Monday, 11 October 2010
The European Shiatsu School of Boredom
While at last week's Mind-Body-Bullshit expo, and while trying to spy on an unrelated exhibitor, I fell into conversation with the world's most proficient bore.
Luckily, he eventually accepted my excuse that I was a noted psychic surgeon on call, but not before shoving some flyers into my hands.
Shiatsu is a massage therapy that originated in 1940s Japan.
Unlike some oriental innovations of that era - and unlike, say, chiropractic - it's not actually dangerous. In fact, it's no more or less effective than a good old-fashioned backrub.
The European Shiatsu School - conveniently located in that great hub of pan-European intellectual exchange, Brentford - are trying to tempt students to enrol on their Certificate of Basic Shiatsu course (cost: £1600) or their Diploma in Shiatsu Therapy course (cost: £5200).
According to their flyer (available here and here), Shiatsu can:
"...help in the treatment of...migraines, tinnitus, insomnia...IBS, constipation, acid reflux...gynaecological disorders...asthma, bronchitis...
Edzard Ernst, whose only claim to fame seems to be that he's some kind of Professor of Complementary Medicine, begs to differ:
"What is the evidence? - There are virtually no clinical trials of shiatsu, but there is no reason to think that it is any more effective than a conventional massage...Conclusion - Shiatsu is based on the biologically implausible theory of yin and yang. There is no evidence that is is effective for any specific conditions." - Simon Singh, Edzard Ernst, "Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial"
Who is right? The respected academic with countless peer-reviewed clinical studies under his belt, or the walking miracle insomnia cure?
Let's find out! ASA complaint follows.
"I write to complain about a flyer I picked up at the "Mind - Body - Soul" exhibition in London on 2nd October this year.
The flyer, for the "European Shiatsu School", promotes a 1-year "certificate" and a 3-year "diploma" to prospective students.
I suspect that the flyer may be in breach of two sections of the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP) code (2010). I can provide the original flyer by post, if necessary.
1. Shiatsu is a complementary massage therapy that originated in 1940s Japan.
2. Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, has recently described the state of the clinical evidence for Shiatsu thus: 
"What is the evidence? - There are virtually no clinical trials of shiatsu, but there is no reason to think that it is any more effective than a conventional massage...Conclusion - Shiatsu is based on the biologically implausible theory of yin and yang. There is no evidence that is is effective for any specific conditions."
3. The flyer makes a number of claims that Shiatsu is effective for specific conditions.
4. Under Section 3.7 of the CAP Code, I challenge whether the advertisers can substantiate their claims that "Shiatsu can help in the treatment of the following conditions":
(i) "Stress-related complaints such as head-aches, migraines, eyestrain, tinnitus and insomnia"
(ii) "Digestive ailments - such as IBS, constipation and acid reflux"
(iii) "Gynaecological disorders such as painful, heavy or absent menses and infertility"
(iv) "Respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and COAD"
5. (i) On the same side, the flyer seems to insinuate that Shiatsu is regarded by Western medicine as a plausible therapy with a "sound theoretical base in both Western and Oriental knowledge".
(ii) Considering Professor Ernst's comments, under Section 3.1 I challenge whether the claim that Shiatsu has a "sound theoretical base in...Western...knowledge" is misleading.
6. I confirm that I have no connections with the advertiser. I confirm that I am not involved in legal proceedings with the advertiser.
 Simon Singh, Edzard Ernst, "Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial", First American Edition 2008, p326