Frequency Specific Microcurrent Revisited

About two months ago I wrote a piece describing the practice of Frequency Specific Microcurrent therapy (FSM) and attempted to show why I thought the practice was at best the premature use of an unproven modality and at worst a new way of parting the afflicted from their cash. This post recently attracted a comment from a Chiropractor named Pamela Hall who wished to defend the technique. As the comment was lengthy and covered a number of interesting points I thought I would post my reply as a blog entry. First I would like to thank Pamela Hall, DC, for her comment and I hope that I can reply to her in as thoughtful and considerate a way as she has conducted herself. Her comment starts:

Research that meets the gold standard of large patient numbers, with controls costs millions of dollars. There is very little money available for treatment that won’t make the drug companies or some other big players in the medical-industrial complex a lot of money. This is why the research doesn’t get done on this scale. In fact in the 1930′s all electrical therapies, herbs, and homeopathy were banned. They were a threat to the profit of drug companies and the AMA.

Firstly there have been well designed studies on other modalities that “won’t make the drug companies … a lot of money” such as acupuncture, I don’t see why this one should be any different. Also you have presented a false dichotomy here, the choice is not between large definitive clinical trials and nothing at all, smaller pilot studies published in reputable journals will do. If you can provide that I will be greatly appreciative, the best I could find was a case study which vaguely mentioned “microcurrent” along with several other treatment options. Given the amount of time the treatment has been in use I don’t think this is unreasonable.

Those who are prejudiced against so called “alternative healing” fail to acknowledge that western medicine has used aspirin simply because it worked without knowing the reason why until rather recently. The common treatment for angina is nitroglycerin put under the tongue, and this treatment was taken from the realm of homeopathy.

I will gladly acknowledge that much of conventional medicine has come from herbal preparations, folk remedies and the like and that medicines may be used without knowledge of the method of action. However, that the active constituent of Willow bark, salicylic acid (the precursor to acetylsalicylic acid or Aspirin) was extracted and purified which enabled the creation of medicines of consistent dose and quality, is all because of science. Just because a treatment can be obtained from a particular tradition or practice (such as homeopathy) does not lend credence to any of the other methods common to that source, they all must be evaluated separately on their merits, or lack thereof as the case may be. Also, especially in the case of Aspirin, there is a plausible mechanism of action, where a metabolically active substance is introduced into the body and produces a biological effect.

You failed to mention the research done with the frequency for inflammation, using the same animal model as used to test most all of the anti-inflammatory drugs. FSM reduced inflammation by 64% in four minutes, and they never found a drug that reduced it more that 45%. Further more, all anti-inflammatory drugs have undesirable side effects some of which can be life threatening.

This is a fair point and I will accept it. I presume you are referring to this study, the reason I did not discuss it was essentially practical in nature, I could only find this one page abstract which was thin on details. There was nothing there I could dissect. Even If I could have found the full paper it is likely I would not have gone over it as I would have felt even less capable of interpreting it than the study I did present. You bring up another point though that I agree with, drugs do have side effects, as do almost all other types of treatments. As I pointed out in my original post the very fact that treatments have an effect on the body opens the possibility that that can have negative as well as positive effects. As far as I can determine the claim that FSM has no negative side effects can neither be proved or disproved, as you seem to confirm the data is simply not there.

You stated two frequencies are employed by Dr. McMakin, however, hundreds of frequencies are employed. There are always at least two frequencies applied at a time, one resonating with a specific tissue and one resonating with a specific condition.

This I think is simply a misunderstanding, I am aware that there are more than two frequencies that can be used, and I do allude to this fact in several places. My apologies for not being clear.

Microcurrent increases cellular energy by 500% and also increases protein synthesis. This is not what I would call a modest claim.

This may be true, here is the study (performed in 1982 and used as a reference for FSM everywhere), this study was on rat skin tissue in vitro and as such can not necessarily be extrapolated to treating the whole body or even significant parts of it for specific diseases. In addition I do not know how these increases affect other biological functioning or whether or not they are significant even in the context given. Indeed though there does seem to be a biological effect produced by the microcurrent and I refer you to my point above regarding potential harm. However my main point of disagreement with the treatment is the “Frequency Specific” part, in other words the claim that each disease has it’s own unique vibration that can be used to treat it, that is the real claim being made and that is the part that I find least convincing.

