Thursday September 23, 2004
Â· “Cranial osteopathy – aligning the plates of the skull.” Sounds great. Maybe I can use it to treat my hangovers. The Times certainly likes it, and it even got Dr Toby Murcott to tell us how it works in a box, alongside a case study, called “What’s the evidence?” Toby says: “Can cranial osteopathy treat the brain? Cranial osteopathy is a gentle technique – practitioners claim to feel a subtle pulse in the fluid surrounding the brain. There is some research to suggest that these pulses are related to slow, regular changes in blood pressure in the brain. This has yet to gain wide acceptance and it’s not clear how working with these might lead to health improvements.” Here’s what you need to know.
Â· First, cranial osteopaths don’t even think the pulses are blood pressure; their theories revolve around the “inherent rhythmic motility” of the brain and spinal cord, mixed with breath and cardiac cycles, causing rhythmic fluctuation of the brain and surrounding fluid, which they think they can feel through the bones of your skull, and fix up with a bit of wiggling. They write long articles about actin and myosin (the things in muscle cells that make them move) being present in brain cells; unfortunately, they always forget to mention that brain cells lack the dense arrays of those filaments which are necessary to generate any significant movement.
Â· But are there real “cranial pulses” to be felt, however they may be generated? It’s easy to find out: ask a couple of cranial osteopaths to write down the frequency of the pulses on the same person’s skull, and then see if they give the same answer. There have been five papers published doing just this, and in none of them did the osteopaths give similar answers. Which suggests to me that (a) this is not a reliable biological phenomenon, and (b) perhaps these cranial osteopaths are, er, imagining it. So: the discipline is based on a misunderstanding, they can’t measure what they claim to measure and work with, and there’s no evidence to say it works.
Â· When I see a box labelled “What’s the evidence?” next to a health article by a Dr Toby Murcott, call me naive, but I assume he’s a medical doctor, rather than a science journalist with a PhD. And by now, regular readers must be wondering how I’m going to crowbar Gillian McKeith into this column. Well, what do you know, Dr Toby Murcott was the “science adviser” on You Are What You Eat, the TV show that told us we should eat more dark leaves, because the chlorophyll would oxygenate our blood. Bravo.
The following appeared two weeks later:
Don’t knock it
Thursday October 7, 2004
I don’t care what Ben Goldacre says (Bad science, September 23), after having severe sleeping problems for almost two years due to stress I was referred to an osteopath by my GP. I haven’t needed sleeping pills since (three months now). Bad science? Perhaps, but it worked for me.