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Leave it to the naturopaths…

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 27, 2009

…to give you an insight of what delusion sounds like . I probably should apologize for the prolonged absence from the blogosphere, but what the hell this is my blog and I’m not going to. It’s not like there was any void of skeptical goodies to peruse during my absence, so suck it up and stop whining. As I am still not back 100%, I don’t intend to make this a long entry, but somehow I think I’ll fail at that.  I mean what can you expect given that I’m looking at something titled “Counterpoint: No ‘magic’ involved in naturopathic medicine”? Oh boy here we go!

Progress often faces resistance. Even with the substantial challenges facing health care in Ontario, the province’s recent decision to award prescribing authority to naturopathic doctors has its critics, as evidenced by Scott Gavura’s op-ed piece in Nov. 24th’s National Post.

Well, I’m going to adopt a famous Sagan saying and say that while progress does often face resistance, not everything that faces resistance is progress. A progressive idea must be established on its own merits, not the amount of resistance it encounters; therefore give up the genius-being-laughed-at complex and act like an adult! So let’s read through, I’m sure the “merits” of naturopathic “medicine” will be clearly and unambiguously revealed.

Ontario’s decision is a step forward in improving patient care by allowing naturopathic doctors to use their training to help address the substantial health challenges facing Ontario.

Their training? Training? Let’s see, according to Wikipedia the training, for the licensed ND that actually do go to some sort of school, “includes the use of basic medical diagnostic tests and procedures such as medical imaging, minor surgery, and blood tests. The CNME also provides for the inclusion of optional modalities including minor surgery, natural childbirth and intravenous therapy, though they are not generally licensed to perform these functions; these modalities require additional training and may not be within the scope of practice in all jurisdictions.”  Wow, I’m sure this sort of training must be making many nurses jealous….not (if you imagine Borat making this not-joke it might be funny!)

While it would be easy to dismiss Mr. Gavura’s opinions as alarmist, there’s something to be learned from it: Many Canadians aren’t aware of how safe, scientific and effective naturopathic medicine is.

And this is where I start cringing, because you see in reality most naturopathic treatments are neither safe, effective nor scientific (are you sh@%ing me?). Best case scenario they convince desperate people to avoid real medical treatments that do work; waste their time and money, and some times make them waste their last days in this universe chasing empty dreams and promises, thus robbing them and their families of much needed time together.Worst case scenario, you have 9 month old babies dying of infections that can easily be treated by real medicine. Yes I am looking at you homeopathy, don’t you dare to act all innocent, I-have-no-side-effects in front of me. As far as effectiveness is concerned, I will yet again make the claim that there are no rigorous scientific studies that will withstand scrutiny that show naturopathic medicines to work. You think I’m wrong? Pick your favorite alternative medicine modality and show me 3 proper, scientific studies that show a positive effect above and over the placebo effect. Set and ….go! I know you won’t be coming back with anything. Scientific? Hahaha, thanks for the good laugh. But seriously read a few sentences back. The same challenge applies. I have ample room in my comments section for many, many links. Get to linkin’!

Naturopathic medicine is based on the scientific assertion that the body, when given the appropriate support, has the potential to heal itself. This isn’t a “magical and transcendent anomaly of physics.” It’s how the body works — and we’ve known it for centuries. Each time you heal from a cut, a cold or a broken bone, you’re seeing vis mediatrix naturae, or “the healing power of nature” at work. It’s not magic, just good science.

Sneaky! Nice try. Yes, the body can heal itself, but that is limited. Medicine kinda implies human intervention for the sort of things the body cannot handle on its own. I guess by this logic vaccines are also naturopathic because they give the immune system “appropriate support” by teaching it how to fight invading agents so that in the future it can handle such agents without us intervening. Hey who knew, vaccines are naturopathic. Nice!

As well, many patients have not had success with conventional options to address chronic or unresolved conditions

Oh really? I need some clarification here: are the patients themselves assuming that they can find success with the naturopathic modalities, or are the naturopaths claiming that they have solutions to things real medicine cannot yet handle? If the latter is the case, I’d like to see a bit of evidence, just a tiny bit really. It would be great if some of these things included cancer or HIV or something like that.

This complementary system is vital when we are living in a society that is increasingly focused on symptom management.

And there it goes, the symptom-only-management fallacy. Forgive me for being a bit, what is the word…skeptical but when was the last time that doctors treated a shooting victim for the pain he was experiencing while ignoring the bullets lodged in his body? I’m sorry I can’t hear you…a bit louder please….oh you got nothing to say?

Most importantly, what patients want is to not be sick in the first place. The American Institute for Cancer Research determined that one-third of all cancers could be prevented through exercise, diet and weight management. Naturopathic doctors have the clinical skills and training to help patients integrate these preventative strategies.

