MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

naturopathy

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) write and maintain the UK Advertising Codes, which are administered by the Advertising Standards Authority. On their website, the CAP recently published an updated advertising code for naturopathy. As we have regularly discussed the fact that the public is being frequently misled in this area, I consider the code important in the context of this blog. I therefore take the liberty of repeating it here – not least in the hope that this helps preventing misinformation in the future [the numbers in square brackets refer to me footnotes below].

START OF QUOTE

What is Naturopathy?

Naturopathy is a holistic [1] approach to healthcare that uses a combination of one or more different disciplines (for example herbal medicine or hydrotherapy) and a healthy lifestyle [2] in order to gain and maintain a healthy body [3].

What claims are likely to be acceptable?

The promotion of a healthy [4] lifestyle is likely to acceptable as are claims that go no further than those commonly accepted for healthy [4] eating, sleeping well, taking exercise and the like.

What claims are likely to be problematic?

The ASA and CAP have not yet been provided with evidence which demonstrates that Naturopathy can be used to treat medical conditions (Rule 12.1).  Therefore, any claims that go beyond accepted claims for a healthy [4] lifestyle are likely to be problematic [5] unless they are supported by a robust body of evidence.  In 2013, the ASA ruled against claims on a marketer’s website which said that Naturopathy could be used to treat acute and chronic illness and disease because the marketer had not provided any evidence in support of their claims (CNM The College of Naturopathic Medicine Ltd, 13 March 2013).

What about serious medical conditions?

Claims to offer treatment on conditions for which medical supervision should be sought [6] are likely to be considered to discourage essential treatment unless that treatment is carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (Rule 12.2).

END OF QUOTE

Naturopathy has been the subject of my posts before – see for instance here, here, here, here and here. Naturopathy can be dangerous to the point where it can kill the patient – see for instance here and here. Therefore it is important that advertising gets regulated. To make it very clear: the above statement by the CAP is, in my view, a step in the right direction, and I encourage alternative practitioners to look up the equivalent CAP documents for their specific therapy.

Having said that, I still feel the need to make a few comments:

  1. It is misleading to call naturopathy ‘holistic’. This is often factually incorrect and also gives the impression that conventional medicine is not holistic – see also here.
  2. Are we sure that all lifestyles promoted by naturopaths are, in fact, healthy?
  3. Maintaining a healthy body is naturopathy speak for DISEASE PREVENTION. Who decides what is effective prevention? On what evidence? How come many naturopaths are against the most effective means of prevention of all times – vaccination?
  4. Who decides what is ‘healthy’? On what evidence?
  5. Why ‘problematic’? Are they not wrong or bogus or false or fraudulent or criminal?
  6. Are there conditions for which medical supervision should not be sought? Which are they?

Yes, to a large extend, quacks make a living by advertising lies. A paper just published confirms our worst fears.

This survey was aimed at identifying the frequency and qualitative characteristics of marketing claims made by Canadian chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths and acupuncturists relating to the diagnosis and treatment of allergy and asthma.

A total of 392 chiropractic, naturopathic, homeopathic and acupuncture clinic websites were located in 10 of the largest metropolitan areas in Canada. The main outcome measures were: mention of allergy, sensitivity or asthma, claim of ability to diagnose allergy, sensitivity or asthma, claim of ability to treat allergy, sensitivity or asthma, and claim of allergy, sensitivity or asthma treatment efficacy. Tests and treatments promoted were noted as qualitative examples.

The results show that naturopath clinic websites had the highest rates of advertising at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy or sensitivity (85%) and asthma (64%), followed by acupuncturists (68% and 53%, respectively), homeopaths (60% and 54%) and chiropractors (33% and 38%). Search results from Vancouver were most likely to advertise at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy or sensitivity (72.5%) and asthma (62.5%), and results from London, Ontario were least likely (50% and 40%, respectively). Of the interventions advertised, few are scientifically supported; the majority lack evidence of efficacy, and some are potentially harmful.

[Legend to figure above: Percentage of alternative medicine clinic websites advertising at least one of diagnosis, treatment or efficacy for allergy/sensitivity or asthma. Presenting the data in this way demonstrates that the Canadian naturopath, homeopath and acupuncturist websites studied have >50% rates of making at least one health-related claim for both allergy/sensitivity and asthma.]

The authors concluded that the majority of alternative healthcare clinics studied advertised interventions for allergy and asthma. Many offerings are unproven. A policy response may be warranted in order to safeguard the public interest.

In the discussion section, the authors state: “These claims raise ethical issues, because evidence in support of many of the tests and treatments identified on the websites studied is lacking. For example, food-specific IgG testing was commonly advertised, despite the fact that the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has recommended not to use this test due to the absence of a body of research supporting it. Live blood analysis, vega/electrodiagnostic testing, intravenous vitamin C, probiotics, homeopathic allergy remedies and several other tests and treatments offered all lack substantial scientific evidence of efficacy. Some of the proposed treatments are so absurd that they lack even the most basic scientific plausibility, such as ionic foot bath detoxification…

Perhaps most concerning is the fact that several proposed treatments for allergy, sensitivity or asthma are potentially harmful. These include intravenous hydrogen peroxide, spinal manipulation and possibly others. Furthermore, a negative effect of the use of invalid and inaccurate allergy testing is the likelihood that such testing will lead to alterations and exclusions in diets, which can subsequently result in malnutrition and other physiological problems…”

This survey originates from Canada, and one might argue that elsewhere the situation is not quite as bad. However, I would doubt it; on the contrary, I would not be surprised to learn that, in some other countries, it is even worse.

