The Integrative Medicine Wheel: False hope and lies
There are a number of things about so-called “integrative medicine” (or, “IM”) we don’t know, such as
- Whether IM really offers the best of conventional medicine and CAM.
- Whether IM produces better outcomes.
- Whether IM is effective in the area of prevention, including obesity and cardiovascular risk.
- Whether IM has anything to offer preventive medicine.
- Whether future IM research will yield beneficial results.
- Whether IM has a positive impact on utilization clinical preventive services, smoking cessation, diet, and physical activity.
- Whether IM is cost effective.
We don’t even have a working definition of “integrative medicine,” although experience tells us that incorporating diagnoses and treatments with insufficient evidence of safety and effectiveness is an acceptable element of integrative practice, as is rebranding “conventional” practices as “integrative.”
Normally, these substantial deficiencies would get in the way of declaring that IM is anything like a real specialty in medicine. Indeed, as David Gorski has pointed out, IM is more of a brand than a specialty. Yet, as we do know, integrative medicine considers itself exempt from the rules. Thus, a few years ago, Andrew Weil, MD, an early adopter in incorporating pseudoscience into medical practice, announced his desire to create of a board certification in integrative medicine. No doubt aware that IM couldn’t fulfill the requirements of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), he turned to the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS), whose requirements for Board recognition are more forgiving. For example, the ABPS is willing to credit work experience as a prerequisite to board certification, as opposed to residency and fellowship training. Sure enough, a few years ago, the ABPS formally accepted board-certification in IM via the ABPS’s recognition of the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM). (more…)
Last week, I wrote about alternative medicine clinics in Germany that offer a combination of alternative cancer cures plus experimental therapeutics administered improperly outside the auspices of a clinical trial. In particular, I discussed two cases. The first was British actress Leah Bracknell, who is raising money to go to one of these alternative cancer clinics to treat her stage IV lung cancer. the second was a British woman named Pauline Gahan, who was diagnosed with metastatic stomach cancer and has thus far spent £300,000 for a combination of vitamin infusions, “detox,” and Keytruda (generic name: pembrolizumab). This is a drug belonging to a new class of promising anticancer therapies known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. It’s FDA-approved for some cancers, but hasn’t yet been shown to be effective against stomach cancer, although there is one phase I trial that is promising and thought to be sufficient evidence to justify phase II and III trials. None of this stopped the clinic to which both Bracknell and Gahan traveled, the Hallwang Private Oncology Clinic.
One thing I noticed about the Hallwang Private Oncology Clinic when I wrote about it is that nowhere did it list the doctors who own and operate it or who consult there. I did find one name, Dr. Jens Nolting, mentioned on patient discussion boards as working at Hallwang. The lack of mention of who runs the clinic and who practices there was an enormous red flag to me, I think for obvious reasons. Fortunately, a commenter with more knowledge than I and thus a better idea of what to Google for, jumped in to comment and helped out. So I thought I’d do a follow-up post and then segue to a report that aired on Australian TV on alternative medicine for cancer there to show the consequences of clinics like this, which are, unfortunately, a problem in many advanced countries. Thus, this post might be a bit “odds and ends”-ish, but it’s a topic that’s been of intense interest to me ever since I discovered the depths of alternative medicine applied to cancer, and I didn’t want to leave last week’s post, in essence, unfinished. Also, there is at least one interesting connection that I hadn’t realized as I wrote my post last week.
On January 1, 2018, the California Naturopathic Doctors Act will be automatically repealed unless the California Legislature deletes or extends that date during the 2017 legislative session, which convenes on December 5, 2016. In addition, according to California law, the Naturopathic Medicine Committee of the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, which regulates naturopathic doctors (NDs), is subject to review by “appropriate policy committees of the Legislature” in the upcoming session.
The California Legislature should not extend the date of the Naturopathic Practice Act. Currently licensed naturopathic doctors could be allowed to continue their practices under a substantially revised practice act but no new licenses should be issued. Frankly, I do not think naturopaths, whether they claim they are “doctors” or not, should be allowed to practice at all. However, the political realities of getting a bill passed completely doing away with the practice of naturopathy may require some accommodation to currently licensed NDs. (more…)
A man undergoing blood irradiation therapy.
