Alternative medicine is widely used, but lacks consensus regarding its amenability to scientific investigation. Anxiety increases morbidity and mortality in ischemic heart disease. We performed two studies of Palmtherapy(R), an alternative treatment, for anxiety before cardiac catheterization. In the first study, patients were randomized to receive pressure at particular points on the palm, or at incorrect locations, for about 50 min, while the therapist conversed with them. In the second study, the conversation was conducted by a second, 'blind' investigator. In both studies, patients and nurses, all blind to treatment assignment, completed visual analog scale and National Institute of Mental Health measures of anxiety, respectively. Twenty-three subjects completed study 1, and 17 completed study 2. In study 1, palm therapy was superior to sham therapy for both outcome measures. In study 2, palm therapy was superior for self-reported anxiety, but not for nurses' assessments of anxiety. Future studies should attempt to separate possible mechanistic effects of Palmtherapy(R) from therapist-related variables. Whether alternative medicine deserves to be studied at all remains controversial. Palmtherapy(R) may offer anxiolytic benefit without the harm attributable to drugs.
Keywords: complementary medicine; heart disease; psychiatry; stress.