CAM taking advantage of stroke patients

So-called “complimentary and alternative medicine” strikes again. I recently posted about some bull I found regarding subluxation of the shoulder. Now it’s a magic pill that helps stroke recovery. These predators are horrible, vile human beings. Here’s why.

In my current work placement, I work with stroke patients. I see about 3-4 people every day who have had a stroke and are in various stages of recovery. Some people recover quickly and regain most of their function, some people recover more slowly, and some never regain much function. Its a lot of hard work.

For example, a person I work with has recently learned to walk again after months of rehab in the hospital. It’s a lot of effort. It was a long road and there’s still a long road ahead. But we’re working on it with evidence-based practice and rationally-guided clinical reasoning. The people have lost the use of half of their body and are working like mad to get it back – IF they can get it back. This is one of the hardest things that can happen to a person, depending on the severity and the person’s outlook.

I was looking up rehabilitation techniques for various stages of stroke and imagine my ire when the hard work and dedication of both the patients and therapists are shat on by a little “ancient Chinese” (uh huh) pill claiming to improve stroke recovery by magical ancient Chinese means. Thank you, CAM, for making people’s lives even harder by promising them magic and delivering nothing. Thank you also for wasting my time – again.

They describe this “medicine” with lots of words like: natural, ancient, extracted, industrial process, welcomed by the media, and quality standards.

Of course none of those words are: clinical trials (note the plural), effective, ethics approval, animal studies, and standard of care.

The website claims that there are studies underway and data has been gathered. Ok, so when I see that and the drug demonstrably effective in a non-biased, well-designed series of studies, then I might think there’s something to this. I’m willing to reserve total judgement until the verdict is in on effectiveness, but here’s what drives nails in the coffin for me:

If it was suspected to be effective but still under investigation, responsible manufacturers and scientists would follow an appropriate progression of studies and would publish at each stage. For example, animal studies followed by small clinical trials followed by large randomized double-blind placebo-controlled studies. There is no evidence on the drug’s own website that this has occurred other than a vague claim that this information is coming.

The second nail is reliance on these “ancient Chinese” descriptors and unsubstantiated recommendations. If it works, it works. Why does it even matter if it’s “ancient” or “Chinese”? It usually only matters if the treatment actually has nothing else going for it – like, say, effectiveness.They have a recommended dosage, but there’s no data (other than a small “clinical trial“) on where they came up with this dosage and why. There’s also no indication of how the drug actually works other than: “It’s been used in China for a long time! :D”

From the website:

Though the exact mechanism of actions is unknown it is thought that NeuroAiD™ supports the neuroplasticity by creating an ideal environment for optimal neuronal reorganization and recovery. Further clinical research is on-going in hospitals to evaluate the exact effect of NeuroAiD™ at different stages of stroke onset.”

You know what would give them that information? Proper animal studies of the neurological mechanisms of action of the drug and chemical assays of these brains to determine the effect on brain neurochemistry. This paragraph essentially states that they are giving people a drug that screws with the brain of a stroke patient and THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S DOING. They don’t know the mechanisms, the long term effects, the rate at which recovery can be expected, if recovery is maintained after the drug is discontinued, etc. If they did any of these animal studies, they are not mentioned on the website that I could find.

The final nail (well the last one I was willing to waste time on) is the testimonials section. Testimonials. Seriously? Anonymous, possibly made-up “testimonials”? People’s opinions of a drug’s effectiveness are taken into account in as much as people can report how they feel and any side-effects they’ve experienced. Other than that, what they have to say is pretty much useless so objective measures of performance are used instead. If drug X claims to do A, then a series of objective measures for A are given to each study participant and the data is collected and reported in a standardized way that allows for meaningful comparison between the control and experimental groups. In short: testimonials are meaningless to scientists, important to PR.

Conclusions
Ok. So, while “NeuroAiD” (the magic pill in question) may one day be shown to be effective, it is certainly not demonstrably effective right now. Damning to their case is their reliance on the trifecta of CAM smokescreens: ancient Chinese “natural” ingredaments, testimonials, and one tiny clinical trial. After reading their website (versus scientific drug product websites that have been sufficiently investigated to make the claims they make), I conclude that this is a load of predatory bull. They have enough legitimate-looking items on there (links to stroke foundations, definitions that can be copied out of any stroke website, etc) to make a layperson think they know what they are talking about, but all the hallmarks of snake oil rear their ugly heads too often for me to take this seriously.

Go get me some evidence and call me in a few years. Until then, stop preying on stroke patients.

[Edit: PS. This was a sponsored link at the top of my Google search for “stroke rehabilitation”. Yay Google.]

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4 responses to “CAM taking advantage of stroke patients

  1. The worst part about this is how many of these types of drugs are out there, along with all the other “herbal” remedies. I recommend alerting Quackwatch.com (one of my heroes)

  2. Yes, I’m a fan also. Good idea.

  3. I got this from a Neuroaid representative supposedly that proves its efficacy.
    http://content.karger.com/produktedb/produkte.asp?typ=fulltext&file=000155220
    This line is critical to understanding effectiveness.
    The impact of Neuroaid treatment cannot be differentiated
    from the contribution of natural recovery, medication and physiotherapy effects.

  4. Hello,

    This is the result of the latest publication on NeuroAiD:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21925062
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21776364

    “MLC601 showed better motor recovery than placebo and was safe on top of standard ischemic stroke medications especially in the severe and moderate cases”

    The biggest Clinical Trial on Stroke Recovery in Asia (CHIMES) with more than 1000 stroke subjects will show the results this year also. It will show more data on the efficacy of NeuroAiD.

    Hope that helps