Several national regulators have, at long last, become aware of the dangers of advertising of outright quackery. Consequently, some measures are now beginning to be taken against it. I would nevertheless argue that these actions are far too slow and by no means sufficiently effective.

We easily forget that asthma, for instance, is a potentially life-threatening disease. Advertising of bogus claims is therefore  much more than a forgivable exaggeration aimed at maximising the income of alternative practitioners – it is a serious threat to public health.

We must insist that regulators protect us from such quackery and prevent the serious harm it can do.

A press-release from a company based in Germany recently caught my attention. I here present only the most relevant sections from this document:

Natural remedies like medicinal mushrooms also called vitality mushrooms haven proven helpful in prevention and as a support in the therapy, of diabetes type 2. This could be shown by long-time observational studies in naturopathy, for example by MykoTroph – Institute for Medicinal Mushrooms. Medicinal mushroom Coprinus has regenerating effects on the pancreas; it also helps the sensitization of the receptors responsible for the absorption of insulin and claims to have a blood sugar lowering effect.

Medicinal mushroom Maitake has positive effects on the fat metabolism and the sensitivity of insulin receptors. Diabetes type 2 is often linked to circulation problems, vascular diseases and hypertension. Therefore, regular monitoring of the blood pressure, blood lipids, triglycerides and body weight is highly important. The intake of Maitake can help ‒ even in a preliminary stage ‒ to get a grip on these determining factors.

Within the scope of a holistic therapy of diabetes type 2 with metabolic syndrome, the combined intake of medicinal mushrooms and Nopal juice (prickly pear) can be very reasonable. Nopal juice has a lowering effect on the glycemic index of ingested food. The consequence is a slower release of carbohydrates in the intestines and is therefore favorable for a healthy level of blood sugar…

Medicinal mushrooms are available as mushroom powder capsules. According to observational studies of MykoTroph – Institute for Medicinal Mushrooms, especially mushroom powder derived from the whole mushroom has proven effective. Only if the mushroom powder is derived from the whole mushroom, the powder will contain all of the effective ingredients of medicinal mushrooms. It should also be taken care that the mushrooms are from certified organic production. For further information, please visit us on http://www.mykotroph.com
a Japanese study participants comprised 726 Japanese T2DM outpatients free of history of CVD. Life styles were analyzed using self-reported questionnaires. The relationship between dietary patterns, identified by factor analysis, and potential risk factors for CVD was investigated by linear and logistic regression analyses….The “Seaweeds, Vegetables, Soy products and Mushrooms” pattern, characterized by high consumption of seaweeds, soy products and mushrooms, was associated with lower use of diabetes medication and healthier lifestyles.

END OF QUOTE

These are claims that could be relevant to millions of diabetic patients worldwide – but are they true?

The study cited above did indeed show an association; but an association is not necessarily a causal relationship! So what evidence is there fore a causal relationship between mushroom-consumption and diabetes? The answer is: frustratingly little.

A Cochrane review concluded that “evidence from a small number of randomised controlled trials does not support the use of G lucidum [Ganoderma lucidum (also known as lingzhi or reishi)] for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Future research into the efficacy of G lucidum should be placebo-controlled and adhere to clinical trial reporting standards.”

The authors of another Cochrane review concluded that “our review did not find sufficient evidence to justify the use of G. lucidum as a first-line treatment for cancer. It remains uncertain whether G. lucidum helps prolong long-term cancer survival. However, G. lucidum could be administered as an alternative adjunct to conventional treatment in consideration of its potential of enhancing tumour response and stimulating host immunity. G. lucidum was generally well tolerated by most participants with only a scattered number of minor adverse events. No major toxicity was observed across the studies. Although there were few reports of harmful effect of G. lucidum, the use of its extract should be judicious, especially after thorough consideration of cost-benefit and patient preference. Future studies should put emphasis on the improvement in methodological quality and further clinical research on the effect of G. lucidum on cancer long-term survival are needed. An update to this review will be performed every two years.”

A further study determined whether a supplement of Agaricus blazei Murill extract improves insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes. It was designed as a clinical randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Diabetic patients were randomly assigned to either receiving supplement of Agaricus blazei Murill (ABM) extract or placebo (cellulose) 1500 mg daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the subjects who received supplement of ABM extract (n = 29) showed significantly lower HOMA-IR index than the control group (n = 31). The plasma adiponectin concentration increased by 20% in the ABM group after 12 weeks of treatment, but decreased 20% among those taking the placebo. The authors concluded that “ABM extract improves insulin resistance among subjects with type 2 diabetes. The increase in adiponectin concentration after taking AMB extract for 12 weeks might be the mechanism that brings the beneficial effect. Studies with longer periods of follow-up should be conducted in the future.”

On the basis of all this evidence, it seems fair to conclude that mushrooms have little or no effect on diabetes.

And what about the above press-release?

Diabetes is a serious condition that can be well-controlled with diet, exercise and drugs. Many diabetics are nevertheless fed up with taking drugs throughout their entire life and would only be too happy to exchange them for ‘something natural’. Therefore patients might try mushrooms or other natural ‘cures’, if they are promoted in this way. However, this decision could prove fatal (examples of such tragedies abound).

In view of these considerations, I find such promotion irresponsible, unethical and outright dangerous.

