By: David A. Rustebakke, DVM
There is a good reason to not jump on every bandwagon that comes along. People in general are optimistic, and seek solutions to whatever problem is troubling them at the time. I see it frequently in animal lovers. We are notorious for falling for all types of therapies that will give us an "edge" over the competition; or help our old buddy with a chronic or life threatening problem. It may be a training technique or gimmick, drug, vitamin supplement, joint supplement, joint injection, or some type of miracle machine. Many of these therapies are actually delivered by so called experts; chiropractors, acupuncturists, and sellers of various devices that are supposed to treat conditions that have never in the past been able to be treated successfully with conventional treatments. They are often sold by or endorsed by celebrities, trainers, or others that inspire trust. There are even licensed veterinarians that jump on these bandwagons and promote weird and unproven therapies. There are treatments for founder, navicular syndrome, ringbone, infertility, kidney disease, ulcers, and even colic that neither I nor any other reputable veterinarian know anything about. But if I ask Dr. Google, there it is in black and white on the internet complete with pages of testimonials on how wonderful said "therapy" is, and how "Old Paint" who was about to be put down is now running barrels like a 1D horse, or roping steers with the best of them.
The Placebo Affect explains this phenomenon; the tendency of one who thinks they are being treated with a sham treatment will often get better, the effect of mind over matter. This derives from several sources. We want so badly for the treatment to work that we actually think it is working. Or the problem is actually getting better; after all Mother Nature is a wonderful healer. Any of us in the medical field who think we are actually healers are fooling ourselves. The best we can do is remove the impediments to healing and allow the individual's system to heal itself. That in a nutshell is the foundation of medical therapy.
When I began veterinary school back in the late 1960's many livestock owners (and veterinarians) consulted the "Farmers Almanac" to check the phase of the moon prior to performing many procedures such as castrations, when to plant crops, when to turn the bulls out with the cows, etc.. I soon learned that if I practiced proper surgical technique it didn't matter where the moon was in its cycle. And if I didn't place a proper ligature, they would bleed irregardless of where the moon was.
Sometime in the 17th Century people first started using the 'Scientific Method" to explore the natural world. It has been refined over the years, and is the basis for how we (Veterinarians and Physicians) treat patients today; how we decide what treatments and pharmaceuticals actually work. Researchers divide patients (animals or humans) into two groups randomly. One group is given a treatment or drug, and the other is given a sham treatment or placebo. Neither the patient nor the researcher knows who got the treatment and who got the non treatment. The results are tabulated and analyzed statistically to see if there is a real difference between the two groups. The difference between the two groups is calculated and expressed as a "P Value", a P Value of <.05 is generally accepted as a true difference, which means that there is less than a 5% chance that the difference was due to random chance.
In medicine most of our treatments and drugs we use are based on research that has passed the P Value test. Then after it is used clinically in real life situations we get a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.
Most of the "fad therapies" have not been tested scientifically. There is no FDA oversight as long as no specific medical claims are made. Anybody can say anything about a device, therapy, or any other product and advertise it as the next greatest thing in the universe as long as they avoid certain language. It can't legally be advertised as diagnosing, treating, or curing any specific disease or condition. But all types of implications can be made as long as certain words are avoided. Most of them get by with making cleverly designed claims, and putting a disclaimer at the end saying "this PRODUCT is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any disease or condition" They then recommend that you consult a veterinarian or physician prior to using the device or product. Of course, nobody does.
If these devices, treatments or therapies actually work there will be scientific evidence that they do in fact work. If there is no scientific proof, they are ineffective. It is not that hard to design a scientifically valid experiment to test. If nothing is published it means that they are ineffective. As a licensed veterinarian I can get into huge legal problems with the Board of Veterinary Medicine and even lose my license to practice by using or recommending unproven therapies outside the realm of generally accepted practice.
The Facebook Post to the right is a perfect example. This person is advertising a device which actually does have some scientific backing in certain areas; it is a technology that has been around for many years and has benefited people and animals with certain conditions. However she is making claims that are completely unbelievable. I was recently sent a link to her Facebook page to evaluate what she was saying. The page is full of amazing stories including claims that the coffin bone in a severely foundered horse was actually going back into the normal position.
When we take radiographs the software stamps an indelible date on the image to prevent fraud. She apparently did not realize this. The radiograph that she says was taken after treatment actually was taken in August of 2015 before the horse was foundered. The other one she says was taken 2 weeks earlier was taken in January of 2018. This does not mean the machine is no good, it just means that this lady is using totally unethical advertising practices. I don't know if the machine is capable of healing or not; but I do know that at least one person selling it is totally unethical.
This is but one example, and one that was easily caught. Beware of advertisements of miracle therapies based solely on testimonials from users who have had good results. The results may be made up and misinterpreted. Remember the "Placebo Affect" and ask to see some peer reviewed scientific proof that it actually is effective.
As a medical professional, my goal is to do the best I can for my clients. Therefore I need scientific proof before I recommend a therapy. If it really works, the scientific proof is readily available; if all you can find are testimonials, then it is probably not an effective treatment. The bottom line is "buyer beware".
Dr. David A. Rustebakke
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