When last we left this saga in December 2010, I was complaining about the marketing tactics used by Elmore Oil (basically – saturate the market and rub it in, or should I say lay it on thick). I suggested that if it really was the miracle cure that it claimed, a little bit of decent clinical testing wouldn’t go astray. Well, it turns out that there was some clinical testing, but which for reasons which will become clear, Elmore didn’t want you to see…
I subsequently did some more googling, and in one of the myriad sites around the world spruiking the stuff, I found the following:
In March this year (2006), Elmore Oil will be put to the test by Latrobe University, to determine the effectiveness of the product, both for joint pain and muscle aches and pains.
The most important part of the trials will also investigate the long held belief that Elmore Oil can rapidly reduce the rate of recovery from soft tissue injuries.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the use of Elmore Oil, in conjunction with the RICER regime, can rapidly improve the rate of recovery and this theory will be put to the test at Latrobe in Bundoora.
The clinical trials will be conducted in 2 parts – a 50 person trial on joint pain to be conducted in Bendigo under the supervision of Dr. Helen McBurney and a 50 person trial on soft tissue injury recovery to be conducted at the Bundoora campus, headed by Dr. Tania Pizzari.
Note that this was on a hong kong site www.elmoreoil.com.hk, but which now seems to be undergoing reconstruction, and has a banner which refers to training. Hmmm.
Anyhow, I felt that things were looking up for Elmore, given the reputation of Latrobe as a first class university, in stark contrast to the dubious Phillipines ‘study’ to which the Elmore site refers. Not only that, but the named researchers cite numerous relevant publications, which is also a change from those involved in the Phillipines study, who have nothing in their past work which lends credence to the study.
I subsequently contacted both named researchers to follow this up.
Firstly, Dr. Tania Pizzari, lecturer in the School of Physiotherapy, had this to say:
After a few days of thinking about potential methodology I decided that it would be impossible to run any type of robust clinical trial (particularly with no funding). Quite aside from the fact that I could not see how an oil would make any difference to recovery time of a soft tissue injury that requires a particular inflammatory and healing response.
I have used the bottles of the samples they gave us over the past few years (only at home on family members requiring treatment) and have not seen any magical outcomes above those achieved using cooking oil… not surprisingly.
There are a lot of these products on the market in this field and the only thing I use clinically is sorbolene – simply to decrease the friction on the skin. I don’t even subscribe to anti-inflammatory creams such as Voltaren.
So already one half of the study never happened, and casts doubt on any claims made by Elmore about curing soft tissue injuries – which they also say was the ‘most important part of the trials’.
Incidentally, Dr. Pizzari’s second sentence addresses the issue of whether there was any prospect of a result – was there a prior probability that would lead us to believe that the treatment may have some efficacy? This sort of consideration is too often omitted in credulous or dubious research, but more on that in another blog.
So, on to Dr. McBurney, who has since retired from Latrobe University. Dr. McBurney did indeed conduct a trial, and was happy to discuss it with me in some detail. In summary:
- The design was a double blind cross-over trial on participants with osteoarthritis.
- The aim was to compare Elmore Oil to a similarly scented vegetable oil.
- 25 participants completed the trial.
- The trial was conducted over about three months, testing stiffness, pain and function.
- Initial testing was done to ensure there was no skin reaction.
- Patients nominated activities which they found difficult or painful, but which were in the middle of the range of difficulty or pain, so that a change in either direction could be detected.
- The researcher was also blinded, with two oils in red and green boxes, which were only revealed at the end of the study.
- Trial format was: 2 weeks of observation and measurement with no treatment, all subjects use first oil for 4 weeks and then assessed using a subjective scoring process, 2 weeks of rest, then 4 weeks of the second oil, followed by a second assessment.
The bottom line: there was very little mean difference between the two oils used in terms of effects on pain, joint mobility and self reported function on the patient-specific functional scale. There was overall improvement in mobility and less pain when using either oil and massaging it in to the joint area, but it is not possible to say if it was the oil or the effect of the massage. The only area where there were some differences is that there were some distinct individual preferences for one oil or the other and associated increase in mobility with the use of that oil, but again, there was little distinction between the two.
So, my conclusion is: SAVE YOUR MONEY, and rub sore joints with any old lubricant – it will have the same effect as Elmore Oil. The ball is now in Elmore’s court to replicate this testing and find otherwise.
The trial report was submitted for publication to relevant journals, but deemed by them to be not interesting enough – an unfortunate instance of publication bias. While there was no significant result in either direction, the lack of any nett benefit of Elmore over ordinary oil is of great interest to consumers, and should have been published for that reason alone. This is where a trials register would be invaluable, as I’ve argued before.
Unfortunately, the original trial report can’t be tracked down, but I’ve requested a copy from Elmore, who were given one when the trial completed. I wonder why they haven’t put it on their website? (he asked mischievously).
I’ll soon be putting up an online poll, requesting readers to say whether they think I should hold my breath waiting for Elmore to send me their copy of the report….
* My thanks go to Drs. Tania Pizzari and Helen McBurney for their enthusiastic assistance on this, and willingness to go on record. rb.