Page 1 of 2

NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:46 am UTC
by BlackSails
http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/594-25-billion-spent-on-cam-testing-result-it-doesnt-work.html wrote:BETHESDA, Md. - Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.
Story continues below ↓advertisement | your ad here

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.


Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special "master" can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.



Emphasis added.

Now how many uninsured people could be insured for the cost of studying "energy fields"?

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:53 am UTC
by Vaniver
NCCAM is a giant waste of money, and is what happens when politicians decide who gets research money.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 2:51 am UTC
by The Reaper
On the plus side, science is once again rigorously proving that this shit doesn't work, which is better than science ignoring it and letting snakeoil peddlers go about having people think it works.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 3:06 am UTC
by Kaiyas
Except those who peddle snake oil simply incorporate it into their Big Pharma(+ Federal Government) conspiracy/warped mindset. The example I think of comes from an acupuncture study conducted somewhile ago- there was no difference between acupuncture and the random needlesticking, so they concluded that random needlesticking works as well.

Plus, the most worthless things gain recognition, if not credibility, just because they were studied.

It's a lose-lose situation, and the fact that we pay for it makes it all the worse.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 3:16 am UTC
by phlip
Kaiyas wrote:It's a lose-lose situation, and the fact that we pay for it makes it all the worse.

Pretty much. Study it, and it's a waste of money, and gives them unnecessary recognition, for the small chance that there's something there... ignore it, and you have to face accusations of closed-mindedness from their proponents, who'll try to call you out for dismissing stuff out-of-hand "purely on faith".

If it didn't cost so much time and money, I'd be in favour of the tests, 'cause at least there'd be something to point to to say that it just Doesn't Work... but given the costs, I'm not sure which side I'm on as yet.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 4:14 am UTC
by Hooch
I wonder if they actually make any reasonable estimates before they give out these grants.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 3:47 pm UTC
by Vaniver
The other problem is that it's "Ok, acupuncture doesn't work for X. What about Y?" NCCAM has been around, in various incarnations, for almost twenty years- and instead of saying "wow, this stuff doesn't work" it's "Ok, we haven't found what this works for yet!" After the first, say, three studies everything else is a waste and just taxpayer funding of sham medicine.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:26 pm UTC
by Bright Shadows
I would like to point out that something did work. Nothing huge, but we've made sure things don't work and confirmed that one does. It's not really a waste until you get to the level of silliness acupuncture has reached because we have something to look at and improve on now in addition to being able to properly ignore stuff, knowing for 99% sure that it's not worth the money.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:15 pm UTC
by BlackSails
Bright Shadows wrote:I would like to point out that something did work. Nothing huge, but we've made sure things don't work and confirmed that one does. It's not really a waste until you get to the level of silliness acupuncture has reached because we have something to look at and improve on now in addition to being able to properly ignore stuff, knowing for 99% sure that it's not worth the money.


They spent 2.5 billion dollars to discover that ginger helps nausea. I am underwhelmed.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 3:35 am UTC
by gmalivuk
What's especially annoying is that herbal remedies often have believers because "people have used them for millennia" or whatever, even though people never used them for these particular symptoms until recently. I think the notion that Gingko is good for memory, for example, is a really recent invention made up by the people selling it.

Ginger, I believe, actually has been used to help digestive issues for a long time, and so it had some prior plausibility that made it worth studying anyway. Herbs do contain chemicals, after all, and so studying the effectiveness of a particular herb on the particular symptom(s) people have actually been using it to treat for these alleged millennnia might actually be worthwhile.

But of course, that's what real medicine already does. So CAM research gets done on dozens of treatments with no plausibility to begin with, and we waste billions of dollars in the process.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 6:58 pm UTC
by Internetmeme
I think it's a good thing that the feds are researching this. There's always the off chance that they will find something new out there.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:09 pm UTC
by Aikanaro
BlackSails wrote:
Bright Shadows wrote:I would like to point out that something did work. Nothing huge, but we've made sure things don't work and confirmed that one does. It's not really a waste until you get to the level of silliness acupuncture has reached because we have something to look at and improve on now in addition to being able to properly ignore stuff, knowing for 99% sure that it's not worth the money.