Ha, and so do most all dietitians, no need to bring in the holistic nonsense. Exercise, diet and weight management have been around for a long time and have solid scientific support to have positive effect, this was not discovered by naturopaths by any stretch of the imagination.  They’re just latching onto it simply because it fits in with their whole anti-drug stance. Prevention is important but is not the end-all be-all in medicine. By their own citation, a full 2/3 of cancers can’t be prevented so show me what you can do about those dear naturopaths? Can you show that your methods increase life expectancy in a 5-year span? I didn’t think so.

There is more and more evidence in support of the approaches to health that NDs employ. Diet, lifestyle, stress and environmental factors have been a focus of naturopathic care long before evidence fully showed the importance of these approaches.

Isn’t this one of those can-never-be-verified claims? I guess the implication is that they were championing diet and exercise before the medical community was. Huh! Even if true, what does that have to say about acupuncture or homeopathy? Can you say diddly squat?

Meanwhile, the limits of randomized control trials favoured by the pharmaceutical industry are being increasingly recognized. Randomized control trials tend to test a single treatment approach to the eradication of a symptom. This approach works against individualized care, and tends to be biased toward over-treatment rather than prevention. Clinical studies are critical to advancing knowledge, but in themselves they are not the solutions to health problems.

And there goes the Special Pleading. Don’t tell me you weren’t expecting this now, what kind of skeptic are you? Obviously naturopathic medicine is scientific, as they said in the beginning, but here they go pleading for us not to look at randomized, controlled studies, which is what scientific tends to mean, for proof. Trying to have your cake and eat it too huh dear naturopath? But you can’t have it both ways. You see if you claim your modality is scientific then it is bound by the rules of ….guess what? Science! I know I shouldn’t load your cute little brain with this sort of heavy logic but you can handle it. Really, you can.

HPRAC also recommended that Ontario’s NDs, similar to NDs in almost every other regulated jurisdiction, have the capability to take on a larger role in primary care with access to basic primary care pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics.

Now wait just a minute! These guys want to be able to prescribe the same pharmaceuticals, an over-reliance on which according to this same article “may be making us sicker”? Isn’t that ironic? Drugs are bad as they don’t treat the root problem; I want to give you an all natural alternative to drugs; but let me have the ability to prescribe drugs nonetheless? What? Do they not really see the lack of logic in this line of thinking? Do they really think people are that stupid? Well, strike that last sentence!

As naturopathic doctors transition under new regulation in Ontario, there is an opportunity for us to work collaboratively with every member of an individual’s health-care team, forming a new model that acknowledges the choice that patients are making for the more natural approach that Naturopathic Doctors employ.

I must say for being a pile of crap, this is marketing genius. Honestly I must take my hat off to these folks for coming up with some pretty darn sweet sounding selling points. Just look at these two phrases. Who doesn’t like to collaborate? Or have a health care team all of his own? Or having a choice? Or going all natural? It all sounds so good! God if I didn’t know none of it has ever been shown to work,scientifically,I’d be definitely sold.

My verdict? Well if it isn’t clear by now I can recap it: I think naturopathic “medicine” is crap that makes people feel good but ultimately cannot objectively help with anything that can be measured. I think no alternative modality has ever been shown to work under rigorous scientific testing protocols, and when that happened it became part of real medicine thus loosing it’s alternative medicine status. I think that all of the alternative medicine modalities of today work no better than placebo, and that is the reason why their practitioners rely on testimonies and use a Special Pleading argument to be excused from the rigorous requirements of science, while at the same time proclaiming their modalities to be scientific, a bit misguided if not outright hypocritical in my eyes. So generally, I think naturopathic, alternative, integrative, non-conventional, call it whatever you want, I call it wishful thinking “medicine” is baloney; and there are few people who would be happier than me to if it turned out to be in fact useful to any degree. Until then, it is nothing but magical thinking.

The misuse of the title “doctor”

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 2, 2009

Why is it that so many pseudo-scientists like to affix “Dr” in front of their name, even when they are not real doctors and even when they do everything in their power to undermine the very science that bestows that title upon people? Latest case I ran across is “Dr. Ramsey” over at who is gloating over acupuncture in this entry. Now  a real doctor would know that over and over it has been shown that the meridian theory of acupuncture does not hold, that it doesn’t matter where you stick the needles or even if you stick them at all. But that would be a real doctor. According to her own profile page at the above mentioned website “Dr. Ramsey” is:

a highly regarded naturopathic physician, lifestyle expert and facilitator. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree at Thomas Jefferson University, practiced as a Registered Nurse for 10 years in Cardiac Surgery and Emergency Room settings and has now maintains a private practice in Paradise Valley, AZ for the last 10 years. She is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, The Arizona Naturopathic Medical Association, The Institute of Functional Medicine, and the International Hormone Society.


