natural course of the disease
what is quackery
What is Quackery?
  • It is the promotion of methods that have no evidence and lack a scientific rationale
  • Malpractice usually involves negligence rather than fraud
  • Some promoters are scam artists, some are blind “true believers”
types of hoax treatments
Types of Hoax Treatments
  • Vitamins/Supplements
  • Procedures
  • “Alternative medicine” practitioners
getting a medication approved
Getting a Medication Approved
  • Since 1938, every medication has to go through a New Drug Application (NDA) process before getting approval in the U.S.
  • The goals of the NDA are:
    • Is the drug safe and effective for its proposed use, and do the benefits outweigh the risks?
    • Is the labelling (package insert) appropriate, and what should it contain?
    • Are the manufacturing methods adequate to maintain the drug’s identity, strength, and purity?
studies required by the fda
Studies Required by the FDA
  • First the sponsor must submit data showing that the drug is reasonably safe for use in small-scale clinical studies
  • At this pre-clinical stage, the FDA will ask for:
    • A pharmacological profile of the drug
    • Determine acute toxicity in at least two species of animals
    • Conduct short-term toxicity studies ranging from two weeks to three months
studies required by the fda on the road to drug approval
Studies Required by the FDA:On the Road to Drug Approval
  • Phase I: Develop drug’s safety profile
    • Normally subjects are healthy volunteers
    • Determines how drug is absorbed, distributed in the body, metabolized, and excreted
  • Phase II: Determine the drug’s safety and assess side effects
    • Given to volunteers who have the disease
    • Determine optimal dosage of the drug
studies required by the fda on the road to drug approval12
Studies Required by the FDA:On the Road to Drug Approval
  • Phase III: Verify the effectiveness of the drug against the condition that it targets
    • This also continues to investigate the safety of the drug and record possible side effects and adverse reactions from long-term use.
    • These studies are randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.
    • Often have at least 1000 patients enrolled
    • If the medication is effective, the trial is deemed successful—“pivotal”. Normally two pivotal trials are needed to ensure validity of the trials
studies required by the fda after drug approval
Studies Required by the FDA:After Drug Approval
  • Phase IV: Once the drug is on the market, the company must continue to perform observational studies to evaluate the drug’s safety during routine use.
    • The company may also monitor any usage of the drug for un-approved indications.
    • Trials may be done based on those usages, but the company CANNOT advertise “off-label” use
health and education act of 1994
Health and Education Act of 1994
  • Defined a dietary supplement as:
    • A product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet
    • Is intended for ingestion in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form
    • Is not represented for use as a conventional food
    • Is labelled as a “dietary supplement”
  • Nutritional support statements do not have to be approved by the FDA
  • This law has made it very difficult for the FDA to ban dangerous dietary supplements.
legitimate supplements
“Legitimate” Supplements
  • Vitamin E
  • Gluathione
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folic Acid

Which of these agents has a double-blind trial that supports its benefit in PD?

coenzyme q1019
CoEnzyme Q10
  • Eighty people in study
  • Randomized to placebo, 300mg/day, 300mg twice/day, 300mg 4x/day
  • Followed for 16 months or until the patient needed treatment with levodopa
  • Primary variable was a change in UPDRS
  • Statistically signifcant benefits seen at highest dose, trending towards benefit at lower doses
why is coq10 thought to work
Why Is CoQ10 Thought to Work?
  • Causes of Parkinson’s Disease are not known
  • Thought to be at least partially due to oxidation (“rusting”) of the brain
  • CoQ10 is a potent anti-oxidant
  • So, what about other anti-oxidants?
vitamin e
Vitamin E
  • One of the few supplements to have a well-designed negative trial
  • Original selegiline trials had four arms
    • Selegiline/Placebo
    • Selegiline/Vitamin E
    • Placebo/Vitamin E
    • Placebo/Placebo
  • No effect on progression of PD by itself
  • No enhancement of selegiline in combination
  • 9 patients with early, untreated PD were given IV gluathione 600mg twice/day for 30 days
  • All improved significantly after therapy as measured by CURS
    • Evaluates rigidity, tremor, speech, facial expression, bradykinesia, gait, postural stability
  • After 30 days of therapy were completed, the therapeutic effect lasted an additional 2 months
problems with gluathione study