This press-release just came to my attention:

Today, with the stroke of his pen, Governor Tom Wolf adds Pennsylvania to the list of states that acknowledge the value of alternative healthcare from a qualified professional. Pennsylvania becomes the 21st U.S. jurisdiction to regulate naturopathic medicine. The new law HB516 regulates naturopathic doctors; ensuring patients can trust that their wellness professional holds a graduate degree from an accredited naturopathic medical school.

Heidi Weinhold, N.D. and Legislative Chair of the Pennsylvania Association of Naturopathic Physicians (PANP), says, “This is a historic day for naturopathic medicine. The governor’s approval will throw open the doors for more Pennsylvania students to choose this academic course of study. Then, they can return home from a four-year graduate program to set up a practice as a naturopathic doctor.”

The PANP members worked for the last 16 years with the state legislature to advance the much-needed recognition of this growing medical field. Their goal was to increase the credibility and minimize the confusion between professionals with an advance degree and the self-study practitioner. “Naturopathic professionals also seek to better coordinate and collaborate with medical professionals across the spectrum. We believe in integrative care, and this law gives us the stature we need to work N,” explains Dr. Weinhold.

Under the new law, the terms Naturopathic Doctor and ND will be reserved exclusively for those who have attended four-year, post-graduate level programs at institutions recognized by the United States Department of Education. “This protects the scope-of-work and title for graduates from an accredited N.D. program,” offers Dr. JoAnn Yanez, executive director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Colleges.

Naturopathic Doctors are currently practicing at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, as well as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centers, where they work side by side with medical doctors in an integrative setting. More patients could be served in this manner once naturopathic doctors are registered in this state. Both Penn State Hershey Medical Center and West Penn Allegheny General Hospital have indicated that they would hire Naturopathic Doctors if they were registered in the state.

“The PANP will be working over the next year on implementation of the legislation in order that NDs can begin to register with the Board of Medicine. A number of Representatives and Senators have encouraged us to come back to the legislature next session in order to expand the scope of this bill. We are very encouraged about the future of naturopathic medicine in Pennsylvania,” says Dr. Marie Winters, manager of the Naturopathic Medicine Department of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and president of PANP.

The law will go into effect January 1, 2018.

Pennsylvania joins these other jurisdictions which regulate naturopathic medicine: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, and these provinces in Canada: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan.

END OF QUOTE

Here are a few comments and issues that I find remarkable about this announcement:

  • Naturopaths are called ‘naturopathic doctors’, yet in the same sentence it is pointed out that they are ‘wellness professionals’. I am not sure what the latter, woolly term is supposed to mean – perhaps that naturopathy cannot effectively treat diseases?
  • The document speaks of ‘accredited naturopathic medical schools’. Has anyone checked the utter nonsense that is being taught there? The answer is yes, Britt Marie Hermes has, and her verdict is truly depressing and devastating.
  • Naturopaths instantly interpret the new regulation as a ‘governor’s approval’ and ‘recognition’. It shows why alternative practitioners want to be regulated: they foremost crave the APPROVAL and the RECOGNITION they clearly do not deserve.
  • Naturopaths believe in ‘integrative care’ – of course they do, because this is nothing but a ploy for smuggling quackery into evidence-based medicine (EBM).
  • Naturopaths want to be ‘peer-to-peer with other disciplines’ – but they are unable to show that their interventions generate more good than harm. This effectively is an attempt to place quackery on the same level as EBM.
  • Naturopaths already treat cancer patients in the state! Really? Do they use Laetrile, or homeopathy?
  • Naturopaths are portrayed as being a benefit to public health. Has anyone considered that the opposite might be the case? See for instance here and here.

Informed consent is a basic ethical principle and a precondition for any medical or surgical procedure (e. g. a therapeutic intervention or a diagnostic test). Essentially, there are 4 facets of informed consent:

  1. the patient must have decision-making capacity,
  2. the patient’s decision must be free from coercion or manipulation,
  3. all relevant information must be disclosed to the patient,
  4. the patient must not merely be told but must understand what he/she has been told.

It seems to me that points 1, 2 and 4 are more or less the same in alternative as in conventional medicine. Point 3, however, has fundamentally different implications in the two types of healthcare.

What is meant by ‘all relevant information’? There seems to be general agreement that this should include the following elements:

  1. the indication,
  2. the nature of the procedure,
  3. its potential benefits,
  4. its risks,
  5. other options for the proposed procedure, including the option of doing nothing at all.

If we carefully consider these 5 elements of ‘all relevant information’, we soon realise why there might be profound differences between alternative and conventional medicine. These differences relate not so much to the nature of the procedures but to the competence of the clinicians.

At medical school, doctors-to-be learn the necessary facts that should enable them to adequately deal with the 5 elements listed above. (This does not necessarily mean that, in conventional medical or surgical practice, informed consent is always optimal. But there is little doubt that, in theory, it could be optimal.)

By contrast, alternative practitioners have not normally been to medical school and will have gone through an entirely different type of training. Therefore, the question arises whether – even in theory – they are able to transmit to their patients all essential information as outlined above.

Let’s try to address this question by looking at concrete cases: a patient with frequent headaches consults an alternative practitioner for help. For the sake of argument, the practitioner could be:

  • a chiropractor,
  • an acupuncturist,
  • a homeopath,
  • a naturopath,
  • a traditional herbalist.

Are these alternative practitioners able to convey all the relevant information to their patient before starting their respective treatments?

