Could a detox massage really help cure ME?
by Barbara Lantin
At school, Lizzie Jolley was envied by her classmates for her energy and sporting success. Picked for most sports teams every year, she swam, played netball, hockey and tennis and gained a Duke of Edinburgh gold award.
At university, she added diving and sailing to her list of accomplishments. But within 18 months of graduating in 2001, she was so ill that there were days when she could barely struggle out of bed. Walking was difficult and serious exercise impossible.
"I would wake up feeling really groggy – as if somebody had hit me over the head with a baseball bat – and very depressed, which was really unlike me as I have always been a happy person,' says Lizzie, now 28.
"I knew something was seriously wrong but I had no idea what it was."
Lizzie's GP arranged for her to have some blood tests. When these came back clear, he diagnosed ME by process of elimination, as there is no definitive test for the condition. The symptoms persisted and Lizzie remembers Christmas 2002, one month after her diagnosis, as a low point.
"I could not exercise, go out with my friends or even enjoy a drink without throwing up. I thought this illness would be with me for life."
But by March the following year, Lizzie was on the road to recovery, thanks – she believes – to a technique devised by Manchester osteopath Raymond Perrin.
Perrin – who is not a medical doctor but gained a PhD for his work on ME – believes that the condition is caused by the body's inability to rid itself of harmful organisms and chemicals, including bacteria, viruses and environmental pollutants. He claims that his massage techniques stimulate the lymphatic system – the network of vessels that carry infectionfighting cells round the body and remove foreign bodies – to drain these toxins away.
In one trial, published in the Journal of Medical Engineering And Technology in 1998, the symptoms of 33 patients treated by Perrin improved on average by 40 per cent, while the untreated group deteriorated by an average of 1 per cent.
In a second – unpublished – trial that specifically investigated muscle strength, ME patients who had a year's treatment regained far more strength than those left untreated.
Despite these trials, Perrin's approach remains controversial. It is not accepted by the medical profession and there has been no robust independent research showing that the lymphatic system is involved in ME. His book describing the technique was published last month.
ME – also known as chronic fatigue syndrome – is a debilitating illness that affects up to 250,000 people in the UK, around 55,000 of them so badly that they are housebound. Once labelled ‘yuppie flu' and believed to have a psychological cause, it is now more widely recognised as a chronic physical illness, but what lies behind it is still unclear.
A number of possible causes are under investigation. Neil Abbott, director of operations at ME Research UK, says that ME may not even be one syndrome, but instead a collection of symptoms with different causes.
Conventional treatments, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exercise therapy, painkillers and antidepressants bring relief to some, but others find that they make little difference and turn instead to some of the huge range of complementary therapies apparently offering a promise of improvement.
For of these, including the Lightning Process described in Good Health earlier this year, there is very little scientific evidence.
Lizzie Jolley's doctor prescribed sleeping tablets to improve the quality of her sleep and CBT, both of which helped a little. In February 2003, Lizzie's mother was told about Raymond Perrin by a neighbour whose teenage daughter he had successfully treated for ME. After examining Lizzie, he confirmed the diagnosis.
According to Perrin, ME occurs when the body's nervous system is put under stress, causing the lymphatic system, which it controls, to work less efficiently. The stress may be caused by a physical problem, such as back strain or trauma; by environmental factors such as pollution or by an emotional upset such as a bereavement. In Lizzie's case, he thought that whiplash after a car accident while she was in New Zealand may have been a contributory factor.
Because the drainage pathways of the lymphatic system do not work properly, toxins – including bacteria, viruses, atmospheric pollutants such as cigarette smoke and petrol and waste products from food – build up. One final trigger, usually an infection, increases the toxic overload and tips the patient into the condition known as ME.
On Lizzie's first visit to his clinic in Manchester, Perrin gently massaged her back, neck, armpits and head.
"I remember when he held my skull he was so still that my mum thought he'd gone to sleep. It was as if he was in a trance. I slept the entire way back to Nottingham in the car and then all that night and the following day – about 20 hours, the best sleep I'd had in ages."
After a few weeks, Lizzie began to feel significantly better. First her eyesight began to return to normal, then her concentration improved, the muscles in her legs ached less and her exhaustion subsided.
In May, Lizzie ran a half marathon and this month she is attempting the gruelling Three Peaks Challenge, climbing the three highest mountains on mainland Britain in 24 hours.
"Without a doubt, I have now made a full recovery and I know that I could not have done it without the Perrin Technique," she says.
The Perrin Technique does not work for everybody, cautions Dr Charles Shepherd, medical advisor to the ME Association, who is sceptical about the approach.
"This is just one person's hypothesis and I am not convinced that the theory behind it is scientifically sound," he says.
"The trials that have been done are not of a sufficiently high standard to make people sit up and take notice. Patients may find this kind of treatment helpful when delivered by a sympathetic practitioner, but whether the underlying process actually has any effect on the disease is another matter."
Heather Walker, of the charity Action for ME, said: "As a matter of policy we do not recommend individual therapists."
The Perrin Technique – How To Beat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / ME by Dr Raymond Perrin, Hammersmith Press, £14.99. To find a licensed Perrin practitioner, see www.theperrinclinic.com