The Erchonia logic

By Jan Tunér, Swedish Laser Medical Society


The Erchonia Medical Company prides itself of being the only laser company that has based its sales upon scientific research. Since the suggested use of the Erchonia laser differs substantially from that of traditional laser therapy, it is necessary to analyze the statements by the Erchonia Medical Company.

The basic of the Erchonia therapy is this:
Red laser light at 635 nm, power output of 7 mW, beam dispersed over a large linear area, scanned and applied through clothes and dressings, which is claimed to be sufficient to treat a great number of pathologic conditions.
Since this is contradicting established laser therapy research, based upon 40 years of studies and more than 3000 published papers, let us scrutinize the Erchonia claims:

1.The Erchonia claims are based upon research by the company and therefore more scientific than those of all other companies.

It is true that Erchonia has presented many investigations using their equipment and deserves credit for doing so. Some, on fat emulsification, have been published in per reviewed journals (but contradicted by one paper). The main target of the research is, however, centered upon winning FDA approval to allow marketing, not to produce scientifically valid findings. For instance, their investigation on pain has still not been published in a peer reviewed journal. The philosophy is clearly seen in the statement ….Low level lasers have endeavored in more substantial clinical, cellular & molecule trails that have not only been expensive to undertake, but time consuming; This is in part the reason why there are still very few indications for low power lasers [1]. An “indication” is not the same as an FDA clearance to sell some equipment.

2.The Erchonia method is based upon scientific evidence.

Looking on the company’s web site and on those of users and supporters, we find words such as:

These are all key words in the so-called alternative medicine and consequently not scientific. The word “science” has a strict definition and does not include any alternative methods until these have indeed qualified themselves as scientific. Some have passed this transformation, some may still do it and some will never pass. A presentation of such scientifically non-accepted ideas can be seen on Youtube [2], where one of the persons often referred to by Erchonia talks about his ideas.
One of the most commonly used methods in Erchonia therapy is applied kinesiology (not to be mixed up with kinesiology). The most frequent test in kinesiology is to check the muscle strength of the patient, then perform a therapy, (crystals, magnets, touch, electricity, colors, laser etc) and then retest. The validity of this method is not only questioned but completely rejected by the scientific community. In the book Trick of treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial [3] the authors write “When testing these methods scientifically, the most reliable investigational methods show that these methods lack effect. Generally they do not meet the repetition criterion (a trial must be possible to repeat to be valid), which means than ten therapist can give ten different diagnostic results.” One of the authors is a former professor of complementary medicine and former homeopath (Edzard Ernst) and one is a doctor of particle physics (Simon Singh).Their book is based upon a thorough evaluation of the available scientific documentation of alternative medicine.

The Wikipedia description of the methods is as follows:
The term alternative medicine, as used in the modern Western world, encompasses any unproven healing practice "that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine".[1] Commonly cited examples include naturopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Unani, Ayurveda, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy, acupuncture, and diet-based therapies, in addition to a range of other practices.[2] It is frequently grouped with complementary medicine, which generally refers to the same interventions when used in conjunction with mainstream techniques,[3][4][5] under the umbrella term complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. Some significant researchers in alternative medicine oppose this grouping, preferring to emphasize differences of approach, but nevertheless use the term CAM, which has become standard.[6][7]
Alternative medicine practices are as diverse in their foundations as in their methodologies. Practices may incorporate or base themselves on traditional medicine, folk knowledge, spiritual beliefs, or newly conceived approaches to healing.[8] Jurisdictions where alternative medical practices are sufficiently widespread may license and regulate them. The claims made by alternative medicine practitioners are generally not accepted by the medical community because evidence-based assessment of safety and efficacy is either not available or has not been performed for many of these practices. If scientific investigation establishes the safety and effectiveness of an alternative medical practice, it may be adopted by conventional practitioners.[9][10] Because alternative techniques tend to lack evidence, some have advocated defining it as non-evidence based medicine, or not medicine at all. Some researchers state that the evidence-based approach to defining CAM is problematic because some CAM is tested, and research suggests that many mainstream medical techniques lack solid evidence.[11]

3. Erchonia claims that people can be treated with weak red light through clothes, whether black or transparent and also through wound dressings.