THE CHIROPRACTOR

  1. Can he provide full information on the indication? In all likelihood he would treat the headache as though it was caused by a spinal subluxation. If our patient were suffering from a brain tumour, for instance, this might dangerously delay the diagnosis.
  2. Can he explain the nature of the procedure? Yes.
  3. Can he explain its potential benefits? He is likely to have a too optimistic view on this.
  4. Can he explain its risks? Many chiropractors deny any risk of spinal manipulation.
  5. Can he provide details about the other options for the proposed procedure, including the option of doing nothing at all? Probably yes for cervicogenic headache. No for most other differential diagnoses.

THE TRADITIONAL ACUPUNCTURIST

  1. Can he provide full information on the indication? The patient might be treated for an assumed ‘energy blockage’; other diagnoses might not be given adequate consideration.
  2. Can he explain the nature of the procedure? Yes.
  3. Can he explain its potential benefits? He is likely to have a too optimistic view on this.
  4. Can he explain its risks? Perhaps.
  5. Can he provide details about the other options for the proposed procedure, including the option of doing nothing at all? No

THE CLASSICAL HOMEOPATH

  1. Can he provide full information on the indication? No, for a classical homeopath, the totality of the symptoms is the only valid diagnosis.
  2. Can he explain the nature of the procedure? Yes.
  3. Can he explain its potential benefits? Doubtful.
  4. Can he explain its risks? Doubtful.
  5. Can he provide details about the other options for the proposed procedure, including the option of doing nothing at all? No.

THE NATUROPATH

  1. Can he provide full information on the indication? Doubtful.
  2. Can he explain the nature of the procedure? Yes.
  3. Can he explain its potential benefits? He is likely to have a too optimistic view on this.
  4. Can he explain its risks? Doubtful.
  5. Can he provide details about the other options for the proposed procedure, including the option of doing nothing at all? No.

THE TRADITIONAL HERBALIST

  1. Can he provide full information on the indication? No.
  2. Can he explain the nature of the procedure? Yes.
  3. Can he explain its potential benefits? He is likely to have a too optimistic view on this.
  4. Can he explain its risks? He is likely to have a too optimistic view on this.
  5. Can he provide details about the other options for the proposed procedure, including the option of doing nothing at all? No.

The answers provided above are based on my experience of more than 20 years with alternative practitioners; I am aware of the degree of simplification required to give short, succinct replies. The answers are, of course, assumptions as well as generalisations. There may well be individual practitioners who would do better (or worse) than the fictitious average I had in mind when answering the questions. Moreover, one would expect important national differences.

If my experience-based assumptions are not totally incorrect, their implications could be most significant. In essence they suggest that, in alternative medicine, fully informed consent can rarely, if ever, be provided. In turn, this means that the current practice of alternative medicine cannot be in line with the most fundamental requirements of medical ethics.

There is very little research on any of these  issues, and thus hardly any reliable evidence. Therefore, this post is simply meant as a deliberately provocative essay to stimulate debate – debate which, in my view, is urgently required.

 

Yes, I know, lately I have been neglecting my ‘ALT MED HALL OF FAME’. This is entirely my fault; there are so many candidates waiting to be admitted that, I have been hesitant as to who should be next. Today, I came across an article about Deepak Chopra and his latest book, Super Genes. It tells “how lifestyle shifts can help you reboot your health at a genetic level.” If it were just for this single sentence, he would deserve to be admitted – no, not into what you just thought, into the ‘ALT MED HALL OF FAME’, of course’.

I will save you the expense of buying his book (don’t worry, Deepak is already a multi-millionaire) by repeating what the article said about his ‘6 pillars of wellbeing’ (another cracker!!!):

DIET

• A typical modern diet is very likely to cause inflammation, which research has linked to many chronic diseases and obesity.

• To reduce inflammation, add prebiotics – substances that buffer the body from inflammation – such as oatmeal, pulpy orange juice, bran cereal and bananas to your breakfast.

• Consume probiotics – foods that contain active bacteria – once a day for gut health. These foods include active yoghurt, pickles and sauerkraut.

• Eat mindfully – eat only when you’re genuinely hungry and stop when you are full.

• Reduce snacking by eating only one measured portion in a bowl; never eat straight from a bag or packet.

STRESS

• Three factors generally lie behind the problem of chronic stress: repetition, unpredictability and a lack of control. Think of a dog barking outside your window; you don’t know when it will end and you have no way of stopping it.

• Decrease background noise and distractions at work. Also, avoid multitasking by dealing with one thing at a time.

• Leave work on time at least three times a week and don’t bring work home. Leave the office at the office.

• Avoid people who are sources of pressure and conflict. Even normal office behaviour, such as forming cliques and gossiping, is a source of stress that has the potential to be emotionally devastating.

• If you struggle to deal with negative emotions, ask your doctor about cognitive behaviour therapy.

EXERCISE

• The secret to exercise is this: keep going and don’t stop. It’s better to be active all your life at a lower level, rather than to be at a near professional-level in high school, say, and then stop completely.

• At work get up and move around once an hour and devote half your lunch break to movement, even if it’s walking around the block.

• Be in nature more: go outside for five to 10 minutes three times a day.

• Acquire more active friends and join them in their activities. Plan a shared exercise activity with your spouse or friends twice a week.

• Make leisure time more creative – think beyond TV or internet.

• Volunteer to help the needy with housecleaning, painting and repairs.