They spent 2.5 billion dollars to discover that ginger helps nausea. I am underwhelmed.

And how much did it cost the mythbusters to discover the same thing? :P

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:11 pm UTC
by Vaniver
Aikanaro wrote:And how much did it cost the mythbusters to discover the same thing? :P
They made money doing it. I don't think the rest of NCCAM could be converted to entertainment easily, but it might do something for scientific literacy.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:46 pm UTC
by BlackSails
Internetmeme wrote:I think it's a good thing that the feds are researching this. There's always the off chance that they will find something new out there.


There are things that are good to research, and things that are worthless to research.

For example, herbs may indeed have some active molecule in them. This is quite plausible, and in fact, many new drugs are discovered by drug companies just testing everything they can on everything they can.

Then there are things like energy field manipulation, which if it were true would over turn just about all known physics at once. This is highly implausible, and spending a single dollar on researching this is a waste of money.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 3:54 pm UTC
by Internetmeme
I'm talking about herbal suppliments, things like that. Not the shitbag new-age crap. Seriously people, grow the hell up; the 1960's died with the Hippy era.

On an unrelated front: Did they test the herbal remedies that the Native Americans used? There must be some good to do that, seeing as they had centuries to do that unmolested by the Europeans.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:23 pm UTC
by The Reaper
Internetmeme wrote:I'm talking about herbal suppliments, things like that. Not the shitbag new-age crap. Seriously people, grow the hell up; the 1960's died with the Hippy era.

On an unrelated front: Did they test the herbal remedies that the Native Americans used? There must be some good to do that, seeing as they had centuries to do that unmolested by the Europeans.

Before or after they were mostly wiped out by disease that europeans brought over?

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 1:17 am UTC
by gmalivuk
Real medicine is already often based on herbs. So while NCCAM may have done some valuable research on a few that actually turned out to be effective, eliminating NCCAM entirely wouldn't seriously hurt the chances of genuinely useful herbal remedies. And it would eliminate the amount of money that's wasted on things that have vanishingly small likelihood of ever returning the investment.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 1:24 am UTC
by Mr. N
All that money spent testing and I can guarantee they forgot to try combining a red herb and a green herb. Amateurs.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:29 pm UTC
by i
Naturally, NCCAM's response was "wow, placebos are just as effective as our herbs. We should invest money in developing that."

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 5:23 pm UTC
by Hooch
What kind of influence would mind-over-matter have on this herbal study?

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 6:10 am UTC
by gmalivuk
What do you mean by mind over matter, if not placebo? (Which this study said was as effective as herbal remedies, which is to say the herbs themselves convey no additional benefit.)

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 2:56 pm UTC
by Internetmeme
The Reaper wrote:Before or after they were mostly wiped out by disease that europeans brought over?


That's before. Remember, the Europeans were dying by the thousands too from their own disease. IIRC, they were a cesspool just up until the Enlightenment. Besides, antibiotics weren't invented for another ~300 years after Columbus landed in the Caribbean, and neither side could really defend against the diseases; the main problem here was that the natives had no natural immunity. I remember reading about one case in MesoAmerica of how a civilization of 12 million dwindled down to 200,000. I think the Arab nations were more advanced up until then, though. They were the first "modern" area of the world to figure out that filth attracts disease.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:59 am UTC
by Hooch
gmalivuk wrote:What do you mean by mind over matter, if not placebo? (Which this study said was as effective as herbal remedies, which is to say the herbs themselves convey no additional benefit.)


What if this particular crowd didn't think that the herbs wouldn't work, therefore rendering them ineffective? I know it sounds crazy, but mind-over-matter has done some crazy shit.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:07 am UTC
by BlackSails
Hooch wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:What do you mean by mind over matter, if not placebo? (Which this study said was as effective as herbal remedies, which is to say the herbs themselves convey no additional benefit.)


