Why NCCAM Should Stop Funding Reiki Research

Stephen Barrett, M.D,

Reiki is one of several nonsensical methods commonly referred to as "energy healing." These methods are based on the notion that the body is surrounded or permeated by an energy field that is not measurable by ordinary scientific instrumentation. The alleged force, said to support life, is known as ki in Japan, as chi or qi in China, and as prana in India. Reiki practitioners claim to facilitate healing by strengthening or "balancing" it. Looking for evidence that this force exists or affects health makes no more sense than searching for ghosts. Yet the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has funded five studies intended to test reiki's effectiveness.

Three of the studies have been completed. In June 2009, I searched PubMed using the principal investigator's name and the word "reiki" and learned that only one of the studies had been reported. Searches with Google for the two other completed studies uncovered no signs that their results had been published. Here's a summary of what I found. (The links connect with descriptions on the clinicaltrials.gov Web site.) The NCCAM Press Office supplied the funding amounts.

Efficacy of Reiki in the treatment of fibromyalgia (NCT00051428): $304,808

The use of reiki for patients with advanced AIDS (NCT00065208): $169,692

Effects of reiki on painful neuropathy and cardiovascular risk factors (NCT00010751): $1,893,411

Effects of energy healing on prostate cancer (NCT00064208): 372,500

Reiki and physiological consequences of acute stress (NCT00346671): $570,299

The Bottom Line

Reiki is unsubstantiated and lacks a scientifically plausible rationale [2]. There's no logical reason to believe that studying it will have any practical benefit. So far, NCCAM has spent $3,311,000 on five studies. Scarce government research dollars should not be used to study it further.

References

  1. Reiki for the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14:1115-1122, 2008.
  2. Barrett S. Reiki is nonsense. Quackwatch, April 19, 2009.

This article was revised on June 23, 2009..

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