Ropinirole (n=464)



Placebo (n=464)





Percentage of Patients






















Problems with Gluathione Study
  • Very small sample size
  • No control group—no placebo arm
  • Original study done in 1996; where are the follow-up studies?
other treatments
Other Treatments
  • Prakotin
    • I’m not sure what it is
    • It shows up on some websites
    • The word “prakotin” does not show up in the medline database
low dose naltrexone
Low Dose Naltrexone
  • Naltrexone was approved by the FDA in 1984
  • Dose was 50mg for the purpose of helping heroin or opium addicts
    • Works by blocking opioid receptors
  • Supposedly a smaller dose (4.5mg) enhances the body’s immune system and its response to many diseases including Parkinson’s disease
low dose naltrexone cont d
Low Dose Naltrexone (cont’d)
  • There is nothing in the literature to support its use in neurological disease
  • There is virtually nothing in the literature to support its use in anything
  • Any benefits reported for Parkinson disease are purely anecdotal
  • A chelator is an organic compound that forms stable bonds with metal atoms.
  • They often are used for acute metal toxicity
  • Often times they have serious side effects
chelating agents
Chelating Agents
  • Dimercaprol
    • Given intramuscularly
    • Used for arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium poisoning
    • Side effects: Headache, nausea, vomiting
  • Penicillamine
    • Treatment for copper poisoning and Wilson’s disease
    • Side effects: Aplastic anemia, lupus, hemolytic anemia
chelating agents cont d
Chelating Agents (cont’d)
  • Edetate (EDTA)
    • Possible chelator of many things
    • Usually used for lead poisoning
    • Side effect: nephrotoxicity
  • Deferoxamine
    • Used for acute iron intoxication
    • Does not cross blood brain barrier
    • Side effects: skin reactions, neurotoxicity (i.e. retinal degeneration), hepatic and renal dysfunction, severe coagulopathies, hypotensive shock
chelation therapy
Chelation Therapy
  • There are no trials that show any benefit in PD
  • Even if we assume that excess iron is part of the pathology, there is no chelator that can effectively cross into the brain to remove this iron without side effects
  • There are well-designed trials for other conditions which have yielded negative results
  • Using chelation instead of proven treatments (i.e. CABG) can have fatal consequences
hyperbaric medicine
Hyperbaric Medicine
  • The delivery of pressurized oxygen to the body
  • Useful (and approved) for treating
    • Decompression sickness (“The Bends”)
    • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
    • Cyanide poisoning
    • Burns
    • Necrotizing soft tissue infections
hyperbaric medicine in pd
Hyperbaric Medicine in PD
  • 2 abstracts/articles from various International Congresses on Hyperbaric Medicine
  • One article (originally in Russian literature)
  • All supposedly show benefit
hyperbaric in pd abstract 1
Hyperbaric in PD: Abstract 1
  • 72 y.o. male diagnosed with idiopathic PD
  • Started on sinemet 10/100 three times/day
  • Eighteen months after diagnosis, he started on hyperbaric oxygenation and had great results. He was also able to come off of his sinemet
  • Problems:
    • Dose of sinemet is insufficient
    • Disease is probably mild at time of treatment
    • Scale used to rate improvement is not validated
hyperbaric in pd abstract 2
Hyperbaric in PD: Abstract 2
  • Fifteen patients (8 men, 7 women)
    • Etiology of PD:
      • 7 idiopathic
      • 4 vasculopathic
      • 3 post-encephalic
      • 1 other kind
    • No controls
    • Nothing said about medication changes
    • Difficult to know what to make of results
hyperbaric in pd russian article
Hyperbaric in PD: Russian article
  • 64 patients (29 men, 35 women)
  • Duration of illness ranged from 1 – 15 years
  • Etiology
    • Atherosclerosis of cerebral vessels in 49 patients
    • This combined with arterial hypertension in 6
    • History of encephalitis in 8
    • Closed head trauma in 1
  • Results:
    • “Good treatment results were noted in 18…”
    • “Therapeutic effect was considered satisfactory in 26…”
    • No measurement scales of any kind were used!
  • One study on alternative medicine use in PD shows that 10% of patients will try acupuncture
  • An open-label trial of 25 patients with idiopathic PD were followed for 6 months
    • No significant improvement in treatment measures
    • 2.4 worsening on UPDRS motor scores
    • 16% improvement in quality of life scale
    • 29% improvement on depression scale
acupuncture cont d
Acupuncture (cont’d)
  • Because of this, a randomized, controlled double-blind study was done.
  • 14 patients were enrolled
  • There were no statistically significant changes in the outcomes measured
  • In the patients who received true acupuncture, there was a trend towards improvement in the quality of life scale
acupuncture cont d53
Acupuncture (cont’d)
  • One study compared two groups, differing the number of treatments between them
  • There were no differences on the Parkinson motor scales, quality of life scales, or psychiatric symptoms measurements
  • A recent meta-analysis of all acupuncture in PD was published
    • “Evidence for acupuncture…is not convincing.”
    • Sample sizes are too small to draw conclusions
    • No evidence for acupuncture vs. placebo adjustments or acupuncture + drugs vs. drugs only