In a Youtube demonstration [4], Dr Kevin Flattery, an employee of Majes-Tec Innovations (an Erchonia Medical affiliation) claims that photons travel through our body. Steven Shanks, founder of Erchonia is participating in the same program and has no objections. This claim is against the laws of physics and is simply not true. Neutrinos do pass through our bodies; photons in the LPT range do not. Anybody can verify this through a simple test. As for wound dressings, this is partly correct. In the study by Lilge and Nunes [5], the transmission of laser light varies with different dressings (and wavelengths) but can reach 50%, depending on the type of dressing and wavelength. The claim by Erchonia here is not entirely incorrect but the veracity is rather relative.
The First Law of Photochemistry (and photophysics) states that: light must be absorbed for photochemistry (or photophysics) to occur. When irradiating a spread-out 7 mW red laser beam through clothing, there will only be a fraction of the light absorbed in the tissue, and at a superficial level only. Even though we do recognize systemic effect, there must be a certain energy threshold in the tissue to trigger such effects. A penetration film demonstrating the transmission loss of 650 nm red light through different textiles can be found here. (avi 70 mb)

4.Erchonia claims that “there seem to be many self proclaimed experts in laser therapy and the problem is none of them actually do any research”.

The problem here is that the company has problems finding serious researchers standing up for their claims. Those of any scientific standard who have used the Erchonia laser with good results have used it within the range of its normal capacities (wound healing and other superficial conditions, and not through clothes). It is also odd that the company chooses to quote such “self proclaimed experts” when the opinions of these persons are in agreement with those of Erchonia. [1] It is also the opinion of Erchonia that persons who have not been performing research do not have any knowledge in a subject. Thus, a doctor of physics specialized in optics and having been focusing on LPT for 25 years has no knowledge in the field.

5.According to Erchonia Medical there are very low level lasers (effective) such as those of the company itself and “heat lamps” of excessive output, which do more harm than good.

The author does not touch upon the following:

  1. About 90% of all published in vivo studies have used powers between 30-500 mW [5].
  2. The text seems to overlook these lasers and reading it gives the impression that there are only two kinds of lasers – those below 10 mW and those above 1000 mW.
  3. The author uses the term “heat lamps” for the majority of FDA approved lasers, well knowing that this designation is a “benevolent loophole” by the FDA. By classifying a laser as a heat lamp the manufacturer is allowed to sell the laser. But a 500 mW laser is of course not a heat lamp and the mechanism is not based upon heat but upon photobiology. This is common knowledge.
     A digest of the scientifically confirmed dose intervals for musculo-skeletal indications can be found on www.walt.nu.
  4. Erchonia Medical states: A study proved that 540nm and 633nm had a strong effect on the action potential of the nerve and 904nm, 660nm, 830nm, 880nm and 950nm had no effect. Since these wavelengths are not affecting the nerve through biostimulation they try and affect the nerve through heat which has a completely different consequence.

Erchonia either shows little understanding of the conclusions that can be drawn from individual studies, or worse, knowingly chooses to ignore a vast body of scientific literature that states the opposite. For example, leading researchers in the US are using 830 nm for nerve regeneration, 780 is very successfully used in Israel. The above quote is a blatant way of reading the bible in the way the devil does.

Summing up, the claims by Erchonia Medical are biased and a scientific rationale for the effects is missing, except for the indications we already know low levels of red laser light can do. Erchonia may or may not find new areas for treatment and develop new concepts. If so, they are to be congratulated, but for the time being the claim of the Erchonia Medical to be a science based company is at the present moment simply not true. Mixing science and pseudoscience never pays in the long run and a strict scientific approach is the only way to gain acceptance for laser phototherapy. A demonstration of the Erchonia style of treating through clothes has been on Youtube for a long period and can be seen here.(n.b..quick time .mov)

References:

  1. http://www.erchonia.com/default.asp?contentID=48
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgDGBDn2ybo
  3. http://www.trickortreatment.com/
  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LopqinRqSTQ
  5. Nunes and Lilge
LLLT, lllt, laser therapy - biostimulation
The Low Level Laser Therapy -
LLLT Internet Guide


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