If there is one thing this election cycle has demonstrated it’s that, when ideology or emotions are involved, people can be entirely immune to facts. The narrative takes control, reinforced by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.
Even worse, people tend to think they are actually informed, and are confident in their opinions, even when they are grossly misinformed. Regular contributors here frequently receive e-mails from people who truly believe they have it all figured out – modern medicine is a con and we are all shills, while alternative gurus speak the Truth. The confident reality distortion is amazing to behold.
A total lack of ethics and regulation
Let’s take one stunning example from the world of alternative medicine – ultraviolet blood treatment. Britt Hermes, who has contributed to SBM before, is an ex-naturopath who wrote recently about a medical device called the UVLrx. This is a device that is inserted into a vein like a catheter, and then emits UV light directly to the blood.
Where’s the sauna detox?
It is no secret that we at SBM are not particularly fond of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCIH; formerly, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine). We’ve lamented NCCIH’s use of limited public funds for researching implausible treatments, the unwarranted luster NIH/NCCIH funding bestows on quack institutions, the lack of useful research it has produced, and its failure to shoot straight with the public when discussing alternative/ complementary/ integrative medicine. Nor does NCCIH’s research appear to affect CAM practice. Lack of evidence of safety or effectiveness is no impediment to use among CAM practitioners or “integrative” physicians.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised (NCCIH’s promise to “do some real science for a change” notwithstanding) when, a few days ago, I ran across a study of which I was previously unaware (for good reason, as you’ll see) on clinicaltrials.gov:
Sauna Detoxification Study: Pilot Feasibility
The goal of this study is to assess the feasibility of the approach, conduct a dose-finding investigation, and obtain pilot data on hyperthermia via sauna to apply in follow-up trials in the assessment of human chemical body burden reduction, for general wellness, detoxification, and pain reduction.
The investigators wish to determine if a hyperthermia-based detoxification protocol is feasible to conduct: including assessment of recruitment, enrollment, retention, protocol adherence, adverse events, and changes in serum polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Sauna Detoxification Study: Phase I
The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of sauna use on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in the blood of healthy human adults, as well as to assess safety, feasibility, and tolerability, and effects on quality of life and wellness. We hope to determine if there is a link between lower PCB levels in blood and sauna use.
Imagine this Leach attached to your knee.
Medicine can be aggravatingly slow to change and it can take years for new diagnostic or therapeutic interventions to percolate through the medical community. It can take equally long for old practices to fade. I have tried to follow the dictum of “be neither the first to try nor the last to abandon a therapy.”
But nothing in the real world rivals that of the pseudo-medical world, who follow the dictum “be the first to try and the last to abandon a therapy.”
New, often preliminary, findings are spun into grand diagnostic and treatment plans, especially in the world of naturopathy, where there is a fondness for innumerable one cause of all disease.
And the old is never abandoned, although there is a weird propensity for various pseudo-medicines to combine to produce a new mutant strain of pseudo-medicine. But leeches?
Who knew that leeches were still a thing? (more…)
Patients should get health information from doctors, not quacks.
The biggest challenge we face promoting high standards of science in medicine is not making our case to the community. Our case is rock solid, in my opinion, and backed by evidence and logic. There is no question, for example, that homeopathy is 100% bogus and should not be part of modern medicine.
Our challenge is that there are literally billions of dollars to be made selling fake medicine and dubious treatments. This means that unscientific practitioners have an immediate financial incentive to promote themselves and their treatments, and they will tirelessly do so, on any front they can find. Further, the stars of unscientific medicine have the resources to do so – to intimidate critics, cozy up to politicians, open centers in respected hospitals, and market their brand.
We simply don’t have the manpower to confront them on every front, and the mainstream scientific and medical communities are frankly just not paying enough attention. They are largely unaware that pseudoscience is infiltrating their profession right under their noses, or they have been lulled into thinking this is a small and benign phenomenon.
These many fronts in which science confronts pseudoscience include the media, hospitals, continuing education, journals, the marketplace, politics and regulation, and research funding.