This will serve as both exercise and a morale boost.

MEDITATION

• Meditate every day for 10 minutes.

Sit with your eyes closed in a quiet place, put your attention on the tip of your nose and focus on the sensation of your breath coming in and out of your nostrils.

• Don’t look at meditation as an aid for the bad days you experience (“I’m feeling good today, so I don’t need to meditate”). It should be a lifelong practice.

• Take 10 minutes out of your lunch break to sit alone with eyes closed, preferably outside in nature.

• Notice what a relief it is to take big deep breaths when you are upset or nervous, and how ragged your breath becomes when you are anxious or stressed.

• Join an organised meditation course in your area. Search for meetup.com to find local groups that meet all around the country.

SLEEP

• Make your bedroom as dark as possible. If total darkness is impossible, wear a sleep mask.

• Drink a glass of warm almond milk, which is rich in calcium and promotes melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

• Experiment with herbal teas associated with good sleep such as chamomile, valerian, passionflower, lavender and kava kava.

• Explore abhyanga, a self-massage technique that uses warmed sesame oil, lightly massaged into arms, legs, neck and torso (go to YouTube to see tutorials).

• Don’t ignore insomnia. In some studies sleep disorders have been associated with triggering Alzheimer’s disease and are also associated with high blood pressure.

EMOTIONS

• Take responsibility for your feelings. Wellbeing depends upon happiness, yet most people don’t really make that connection.

• Write down five specific things that make you happy and, on a daily basis, do at least one of them.

• Set a “good news policy” at meal times, whether it’s the radio station you choose to listen to or the topic of conversation around the table.

• Explore a time in your past when you were happy and learn from it, whether that means re-embracing an old hobby or getting in touch with an old friend.

• Become comfortable with delayed gratification – consider how your choices will make you feel in the future as well as today.

END OF QUOTE

My favourite website about Deepak Chopra is the one by Tom Williamson. It states that “it has been said by some that the thoughts and tweets of Deepak Chopra are indistinguishable from a set of profound sounding words put together in a random order, particularly the tweets tagged with “#cosmisconciousness”. This site aims to test that claim! Each “quote” is generated from a list of words that can be found in Deepak Chopra’s Twitter stream randomly stuck together in a sentence.” It seems to me that Deepak himself might have made ample use of this site for writing his latest book, and if you should ever run out of platitudes or empty phrases, this site will serve you well.

Deepak has published plenty of best-sellers, but he has as good as nothing to show for himself in the peer-reviewed medical literature. (When you are that famous, you obviously don’t need to bother anymore with trivia such as evidence, science and all that jazz.) This means that I had to deviate from my usual admission criteria for the “prophet of alternative medicine”, as Deepak likes to be called. But he is well worth making an exception, I am sure you agree, he is the absolute super-star!

Super-star of what?

I let you decide!

 

Britt Marie Hermes is a most remarkable woman. She is an ex-naturopath who has the courage to speak out against all that is wrong with naturopathy. On her website she writes:

I used to be a naturopathic doctor. For 3 years, I practiced naturopathic medicine, licensed in Washington and Arizona. I earned my degree at Bastyr University and then completed a one-year naturopathic residency in a private clinic. I stayed at this clinic until I moved to Tucson.

Naturopathic medicine is not what I was led to believe. I discovered that the profession functions as a system of indoctrination based on discredited ideas about health and medicine, full of anti-science rhetoric with many ineffective and dangerous practices.

I left the profession of naturopathic medicine to pursue an education in biomedical research. Since my departure, I have been working to understand my former biases within naturopathic medicine. I am now exploring the ethics and evidence, or lack thereof, of naturopathic education and practice. I hope I can convey the message that naturopathy must be highly scrutinized, as its proponents have a seemingly on-going history of deceit, exploitation, and medical fraud.

Her articles are a rich source of fascinating material about naturopathy, and I warmly recommend you read her criticisms; you will not find better-informed comments easily. Recently, she went one step further and started a petition against US naturopaths’ plight to call themselves ‘doctors’. It seems that this was one step too far for the mighty ‘BIG NATUROPATHY’.

Forbes Magazine reported that, on May 26th, 5 days after Hermes launched her petition, the AANP retaliated [the AANP is the leading naturopaths’ organization in the U.S., the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians]. The subject line of an email sent to all AANP membership:  “AANP Needs Your Help – Stop Britt’s Change.org Petition.”

“We need your help to stop this petition… This petition violates these [Change.org] policies:

  • Breaks the law – this is defamatory and libelous content
  • Impersonates others;  Britt Marie Hermes is not from the United States
  • Terms of service – does not abide by the law or respect the rights of others

Naturopaths found Britt Marie so threatening that they started a website entitled ‘BRITT MARIE HERMES FACT CHECK. Here they indulge in blatant character assassination:

Britt Marie Hermes Fact Check was established to provide an unbiased analysis of the claims that Britt Marie Hermes (Britt Marie Deegan) has made, and is making, about Naturopathic Medicine, its educational system, and its practitioners. For the past year she promoted herself as an expert on Naturopathic Medicine, having left the profession because of her unsuccessful time as a practitioner. It’s clear that she has an agenda against the profession while claiming to be an expert. She has consistently lied, and left out important facts when discussing aspects of the Naturopathic Medicine, its educational system and its practitioners. Accusations have been made that she is being paid by the pharmaceutical industry, although they haven’t been substantiated. What is clear, is that she was unsuccessful during her short time as a practitioner and now has an agenda against the profession.