You state that Dr. Abrams was dismissed as a fraud in the 1920′s. You fail to mention that Dr. Abrams was investigated by Upton Sinclair, who according to Wikipedia, “was a Pulitzer Prize-winning prolific American author who wrote over 90 books in many genres and was widely considered to be one of the best investigators advocating socialist views. He achieved considerable popularity in the first half of the 20th century. He gained particular fame for his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle, which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and caused a public uproar that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906.”

Mr. Sinclair reported that “Albert Abrams was one of the most eminent practitioners in San Francisco, the head physician of large hospitals, recognized as the author of important discoveries.” Like many scientists who make major breakthroughs his ideas which involved a new paradigm in healing were met with disbelief and derision of his peers. Upton Sinclair was very skeptical when he first visited Abrams, and expected to be done in a couple of days. Instead he stayed and observed him for a couple of weeks, “and it might have been months or even years, if urgent duties had not called me home.” Sinclair considered Dr. Abrams to be a great scientist who had much to offer humankind.

No I did not, and would not have even had I been aware of his involvement. The opinions of a single author, even a “Pulitzer Prize-winning” one such as Mr. Sinclair would amount to anecdote. I read the biography of Mr. Sinclair and failed to note any mention of scientific training or any indication that he had any other expertise that might have been relevant, fame and popularity do not a reliable source make. Even if this had not been the case this point would have carried little weight as it is simply an appeal to authority and as such does not trump the decades of knowledge gained since his time. It is the consensus of scientific opinion that should be the more trust worthy authority here, the views of a single person, even a distinguished scientist (or author), are simply too prone to error and bias.

FSM is based on a new paradigm in healing. Dr. McMakin explains it well in simplified terms on a video clip now on her website: www.frequencyspecific.com. If you wish to have a better understanding of the scientific underpinnings of Frequency Specific Microcurrent, I suggest you read Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis by James Oschman, Ph.D.

The trouble with new paradigms is that they must first prove themselves in the full sphere of scientific knowledge before they can be accepted. This means that they must either fit with the already established principles we have discovered in the realms of physics, chemistry and biology or provide a new underpinning that incorporates the known facts but explains them in a more complete and satisfying way that can be confirmed or falsified by experiment. When “Einsteinian” physics was discovered it did not overturn Newton, it added a new layer of complexity and richness to our understanding of the Universe.

Once again I would like to thank Pamela for her interest and for taking the time to comment without resorting to simple attacks. None of my points have been made in malice and if and offense is given it is with regret.

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    • Warren A Noblick
    • September 3rd, 2009

    Have you ever heard of Myofascial pain disorder.I have it.You develop trigger points that are about the size of a pea.Pressing them gives you the quality of pain of being stung by a hornet.This is not fibromyalgia.You could gain a lot of information about treating this disorder by reading Dr Janet Travell and Dr Simon.Travell was Presdent Kennedy’s personal Dr.From 2005 thru 2006 I suffered in terrible agony.All conventional medicine had in store for me was being in a opiate stupor.The medical community is pr prejudiced from medical school that the only answer for chronic pain is to become an Oxycontin addict.I told them that there had to be a better way.I was hopeless and went in to a suicidal depression with no hope.A started learning about pain control with out drugs.First I found Dr Hal Blatman of Cincinnati Ohio USA.I had trigger point injections that neutralized many of them.But I could no longer afford this therapy.I turned to CMPT Richard Finn of Pittsburgh PA who uses FSM.IN one treatment every trigger point in my body was deactivated.IN May 2009 I tore 2 inch’s of my Medial meniscus. I had surgery on the cartilage and has some knee arthritis on the 11 Of August 2009.Today I went back to Pittsburgh on September 2 2009.After using several frequencies to treat the swelling and the tare it’s self.I walked out of his office with my pain reduced from a 8 to a 1 in 4 hours of FSM treatment.The therapy that you are talking about was not micro currant.Where talking micro-amps at the cellular level.I was a bit sceptical my self in the beginning,but I am telling you from my experience that IT WORKS.

  1. Thanks for your comment, I am happy to hear that this treatment helped you with your pain management.

    I have never stated that there is no way this therapy can work. In fact I go to great lengths to allow for this potentiality. The difficulty is that there is little evidence to back up the claims made for it, especially those that veer away from inflammation/pain related problems such as Restless Leg Syndrome, Anxiety and Lingering colds for example.

    Again, I’m happy you seem to have received some benefit from pursuing this treatment but hard as it is for many to accept a single testimonial does not constitute good scientific evidence. Nor does a large number of such testimonials collected by proponents and practitioners. The plural of anecdote is not anecdotes Data. This is not to say that they can not be used as a good starting point for future work merely that those who tend to give such testimonials are a self selected group and may not be representative of typical results.