Prevention has long been a priority of conventional medicine
One of the common criticisms we hear from alternative and integrative medicine proponents is that doctors don’t do anything to prevent illnesses and have no interest in prevention. They claim that doctors are only trained to hand out pills to treat existing illnesses. Sometimes they even accuse them of deliberately covering up cures and wanting to perpetuate illnesses like cancer so they can make more money by treating patients. Nothing could be more absurd. Every reputable doctor would rather prevent illnesses than treat them. In his book Heart 411, cardiologist Steven Nissen even said he would be glad to see his specialty become obsolete: “Don’t worry about us; we will gladly hang up our scalpel and stethoscope if we can find a better way to lead you to a heart-healthy life.”
Doctors own prevention. They invented it, from vaccines to clean water to preventive screening tests. Mainstream medicine was responsible for the greatest preventive achievement in history: the smallpox vaccine campaign succeeded in preventing anyone from ever getting smallpox again. I defy you to comb through historical records and find any doctor who ever said “Let’s stop vaccinating for smallpox so we can make more money treating its victims.”
Prevention is one of the six fundamental principles of naturopathy. Alternative practitioners pride themselves on prevention, but they don’t actually do a very good job of it. In fact, there is evidence that their patients are less likely to get immunizations and some of the standard preventive screening tests recommended by the USPSTF. Instead of rigorously implementing evidence-based preventive strategies, they tend to offer other speculative, untested recommendations.
Legislative Alchemy is the process by which state legislatures transform pseudoscience and quackery into licensed health care practices. By legislative fiat, chiropractors can detect and correct non-existent subluxations, naturopaths can diagnose (with bogus tests) and treat (with useless dietary supplements and homeopathy) fabricated diseases like “adrenal fatigue” and “chronic yeast overgrowth,” and acupuncturists can unblock mythical impediments to the equally mythical “qi” by sticking people with needles. In sum, by passing chiropractic, naturopathic, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice acts, states license what are essentially fraudulent health care practices and give them an undeserved imprimatur of legitimacy.
Only 6 of the 50 state legislatures are in regular session now. Many have ended two-year (2015-2016) consecutive sessions in which legislation from one year carries over into the next. The Texas, Montana, and North Dakota legislatures didn’t meet at all in 2016.
During 2015-2016, over a dozen naturopathic licensing or registration bills and at least 15 naturopathic practice expansion bills were introduced. (In some states, companion bills were introduced in each house. These were counted as one bill.) At least 19 chiropractic practice expansion bills were introduced in the same period. Four acupuncture/TCM practice acts were introduced, as were 14 practice expansion bills. This count does not include bills trying to force public and private insurers to cover CAM practitioner services.
I was originally going to write this post for the 4th of July, given the subject matter. However, as regular readers know, I am not unlike Dug the Dog in the movie Up, with new topics that float past me in my social media and blog reading rounds serving as the squirrel. Then I got a copy of the movie VAXXED to review last week, and before I knew it this post had been delayed two weeks. Never let it be said, though, that I don’t circle back to topics that interest med. (Wait, strike that. Sometimes, that actually does happen. It just didn’t happen this time.) This time around, I will be using documents forwarded to me by a reader as a means of revisiting a discussion that dates back to the early days of this blog, before discussing the broader problem, which is the infiltration of pseudoscientific “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) into VA medical centers.
The return of the revenge of “battlefield acupuncture”
Today’s topic is the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and its embrace of pseudoscience. VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) provide care for over 8 million veterans, ranging from the dwindling number of World War II and Korean War veterans to soldiers coming home now from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although there have been problems over the years with VAMCs and the quality of care they provide, including a recent scandal over hiding veterans’ inability to get timely doctor’s appointments at VAMCs, a concerted effort to improve that quality of care over the last couple of decades has yielded fruit so that today the quality of care in VA facilities compares favorably to the private sector. Unfortunately, like the private sector, the VA is also embracing alternative medicine in the form of CAM, or, as its proponents like to call it these days, “integrative medicine,” in order to put a happy label on the “integration” of pseudoscience and quackery with conventional medicine.