***bangs head against table***

At least others have some sort of PhD which technically gives them the title “doctor” but this one has the audacity to call herself a doctor with only a bachelors degree! And by the way a Bachelors of Science in what, I would like to know? What was her actual major? I guess this goes to show what kind of people go on to become naturopaths, eh?

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Se Habla “woo-woo”

Posted in Denialism by Skepdude on November 21, 2008


So, America is changing. We have an African American president. The Latino population continues to grow. How can the alternative medicine community adjust to this demographic shift? What are they to do?

I’m glad you asked! It turns out that immigrants are palomas ripe for the plucking. Now, we’ve talked about the ethics of alternative medicine, and how “meaning well” is not exculpatory. If you promote quackery, it’s wrong, even if you believe your own drivel.

One of the worst types of drivel is naturopathy. This “specialty” advertises itself as “medicine-plus”, but really it’s “healing-minus”: minus the evidence, minus the training, minus intelligent thought.

It should be no surprise that recent immigrants, who may have low educational levels, especially in English, and have less access to the health care system financially, culturally, and linguistically should be ripe targets.

And targeting these vulnerable individuals is a naturopathic “doctor” in Connecticut.

This doc sounds like she really cares. But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that she is diverting people from real medical care. For example, Latinos have a much higher rate of diabetes than Anglos (6.6% of non-Hispanic whites have diabetes, 10.4% of Hispanics have diabetes). Naturopaths don’t have much to offer these folks. Let me explain.

We’ve talked before about the complications of diabetes, and how they are divided into macro- and micro-vascular. We’ve also talked about how we prevent these complications. Certain medications prevent blindness, strokes, and heart attacks in diabetics. These effects are separate from diet and exercise. As part of taking care of diabetics, I must educate them about their disease and track several different parameters, such as weight, blood pressure, kidney function, urine protein, foot exams, eye exams, cholesterol, etc. What does our naturopath have to offer? Is it all of that “plus”? Her website gives all sorts of generalities about prevention, lifestyle change, and helping the body heal itself, but there is no evidence that she knows anything about the science of disease and health.

First, like all fake doctors, this place has lots of testimonials in place of real evidence. I don’t list testimonials at my office. It’s tacky, and it doesn’t give a measure of success in keeping people healthy. All it measures is how much someone liked a doctor as a person.

And what are these folks testifying about? Probably how nice the doctor is. They certainly aren’t giving us a measure of how well she prevents and treats disease. How do I know?

Here’s what she says about herself:

She has worked with children and teenagers with various conditions such as ADHD, and food allergies. Likewise she treats women’s related issues including menopause, PMS, breast cancer and hormone related issues. Dr. Robinson is very knowledgeable in diet and exercise related issues including weight gain/loss, detox-cleansing diets, and obsessive compulsive disorders. She also does guided imagery, coupled with counseling techniques. Her philosophy is to meet the patient where they are and work with them based on their needs. She acts as a coach-motivater-cheerleader and most importantly educator. She has a vested interest in seeing her patients achieve and sustain better health. Dr. Robinson will combine whatever conventional regime currently in place with Naturopathic medicines for a safe, effective way to maximum health.

I’m a general internist. I claim an expertise in the prevention, evaluation, and management of adult diseases. That’s it. I’m not a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, gynecologist, or surgeon.

What qualifies this “doctor” to treat adults and children, and a variety of conditions such as ADHD, food allergies, breast cancer, guided imagery, and OCD? And the fact that she admits to being “very knowledgeable” about “detox-cleansing diets” is not a mark in her favor. How does a detox diet prevent stroke? Will guided imagery prevent kidney failure?

She is apparently popular in the Hispanic community where she practices. Of course, science isn’t a democratic process, and since her popularity cannot be due to her ability to implement science-based medicine, it must be based on something else.

According to a news article:

Robinson, one of many doctors in the small but growing field of naturopathic medicine, has helped build her private practice in Stamford by offering her services to the Hispanic community at affordable rates.Early in her practice, Robinson discovered Hispanic patients were drawn to the type of natural medicine she offered. Now most of her business comes from Hispanics, she said.


She went through the routines of a primary doctor – taking blood pressure, listening to Shutte’s heartbeat, taking his weight. But instead of writing a prescription for blood pressure medication, which S. once took and disliked because of side effects, Robinson recommended he supplement his diet with fish peptides, flax, pumpkin seeds and cucumber.


I’m sure the patient felt cared-for, but hypertension is a killer, and Hispanics have high rates of strokes and other complications of hypertension than non-Hispanic whites. Additionally, Hispanics are statistically more likely to have poorly-controlled blood pressure.