This looks suspiciously like the dirt some alternative medicine fans have been throwing at me, I thought, and I asked Britt Marie (who I once had the pleasure of meeting in person) to comment – and she very kindly did:

I find it amusing to be accused of being an unsuccessful practitioner of naturopathic medicine. I graduated with high grades from Bastyr. I landed a highly competitive naturopathic residency. Had I remained in practice, I would currently be eligible to take the naturopathic pediatrics “board-certification” exam offered by the American Association of Naturopathic Pediatrics.

I was making decent money at my practices in Seattle and Tucson. By all accounts, I was a successful naturopathic doctor. My bosses at the Tucson clinic had even asked me if I were interested in becoming their business partner!

I walked away from my practice because my boss was committing a federal crime by importing and administering a non-FDA approved medication to his cancer patients. I decided to leave naturopathic medicine for good after a former president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians urged me not to report my boss’s criminal activity to the authorities.

These wounds still hurt. I lost dozens of friends. I lost eight years of my life. I lost my livelihood. The ND degree does not have any value in the academic community. It is a tarnish on my permanent record. It would have been in my financial interest to move to another practice and continue being a “successful” naturopath.

The problem with naturopaths is that they measure success by how much money one collects from patients, yet they fail to understand that naturopathic services are quackery. So by their logic, being a successful naturopath is dependent upon profiting by fooling patients and fooling oneself. If others want to describe me as an unsuccessful naturopath, then the term “success” has no useful meaning.

I am not employed to write about anything in particular about naturopathic medicine or with any particular tone. I am an independent blogger who wants to share my insights. I created my own opinions on naturopathic medicine by looking at the profession critically. This kind of task is fundamental to the scientific process that I only learned after leaving naturopathy and engaging with the academic community.

Naturopaths want to be recognized as primary care physicians in the U.S. and Canada. This is a big deal, and we all should be skeptical. This profession is claiming to have established a comprehensive medical education that trains competent medical practitioners, who somehow predominately rely upon unproven methods at best and debunked ones at worst.

Naturopaths essentially want to be allowed to take shortcuts in medical training. Instead of attending medical school, naturopaths attend naturopathic programs with low acceptance standards and faculty who are not qualified to teach medical topics. Instead of passing a standardized and peer-reviewed medical licensing exam, naturopaths have created their own secretive licensing exam that tests on homeopathy and other dubious treatments. What little real medical standards that seem to be tested on the exam have been botched, like the one question in which a child is gasping for air and the correct answer on how to treat is to give a homeopathic remedy.

Naturopaths have called me a liar, but have been unable to identify any specific fabrications. They say I am omitting facts and evidence, but they cannot show what information I allegedly missed. It seems that for naturopaths the only way to deal with legitimate criticism, is to undermine my integrity.

My blog harbors no hidden agenda. I write to prevent students from being duped into thinking they are being adequately trained as a primary care physicians in naturopathic programs. I write to protect patients from the poorly trained practitioners that these programs produce. I write because I have seen both worlds, and the naturopathic one is terrifying.

To this, I have nothing to add – except a big THANK YOU to Britt Marie for her courage, honesty and tenacity.

This is the conclusion Britt Hermes draws in her new blog post about US naturopaths claiming to be competent to treat children.

Britt is a most remarkable and courageous woman. She clearly knows what she is talking about: “My experience puts me in a unique position to show what naturopathic training looks like from the inside and why, especially for children, naturopathic care is dangerous. I support this point with a critical review of pediatrics syllabi from Bastyr University (Seattle, WA) and Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (Phoenix, AZ) and correspondences with a number of pediatricians in the U.S. and Canada.

At Bastyr, I took pediatrics 1 and 2 (NM 7314 and 7315) and an additional elective course in “advanced pediatrics” (NM 9316) from 2010-2011. I also opted to take the elective pediatrics clinical shift at Bastyr’s outpatient teaching clinic. Only pediatrics 1 and 2 were required for graduation. Each class met for 2 hours per week for 10 weeks, not including the 11th week for a final exam. By taking the advanced course, I received a total of 60 hours, but remember, only 40 hours was required. (In the year after I graduated from Bastyr, the curriculum changed to a systems-based program, which folded pediatric instruction into courses linked by medical theme.)…

Here’s the bottom line: a pediatrician gets a combined 20,000 hours of training in medical school and residency; a licensed naturopath has the option of doing a naturopathic residency for 1,300 hours after having done 30 to 40 hours of lecture hours in paediatrics…”

If you think that is bad… it gets worse:

A serious concern with this course syllabus is the book list. Current and Nelson’s Pediatrics are considered standard texts, but these were not even required to read in order to do well in the course. I didn’t buy either book and didn’t complete any of the assigned readings but passed with flying colors.

It should be appalling for anyone to see Dana Ullman’s Homeopathy for Children and Infants and Dr. Bob Sears’s The Vaccine Book, not once, but twice in the list! All of my syllabi for the Bastyr pediatrics courses include these texts. The syllabus for pediatrics at SCNM does not, but its instructor is a known promoter of vaccine myths

Naturopathic students are essentially trained in alternative vaccines schedules, perhaps leading them not to vaccinate. If this isn’t smoking gun proof that naturopaths are anti-vaccine to the core, then what is?”

Britt’s final conclusion is that “Naturopathic programs do not provide their students with medical training that should instil public confidence. Yet, naturopaths argue that they deserve licensure based on the quality of their training and practice.”

