A trial has tested new age therapies for chronic fatigue syndrome among children.

It is the first trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of an intervention other than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) also known as ‘talking therapy’ for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is relatively common.

Children with the condition are disabled by fatigue and other symptoms such as headaches, muscle and joint pain and problems concentrating.

The Lightning Process (LP) is a three-day training programme that draws on concepts from osteopathy, life coaching and ‘neurolinguistic programming’ that purports to teach children to use the brain to improve their health.

Hundreds of children are subjected to the Lightning Process for their CFS/ME each year in the UK (at an average cost of £620), but there are no reported studies investigating its effectiveness, cost-effectiveness or side effects.

A research team, led by Professor Esther Crawley at the University of Bristol, set out to investigate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the Lightning Process in addition to specialist medical care, compared with specialist care alone, for children with CFS/ME.

Physical function was measured among dozens of children using a questionnaire called the SF-36-physical function subscale. Data on pain, anxiety, depression, school attendance and cost-effectiveness from a health service perspective were collected at 3, 6 and 12 months.

Participants in both treatment groups improved. However, at 6 months, children who received the LP in addition to specialist medical care, had better physical function and less fatigue and anxiety. At 12 months, children in the SMC+LP group had less fatigue, anxiety, and depression and increased school attendance.

The results remained largely unchanged after further analyses.

The authors outline some study limitations, the most important of which is that they have not shown that the LP is effective on its own but only in addition to specialist medical care.

“The main difference between LP and CBT appears to be the emphasis placed on physiological responses and causal attributions,” explain the authors.

“But we do not know whether these explain the greater effectiveness of LP.”

“We do not know which aspects of the LP are the most important or helpful,” they add. “Further research is needed to understand why LP improves outcomes at 6 and 12 months and which aspects of the LP contribute to its effectiveness,” they conclude.

The study is accessible here.