What if this particular crowd didn't think that the herbs wouldn't work, therefore rendering them ineffective? I know it sounds crazy, but mind-over-matter has done some crazy shit.


Such as?

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:08 am UTC
by Heavenlytoaster
Hooch wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:What do you mean by mind over matter, if not placebo? (Which this study said was as effective as herbal remedies, which is to say the herbs themselves convey no additional benefit.)


What if this particular crowd didn't think that the herbs wouldn't work, therefore rendering them ineffective? I know it sounds crazy, but mind-over-matter has done some crazy shit.


Then they would have the same effect as a placebo, which is exactly what they demonstrated.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:08 am UTC
by The Great Hippo
Hooch wrote:What if this particular crowd didn't think that the herbs wouldn't work, therefore rendering them ineffective? I know it sounds crazy, but mind-over-matter has done some crazy shit.
This sounds like an escalation I can get behind.

"Okay, we satisfied all the testing requirements for your so-called 'mind-over-matter' explanation..."

"Have you accounted for the magical leprechaun effect?"

"God fucking damn it! How much will that one cost us?"

"Ten million dollars. Thirty if you want to really make sure."

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:51 am UTC
by Phen
i wrote:Naturally, NCCAM's response was "wow, placebos are just as effective as our herbs. We should invest money in developing that."

Been there, done that.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 12:26 pm UTC
by Internetmeme
Besides, if they didn't test out new medicines with placebos, we wouldn't have viagra. The drug's main use was in fact a side effect, as viagra was originally a cold pill.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 4:12 pm UTC
by Hooch
Heavenlytoaster wrote:
Hooch wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:What do you mean by mind over matter, if not placebo? (Which this study said was as effective as herbal remedies, which is to say the herbs themselves convey no additional benefit.)


What if this particular crowd didn't think that the herbs wouldn't work, therefore rendering them ineffective? I know it sounds crazy, but mind-over-matter has done some crazy shit.


Then they would have the same effect as a placebo, which is exactly what they demonstrated.


And what if there was a group of subjects that did believe in the herbal treatment? I'm not saying that they should invest any more money into this, but this would be a good thing to keep on paper while conducting these tests.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:18 pm UTC
by JazzPenguin
Hooch wrote:
Heavenlytoaster wrote:
Hooch wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:What do you mean by mind over matter, if not placebo? (Which this study said was as effective as herbal remedies, which is to say the herbs themselves convey no additional benefit.)


What if this particular crowd didn't think that the herbs wouldn't work, therefore rendering them ineffective? I know it sounds crazy, but mind-over-matter has done some crazy shit.


Then they would have the same effect as a placebo, which is exactly what they demonstrated.


And what if there was a group of subjects that did believe in the herbal treatment? I'm not saying that they should invest any more money into this, but this would be a good thing to keep on paper while conducting these tests.


Then, providing the study was properly controlled and blinded, they would have the same effect as the placebo. That's one of the points of placebo controlled studies, "mind over matter" is so powerful it make a big enough difference that it needs to be removed as a variable. Your points valid though, testing drugs/techniques on people who are keen on the idea that they will work and letting them know what they are is a bad plan.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:58 pm UTC
by mypsychoticself
I realize that these studies are expensive, but they're also important. Plants contain chemicals, which is why some herbal remedies work. However, herbs aren't regulated, and they don't come with instructions. When people use herbs as medicine, without knowledge provided by these studies, people die.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:06 pm UTC
by Weaver
As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions
Not exactly - in fact, while quality double-blind studies have shown a beneficial effect from acupuncture, the same studies showed a greater effect from "sham acupuncture" - in which fake needles which didn't actually penetrate the skin were used. This clearly demonstrates that the only "help" given by acupuncture is due to placebo effect - and this is NOT medicine.

