During the current COVID-19 pandemic there is understandably a big focus on the immune and respiratory systems. Unfortunately, some practitioners are exploiting this pandemic for their own benefit by making unsubstantiated claims about their treatments helping these systems. One such example is Lymm Osteopathic Practice, which claimed that acupuncture can benefit the immune and respiratory systems and that this may be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is simply no evidence to support these claims. The acupuncturist (Daniel Windridge) went on to claim that he uses this in his practice to treat Asthma, COPD and Lung Sarcoidosis. Daniel even claimed that “results can be immediate”. These can be serious conditions and an acupuncturist is not qualified to treat them. They should instead be treated by a doctor.
Acupuncture beliefs and (lack of) evidence
Acupuncturists believe that there are specific “acupuncture points” that influence particular organs or parts of the body. This isn’t supported by science or evidence. In this particular case, the promoted idea is that there are twelve “immune acupressure points” and that by applying pressure to these points there will be improvement in the immune and respiratory systems. According to the article, five of the acupressure points are located on the arms and seven on the legs. I do wonder, what on earth makes someone believe that they can influence the immune system by pressing on different parts of the arms and legs? There is simply no plausible biological mechanism by which this could possibly happen and no evidence to support these claims. These (and any other) special “acupuncture” points simply don’t exist. The ideas behind them are based on pre-scientific beliefs and should have no place in modern healthcare.
Tackling these misleading claims
I reported this to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on 29th May via their COVID-19 specific complaint form. Unfortunately, this didn’t result in a change and the misleading claims remained on the Lymm Osteopathic Practice website. The acupuncturist also continued to promote this misleading information via his twitter account with regular tweets about the “immune acupressure points”. Given the seriousness of these claims I decided to make a further complaint to the ASA on 18th July using their normal complaint form. This time around the ASA took action and contacted Lymm Osteopathic Practice to inform them that they had broken advertising rules and to provide guidance on the changes needed. The page has now been removed from the Lymm Osteopathic Practice website, which is good news.
If you would like to know more about the original claims, here is a screenshot of the first part of the article. (I also have further screenshots of the rest of it):
Although these particular misleading claims have been removed from the Lymm Osteopathic Practice website, many more misleading claims remain. For instance, look at this post about the treatment of a baby: https://www.lymmosteopathicpractice.co.uk/case-study-the-baby-with-sinus-problems/ It is worrying that any parent would think that they should take a baby with the following symptoms to an osteopath: “skin a strange shade of pink, with a bluey purple tinge, he also was subdued, lethargic and very floppy”. Osteopaths in the UK are complementary and alternative therapists, not doctors. According to the article, “There are several techniques that Osteopaths can employ to unblock sinuses”. This is nonsense. There are no osteopathic techniques that have been shown to be effective for unblocking sinuses. In this particular case, things turned out okay. However, it’s likely that this was just down to good luck rather than the actions of the osteopath. The outcome could have been very much worse and the baby should have been treated by a doctor straight away. The osteopath is now using this story to try and persuade other parents to take their babies in for treatment. This is potentially dangerous as maybe the outcome won’t be so good next time around. There are no infant health conditions for which osteopathy has been shown to be effective and no good reason to take any baby to an osteopath.
Osteopaths are regulated healthcare professionals and should not be misleading members of the public with unsubstantiated treatment claims. This includes claims made about their own treatments as well as by other therapists who work at their practices. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened here. Misleading claims like this are by no means an isolated incident within the osteopathic profession. I have previously reported on osteopaths and chiropractors making misleading claims about their treatments “boosting the immune system”. I have also written about many other misleading claims from the osteopathic profession such as giving the impression that they are doctors (they aren’t) and the leading UK osteopathic education institution training osteopaths to treat respiratory conditions in children. Not all UK osteopaths make these sorts of misleading claims but it is a problem that is far more widespread than should be expected from a regulated healthcare profession.
Acupuncture treatments won’t help the immune and respiratory systems. Not only is there no evidence to support these claims but there is no plausible biological mechanism by which this could possibly happen. In fact, there is little evidence to support the use of acupuncture for any health condition. Even in pain, the evidence on acupuncture is conflicting and inconclusive. It’s also important to be aware that acupuncturists are not doctors and any serious health conditions ought to be treated by a doctor.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is natural for people to look for ways to protect themselves by undertaking treatments that they hope will prevent and / or treat COVID-19. Unfortunately, this has led to the promotion of a wide range of “treatments” that do not actually help at all. If you find an acupuncturist, osteopath or chiropractor who claims that they can help you prevent or treat COVID-19 or that their treatments can benefit the immune system then please steer well clear.