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.
Natural and herbal remedies are often promoted as a substitute for drug therapies. But do they actually work?
The idea of taking medication can be frightening. And as consumers and patients that want to make our own informed health decisions, it’s understandable and even appropriate to question our physicians when they recommend drug treatments. We need to understand the rationale for any medication that’s recommended or prescribed, the benefits of therapy, the side effects, and if there are any other approaches that might be more appropriate. Dietary supplements and natural health products are widely marketed as being safe and effective, and are occupying more and more shelf space in pharmacies, usually right beside the pharmacy counter. Many of my patient encounters in the pharmacy have included a discussion on the merits of drug therapy, versus the supplements that may have flashy packaging and impressive claims of effectiveness.
One encounter from my time working at a local pharmacy still sticks with me. I met a new patient who was anxious and eager to get my advice. He’d been cautioned by his family doctor that he was on the borderline of being diagnosed with diabetes. He had come to the pharmacy seeking a supplement that could help him avoid diabetes and medication. Rather than recommend any supplement, I suggested that the best approach he could probably take would be to lose some weight and get some exercise – it could be more effective than any supplement or drug, and would definitely help his health. He agreed, and then asked me what supplement he could take that could help him with some weight loss.
This type of discussion occurs all the time, and seems more common when there’s a lack of trust in the physician, or when the goals of treatment aren’t understood. The patient, reluctant to accept the physician’s recommendation, heads to the pharmacy for what they believe is a second opinion. In some cases, the patient may question the physician’s advice: “All my physician wants to do is prescribe drugs,” is a statement I’ve heard more than once. In those that are reluctant to accept medical treatment, there’s often a willingness to consider anything that’s available without a prescription – particularly if it’s perceived as “natural.” Natural products and dietary supplements are thought to be gentle, safe, and effective, while medicine may be felt to be unnatural, harsh, and potentially dangerous. Yet when I explain to patients that there’s actually little evidence to suggest most supplements offer any meaningful health benefits, I am sometimes met with puzzled or dismissive looks. The supplement industry’s marketing has been remarkably effective, glossing over the fact that the research done on dietary supplements is overall unconvincing and largely negative when it comes to having anything useful to offer for health. (more…)
Favorite naturopathic treatments comprise pumping patients full of dubious mixtures by injection, including IV drips. Naturopaths also employ topicals (salves, ointments and creams), rectal, and vaginal suppositories, and oral medications, such as bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, all made from “natural” substances.
According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)
these nutritional, herbal and homeopathic remedies are compounded to meet unique patient needs and are not typically available from the large drug manufacturers that don’t make small batches of such specialized products.
Not to mention the fact that it is highly doubtful these questionable remedies could make it through the FDA drug approval process, which requires proven safety and efficacy.
The FDA’s recent steps to improve drug compounding safety is a welcome curb on these practices. Draft Guidance issued in April addresses both compounding for office use and by prescription. (“Office use” refers to creating a supply of a compounded drug to be used by a health care practitioner as needed, as opposed to compounding a drug per a specific prescription for an individual patient.) In June, the FDA also issued an Interim Policy on substances that can be used in compounding a drug. We’ll discuss how these affect naturopathic practice in a moment. (more…)
Exactly one year ago tomorrow, The Bravewell Collaborative shut down, an event so momentous that few seem to have noticed. It’s been a while since we at SBM devoted much attention to Bravewell, although, at one time, its doings were a regular feature of SBM posts.
For those of you not familiar with Bravewell, a brief history. The main mover and shaker behind The Bravewell Collaborative was Christy Mack, wife of former Morgan Stanley head John Mack and a financier of sorts in her own right. She and the widow of another Morgan Stanley bigwig, Susan Karches, neither of whom had any particular expertise in finance, managed to get about $220 million in bailout funds from the Federal Reserve, a boondoggle recounted in Matt Taibbi’s 2011 hilarious Rolling Stone article, “The Real Housewives of Wall St.” Ms. Mack had established the Bravewell Collaborative a few years earlier, with her own contributions and that of other philanthropists, as a private operating foundation, a further opportunity to benefit from government largesse in the form of tax deductions.
Here’s Bravewell’s definition of “integrative medicine”:
Integrative medicine is an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, integrative medicine uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimal health.