    It is unfortunate that practitioners have not devoted as much time to properly validating their treatment in the scientific and medical arena as they have to promoting it among the public. This sort of behaviour does little to confer the sort of legitimacy the treatment will need if it is to become mainstream.

    • Bob
    • June 26th, 2010

    I think the studies on accupunture are a great example of how to validate this therapy. There are some good acedemic research studies out there on electronic accupumcture that use the same microcurrent wave forms and hertz levels. The only difference is one goes through the skin with a conductor spray and the other through a needle. Sometimes perople who discount obvious success start to sounds like the people who think we never went to the moon. The home micro-current devices are like 70 dollars. Do it yourself.

  2. Bob, thanks for your comment.

    I’d like to breakdown the three modalities you seem to be conflating.

    First you mention acupuncture. This strictly speaking refers to placing needles into specific points of the body to mediate an innate life energy call Qi (or Chi). Multiple studies show that the specific placement of the needles dose not matter, or whether the needles pierce the skin. Nor has any evidence of Qi has yet been shown.

    As seems to be common you are also mixing acupuncture with TENS devices. TENS being an acronym standing for Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation. These devices do provide an analgesic effect as they interfere with nerve function. They are not really a part of acupuncture, the method of applying the electric current is (mostly) separate from the the method of action for the instrument.

    Third, is the FSM treatment that purports to have found (or re-discovered) a wide list of specific electrical frequencies that resonate with particular ailments in order to treat them with specificity. While electrical stimulation can have a biologic effect the (specific) frequency has yet to be shown to be a necessary part of the process. Perhaps you have a properly controlled study you would like to reference that corrects this deficiency?

    Further, for what ailments are you proposing this treatment for? Pain is a reasonable use as it is subjective and responds to electrical stimulation but my problem with the FSM is that it is being recommended for use outside of pain relief and attempting to use a bait and switch method of promotion. Pointing to studies that show effectiveness of electrical stimulation and using that to assert that the “special frequencies” work on specific diseases.

    Finally I am always told to “just try it” as if my personal experience is a reliably guide to the effectiveness of these various treatments. My entire point is that subjective use is a completely unreliable test of these modalities and evidence, if it is to be found at all, is to be gathered using methods that are designed to rule out personal bias and confounding factors i.e. Science.

    • ben
    • March 27th, 2011

    thanks for providing more info on this treatment. Our state is paying naturopathic doctors to perform this treatment and I can really only find information being produced by those who actively sell the treatment.

    http://vermontmedicineshow.blogspot.com/

    • No problem, I hope the info is helpful.

    • Ara
    • July 22nd, 2012

    The other time my friend pointed out this double standar about anecdotal data. Always when talking about alternative treatments, positive anecdotal data is dismissed. However, negative anecdotal data is always highlighted. The same thing with small studies.

    • You have neglected the corollary part of your anecdote story, and in omitting this you make the altmed crowd seem more reasonable than they really are. This is that they will cling to positive anecdote as evidence but ignore negative anecdotes when presented. What you are seeing is that the science based camp acknowledges that anecdotes are not very good evidence but are trying to show that where you accept positive anecdotes you must also accept the negative ones.

      With regard to small studies, they are simply less reliable than large studies and they are more likely to produce a false positive result. If you have a problem with his, take it up with reality – and urge altmed practitioners to do larger well controlled studies.
      Thanks

    • Coincidentally, SciencebasedMedicine.org published an article this weekend that partially addresses my point about small studies:

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-plausibility-problem/

      see the section on “Study Power”.

      The entire premise of the article is geared toward “Prior Plausibility/Probability” which also bears on the case of FSM.

    • Cheryl Thorne
    • March 21st, 2013

    I am another person that FSM helped. I had a back injury from a car accident and all I had offered was pain killers (no thank you, I want a cure, if possible) and a chiropractic. A health practitioner friend heard my stories of how my back was feeling after a few treatments and she said. “Leave that doctor! Your nerves are too irritated for chiropractic. They need healing, not more stimuation! I believe FSM and acupunture would help much more.” So I followed her advice, using a combination of both- 10 treatments each. With 5-10 days after completing the treatments, my back was greatly improved, and now 6 years later, my back, without further treatments of any kind, is still 95% improved from the injury and I require NO pain management or meds.

    • I need to write a section on the “Commenting” page about testimonials and anecdotes, thanks for the reminder.

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