“What are the principal functions of the spine?

To support the head

To support the ribs

To support the chiropractor.”

BJ Palmer, 1952,

Questions and Answers about Chiropractic

chiropractic principles
Chiropractic Principles
  • Many chiropractors are against
    • childhood vaccinations
    • medications in general
  • There are chiropractors who claim that their adjustments can fix
    • ear infections
    • asthma
    • just about everything
  • Many chiropractor recommend supplements which they themselves sell
evidence based analysis of some chiropractic practices
Evidence-Based Analysis of Some Chiropractic Practices
  • Full spine X-rays
    • There is no evidence to support the use of this
    • This is a large radiation exposure
    • The films are usually of poor quality
  • Spinal manipulations
    • There is some evidence for benefit of lower spinal manipulations; it is transient and similar to PT
    • There is no evidence for any other adjustments
    • There is no evidence for any benefit in children
what about chiropractic with pd
What About Chiropractic with PD?
  • If you do a web search, there will be over 3000 hits
  • Many chiropractor websites talk about the scientific evidence of “upper cervical” adjustments in the treatment of PD
  • They are all referring to the same article
examining the literature
Examining the Literature
  • What do PD and MS have in common?
    • Answer: They are both treated by neurologists.
    • Not much else that I can see
  • Diagnostic tests used in this trial included paraspinal digital infrared imaging and laser-aligned radiography
    • Neither technique is supported by any medical literature
    • In 2000 after reviewing more than 2500 articles, the AAN concluded that paraspinal imaging is “unacceptable as a clinical tool” for diagnosing low back pain or neuromuscular disease
other problems
Other Problems
  • Patients were questioned for a history of head trauma (retrospective bias)
  • There were no PD scales used in the analysis of how the patients did. It was based on subjective reports of patients and changes on the erroneous tests mentioned before
  • Apparently all of the patients also had subluxations that were corrected
what is a subluxation
What is a Subluxation?
  • The definition varies even between chiropractors
  • In general, they are thought to cause “nerve interference” and are the cause of the problems
  • Even though they are supposedly visible on x-rays, radiologists never mention them

The medical definition of a subluxation is where the bony surfaces of a joint no longer face each other exactly but remain partially aligned. This condition would not be amenable to chiropractic.

so is the chiropractor doing anything to help in pd
So, Is the Chiropractor Doing Anything to Help in PD?
  • The study listed above did not have a control group to control for placebo effect
  • There is a study unrelated to chiropractic looking at the benefit of massage therapy
  • 7 patients received eight 1-hr sessions of whole body massage over eight weeks
  • Patients reported enjoying the massage and also reported benefits on quality of life surveys
which alternative medicine treatments should be used
Which Alternative Medicine Treatments Should Be Used?
  • The terms conventional medicine and alternative medicine should not be used
  • We should look at treatments as proven, experimental, or questionable
  • From a 1998 JAMA editorial:

“There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking. Whether a therapeutic practice is "Eastern" or "Western," is unconventional or mainstream…is irrelevant.”


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