I agree completely with Britt’s view and encourage everyone to read her article in full.

Recently I had an unpleasant exchange with an Australian naturopath by the name of Brett Smith. It started by him claiming that ‘chemo’ only kills cancer patients and enriches the pharmaceutical industry. And then it got worse, much worse, and very unpleasant. This got me interested in Mr Smith and prompted me to look him up. Brett Smith describes himself on his website:

Brett is a graduate of Sydney University masters degree program in Herbal Medicine run through it’s acclaimed faculty of pharmacy. He also earned a degree in Health Science from the University of New England making him one of the most qualified Naturopaths in Australia. Brett ran a successful naturopathic clinic in Bondi Junction for 6 years before selling it and founding HealthShed.com and writing and researching a book on Type 2 Diabetes.

In a world of chaos and confusion, the one area you have some semblance of control over is your health. One of the issues around this subject that frustrates me is the conflicting information consistently bombarding us. If we can land a pod on Mars why do we still not know the fundamental pathways to human health.

One of the reasons is the big food corporations that have a vested interest in keeping you reaching to the shelves for their dead foods and the one thing I can assure you of, without any doubt, is that dead food makes dead people. If people understood the true power of foods, herbs and the odd supplement in reaching their health potentials we could eradicate many diseases scourging the planet today – heart disease, diabetes, alzheimer’s, thyroid conditions, asthma, the list is seriously endless.

The other part of the problem is us. We choose the “easy” option too many times, generation after generation after generation. What chance do our children have? Always looking for the Magic Pill. Another thing I can assure you of is that the vast majority of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed is completely unnecessary.

Natural therapists risks making the same mistakes as the pharmaceutical medical industry in becoming an elitist therapy guided by profit at expense of the patient.

I’m committed to helping inspire and empower people to optimal health through simple yet highly effective methods. Despite all the white noise, optimum health is open to us all, rich or poor, old or young. In fact, it’s your birth right. Claim it.

I also looked up his ‘health shed’. Amongst other things, it turns out to be a treasure trove of utter nonsense and anti-medical propaganda written by several experts of equally high standing – worth reading, if you have a minute! To give you a flavour, I have chosen a post entitled Which is Greater Threat, Measles or Measles Vaccine?:

Brett Smith N.D

Sometimes in life you just have to put your neck (and your reputation) on the line. I’ve been told on more than one occasion not to run vaccination stories. I’m sorry but I cannot ignore this ‘debate’ right now. Immunisation is a beautiful theory and with the right delivery method and ingredients may have a future, but as it is now we need to stop and have a very close look at this issue. Vaccines are not safe for everyone and vaccine injuries are not rare. Hep B shots on a one day old infant is actually criminal and I will debate any expert anytime, anywhere on that particular subject. Until then hear what Dr Jeffrey Dach has to say on the subject. 

by Jeffrey Dach MD

A recent measles outbreak at Disneyland of at least 70 cases (Jan 2015) has created quite a stir in the media. Five of the cases were fully vaccinated, indicating the measles vaccine confers only temporary immunity. Clearly there is no “failure to vaccinate”, as measles has broken out in highly vaccinated populations. It is obviously a failure of the vaccine. Unlike the vaccine, real measles infection confers life-long immunity. 

Measles in 2008

In 2008, a similar resurgence in measles cases was reported. An increase in reported cases of measles from 42 to 131 prompted a 2008 New York Times editorial warning of re-emergence of “many diseases” if vaccination rates drop. A quote from the New York Times:

“If confidence in all vaccines were to drop precipitously, many diseases would re-emerge and cause far more harm than could possibly result from vaccination.”

Confidence in Vaccines Has Been Lost

Unfortunately, confidence in vaccines has already been lost according to Shona Hilton in her article, ”Who do parents believe about MMR”. According to Shona Hilton, young parents are mistrustful of the media and the pediatricians who have financial incentives to push vaccines.

What is the Evidence for an Autism/ Vaccine Link?

The Hanna Poling Case

In the case of Hannah Poling, the federal vaccine court has agreed to compensate Poling’s family, conceding that her autism was caused by vaccination. The federal court has already paid out more than $1.5 billion for vaccine related injury or death.

Italian Court Conceded MMR Caused Autism

In 2012, the Italian Health Ministry conceded the MMR vaccine caused autism in nine-year-old Valentino Bocca. Exactly how many other cases exist is unknown because court records are usually sealed from public view.

Abnormal MMR Antibody Response in Autistic Kids

An important finding was found in a 2002 report in Biomedical Science by Dr. Singh entitled ” Abnormal measles-mumps-rubella antibodies and CNS autoimmunity in children with autism.”

The authors found elevated antibody levels to MMR (Measles Mumps Rubells Vaccine) in 60% of autistic children, none in controls. The elevated MMR antibodies in autistic children detected “measles HA protein”, which is unique to the measles subunit of the vaccine. Over 90% of the autistic children with elevated MMR antibodies, also had elevated MBP (myelin basic protein) antibodies, suggesting a strong association between MMR and CNS autoimmunity in autism. The authors state:

“Stemming from this evidence, we suggest that an inappropriate antibody response to MMR, specifically the measles component thereof, might be related to pathogenesis of autism.”

“In light of these new findings, we suggest that a considerable proportion of autistic cases may result from an atypical measles infection that does not produce a rash but causes neurological symptoms in some children. The source of this virus could be a variant MV or it could be the MMR vaccine.”