Look, I’m willing to accept that this naturopath may mean well, and I certainly believe that her patients like her. But she is doing a double-disservice. Not only is she practicing incorrect medicine, but she has singled out a particularly vulnerable group and preyed on them. The fact that she means well or that they like her is less important that the fact that this represents a type of altmed racism. It takes trusting, at-risk folks, abuses their trust, takes their money, and diverts them from care they desperately need.

This is shameful.


The things we do for love (and skepticism)

Posted in Skepbitch by Skepdude on September 30, 2008


On a recent visit, my brother Kalvin asked me, “What did we eat when we were growing up?”

I stared at him in disbelief. “You must have repressed memory syndrome,” I teased. “How could you forget the tofu? The wheatgerm? The lecithin?”

Five years older than me, he admitted coolly, “I probably drove out for a hamburger afterwards.”

Long before it was cool in California to add soymilk to your latte… before hummus was fashionable… when most families would come home to ”meat and three veg”, I’d be coming home to a wholewheat vegetarian lasagne with spinach, ricotta and brown rice.

I was the gastronomic outcast in school; the wretched, miserable kid with the Nutmeat and tahini wholewheat sandwich. I was the kid with the carob ‘chocolate’ easter eggs…

It all began when my mother developed a series of nasty non-specific symptoms. She had heart palpitations. She lost weight. Her hair fell out. She was up cleaning the bathroom at 2am.  It was like she was on speed. She was suffering from a thyroid condition. She was sick, scared, vulnerable, and the symptoms never completely disappeared…

Thus began her life-long alternative medicine quest…

She has visited naturopaths, homeopaths, trichologists, herbal medicine ’specialists’, reflexologists, diet gurus, reiki masters, acupunturists, bowen therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, iridologists, and other peculiar practitioners that don’t even have names…

Yeah. That’s my Mom.

She takes garlic and horseradish tablets, spirulina, echinacea, Vitamin C, Vitamin B complex, multi-vitamins, “Pluton” homeopathic pills and a long list of unidentifiable, unnecessary tablets that make for expensive urine. You’d think she has heart disease or cancer…when she sits down to a meal, out comes a plastic tray of pills. As my step-father says, “She eats more pills than food.” She’s dabbled in most fad diets, but worst of all, she used to make her own collodial silver…

She’s been visiting with me for the past few weeks, so let me tell you about my most recent tiff with her…and you’ve heard these arguments before…

Years ago she saw a chiropractor who ‘massaged her chest’ (yep…I’m a Dr., let me massage your goddamn bollocks). He caused extensive bruising and she suffered breathing difficulties for weeks. Fortunately, an x-ray revealed no internal damage.

I confronted her about this touchy topic…

“So, you’re still seeing that nutjob chiropractor, Mom?” In her ashamed admission of betrayal, like a cheating spouse or a naughty boy found with porn under the bed, she nodded, and looked away, ”I didn’t want to tell you that I’m still seeing him.”

“I’d just assumed you still were,” I replied honestly.

“Well, I just see him for my general well-being, for colds, headaches. It helps with everything really.”

“But there’s no evidence that this works. In fact, there’s a substantial amount of evidence to the contrary!”

Then she became defensive with urgent appeals. I was attacking her intelligence, and her sincere hope that it works. “They don’t have the funding that big pharmaceutical companies have! There’s a lot we don’t understand, Karen. There’s got to be something to it. So many people use it! It helps relieve my shoulder pain. I have to try everything.”

“But you’re also seeing a doctor, a physiotherapist, and a masseuse. You use creams. With all that you wouldn’t know what’s actually working. In the end it doesn’t work because the pain’s still there!”

“He does it to his two toddlers too. He wouldn’t do it to them if he thought he could injure them. He treated his daughter when she was one day old.” Now this really pissed me off…

“Mom, you could’ve had your ribs cracked or your lungs punctured by that fucking ignorant prick!”


Now I’d done it! I’d upset my tiny, gentle, sensitive, ever-smiling yet now teary-eyed mom. What a skepbitch I am.

I calmed down, put my arm around her, and said earnestly, “I need to make you aware of the risks. I don’t want you to be hurt. Because I love you.”

And now she’s gone home. And here I sit with reminders of her… a box of Zen Therapeutics Ki Immune Defence & Vitality Formula, a jar of Ascorbate C with lemon bioflavonoids, rosehips, and hesperidin, and a vial of homeopathic pills.

Because she loves me…


A Naturopath On Water

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on August 12, 2008

It is a menace to the public when governments license nonsense. It is a betrayal of the public trust, it diminishes all professionalism, and it generally propagates confusion in an area where licensure is meant to provide clarity.

One egregious example is naturopathy, which is licensed in 15 states in the US. Naturopaths are health care pseudoscientists (here’s a good overview). Essentially, they are what happens when medicine is completely disconnected from science, evidence, and even common sense. They generally endorse any medical woo they come across, without any coherent philosophy – although they do weave together some recurrent themes.


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