I think it was on Ben Goldacre's site, http://badscience.net (a site with a wealth of information to debunk various claims such as those by alternative medicine promoters, anti-vaxers, etc.), that I saw the following assertion:

There are two basic branches of medical care - Medicine and Alternative Medicine.
Medicine is that group of devices, techniques, and chemicals which have been scientifically proven effective at alleviating various conditions.
Alternative Medicine is that group of devices, techniques, and chemicals which have NOT been scientifically proven effective.
If any Alternative Medicine is ever PROVEN effective, it is simply called "Medicine."

We waste far, far too much time, energy, and especially MONEY on these "Alternative Medicine" scams, boondogles, and bullshit. Personally, I don't really care if some individual wants to waste their money on the crap (although I have to laugh in the face of anyone taking "homeopathic remidies", and laugh even harder when I offer to get them a glass of sea water, on the grounds that it should cure EVERYTHING) - what pisses me off is that governmental and insurance money is spent on this bullshit - it doesn't matter how much science there is, the woo pushers can still find a way to get governmental dollars for it. And that's simply fradulent, in my mind.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:34 pm UTC
by Angua
Internetmeme wrote:Besides, if they didn't test out new medicines with placebos, we wouldn't have viagra. The drug's main use was in fact a side effect, as viagra was originally a cold pill.
Viagra actually started out life as a heart medication, and can still be prescribed for such today (though it's not common).

I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:36 pm UTC
by Mr. N
Angua wrote:I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?


Because you can't bottle and market a tree!

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:00 pm UTC
by Angua
Mr. N wrote:
Angua wrote:I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?


Because you can't bottle and market a tree!
I see, so it was just the evil doctors making it more marketable by changing it from it's glorious natural form :s

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:06 pm UTC
by Mr. N
Angua wrote:
Mr. N wrote:
Angua wrote:I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?


Because you can't bottle and market a tree!
I see, so it was just the evil doctors making it more marketable by changing it from it's glorious natural form :s


And the evil bottlemakers that knew years ago that they can charge $0.75 extra for an EZ-GRIP lid.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 12:27 am UTC
by Internetmeme
Angua wrote:
Internetmeme wrote:Besides, if they didn't test out new medicines with placebos, we wouldn't have viagra. The drug's main use was in fact a side effect, as viagra was originally a cold pill.
Viagra actually started out life as a heart medication, and can still be prescribed for such today (though it's not common).

I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?

It was? I remember reading about the clinical trials in one of those "fun facts" books (No, not the letterman kind). I must've remembered wrong.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:09 am UTC
by gmalivuk
Mr. N wrote:
Angua wrote:I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?

Because you can't bottle and market a tree!

More like, because tree bark scrapings aren't regulated for dosage, they're not regulated for effectiveness, and they're not regulated for safety (for example what other substances may also be on the tree bark). When you buy an untested herbal remedy you don't know (1) how much you're getting, (2) what other things you're also getting, (3) whether it's actually ever been proven effective against the thing you're buying it to treat, or (4) what side effects it causes in some of the people who take it.

You can go right ahead and buy tree bark scrapings, but I'm willing to spend a bit extra for something that has a more reasonable chance of being both safe and effective.

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:45 am UTC
by TheSkyMovesSideways
Angua wrote:I see, so it was just the evil doctors making it more marketable by changing it from it's glorious natural form :s

And if I remember my high-school chemistry, its natural form happened to cause digestive problems (including irritation and bleeding). Good thing people eventually figured out esterification, eh? :lol:

Re: NCCAM finds herbs no better than placebo

Posted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 1:43 pm UTC
by General_Norris
Angua wrote:I always find it fascinating that many people assume herbal = medicinal - bad side effects. I mean, why would we have gone through all the trouble of making aspirin when you can get salicylic acid straight from the tree?


Because it's natural! :lol:

Yeah, I always say the same thing but my mom thinks that way.