A second paper in 2003 by the same group confirmed these findings: Singh, Vijendra K., and Ryan L. Jensen. ” Elevated Levels of Measles Antibodies in children with Autism.” Pediatric neurology 28.4 (2003): 292-294.

According to Bernadine Healy MD, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) in 1991, there is credible published, peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the idea of an association between autism and vaccines. Rather than oppose all vaccinations, Dr Healy suggests modifying the vaccination schedule to make them safer. Left Image Courtesy of Bernadine Healy MD Huffington Post.

How to Make the Vaccine Schedule Safer?

Don Miller MD in this article on Lew Rockwell, provides a safer vaccination schedule. For example, the vaccination schedule can be made safer by waiting until child’s immune system is better developed after age 2, by moving from the combined MMR shot to individual doses, avoiding thimerosol, and avoiding the live vaccines…

Vitamin A and measles

Numerous medical publications have shown health benefits for Vitamin A in treatment of measles.

Conclusion

Clearly, there is a trade off in terms of benefits and risks of vaccines. Rather than deny the adverse effects of vaccines, we should be openly discussing how to make the vaccine schedule safer, as Don Miller MD and Bernadine Healy MD suggest.

If this had been a exceptional excursion into quackery, I would probably not have mentioned it. But Smith’s ‘health shed’ is full of it. Here are just three further examples:

The Truth About Chemotherapy – History, Effects and Natural Alternatives

The Amazing Cancer-Fighting Properties of Pineapple

Amazing Herb Kills 98% Of Cancer Cells In Just 16 Hours

Such dangerous nonsense tends to make me first speechless and then quite angry. This man claims to be one of the best educated naturopaths in Australia. If that is true, what is the rest of the naturopaths like? He wants to ’empower people to optimal health’. In truth, he and many like him are experts on misinformation that potentially could shorten the lives of many patients.

While my last post was about the risk following some naturopaths’ advice, this one is about the effectiveness of naturopathic treatments. This is a complex subject, not least because naturopaths use a wide range of therapies (as the name implies, they pride themselves of employing all therapeutic means supplied by nature). Some of these interventions are clearly supported by good evidence; for instance, nobody would doubt the effectiveness of a healthy diet or the benefits of regular exercise. But what about all the other treatments naturopaths use? The best approach to find an answer might be to assess not each single therapy but to evaluate the entire package of the naturopathic approach, and not a single study but all such trials.

This is precisely what US researchers have recently done. The purpose of this interesting, new systematic review was to compile and consolidate research that has investigated the whole practice of naturopathic medicine as it is practiced in community settings in order to better assess the quantity and quality of the research, and clinical effect, if any.

In order to get included into the review, studies had to report results from multi-modal treatment delivered by North American naturopathic doctors. The effect size for each study was calculated; no meta-analysis was undertaken.

Fifteen studies met the authors’ inclusion criteria. They covered a wide range of chronic diseases. Most studies had low to medium risks of bias including acknowledged limitations of pragmatic trials. Effect sizes for the primary medical outcomes varied and were statistically significant in 10 out of 13 studies. A quality of life metric was included in all of the RCTs with medium effect size and statistical significance in some subscales.

The authors concluded that previous reports about the lack of evidence or benefit of naturopathic medicine (NM) are inaccurate; a small but compelling body of research exists. Further investigation is warranted into the effectiveness of whole practice NM across a range of health conditions.

This sounds like good news for naturopathy! However, there are several important caveats:

  • the authors seem to have only looked at US studies (naturopathy is a European tradition!),
  • the searches were done three years ago, and more recent data were thus omitted,
  • the authors included all sorts of investigations, even uncontrolled studies; only 6 were RCTs,
  • rigorous trials were very scarce; and for each condition, they were even more so,
  • the authors mention the PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews implying that they followed them but, in fact, they did not.

My biggest concern, however, is something else. It relates to the interventions tested in these studies. The authors claim that their results table provides full details on this issue but this is unfortunately not true. All we have by way of an explanation is the authors’ remark that the interventions tested in the studies of their review included diet counseling and nutritional recommendations, specific home exercises and physical activity recommendations, deep breathing techniques or other stress reduction strategies, dietary supplements including vitamins, hydrotherapy, soft-tissue manual techniques, electrical muscle stimulation, and botanical medicines.

Survey data from two US states tell us that the most commonly prescribed naturopathic therapeutics are botanical medicines (51% of visits in Connecticut, 43% in Washington), vitamins (41% and 43%), minerals (35% and 39%), homeopathy (29% and 19%) and allergy treatments (11% and 13%). They also inform us that the mean length of a consultation with an US naturopath is about 40 minutes.

I think, this puts things into perspective. If I advise a patient with diabetes or hypertension or coronary heat disease to follow an appropriate diet, exercise and to adhere to some stress reduction program, if in addition I show empathy and compassion during a 40 minute consultation and make sure that my advise is taken seriously and subsequently adhered to, the outcome is likely to be positive. Naturopaths may elect to call this package of intervention ‘naturopathy’, however, I would call it good conventional medicine.

The problem, I think is clear: good therapeutic advice is effective but it is not naturopathy, and it cannot be used to justify the use of doubtful interventions like homeopathy or all sorts of dodgy supplements. Testing whole treatment packages of this nature can therefore lead to highly misleading results, particularly if the researchers draw unwarranted conclusions about specific schools of health care.

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