I was having a discussion about the latest proposed changes to the food and drug act in Canada (Bill C-51), and I mentioned something disparaging about the people making the claims that Big Pharma was raping someone’s saintly, virginal grandmother for growing her own herbs in her garden. I think I might have suggested that they were crazy homeopathic and naturopathic nutbars; it’s really hard to keep all the ad hominem attacks I make in a day straight.
That’s when Chris looks and me and says “I have a friend who’s a Naturopath…”
Oh great. Now I’m going to have to do some research on a topic I wasn’t really planning to at this time. On the surface, Naturopathy sounds like a good enough idea, and one of the best descriptions I can find comes from a critic of the field;
Naturopathy, sometimes referred to as “natural medicine,” is a largely pseudo-scientific approach said to “assist nature”, “support the body’s own innate capacity to achieve optimal health”, and “facilitate the body’s inherent healing mechanisms.” Naturopaths assert that diseases are the body’s effort to purify itself, and that cures result from increasing the patient’s “vital force.” They claim to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes by ridding it of waste products and “toxins.” — Quackwatch
Despite this originating from an obviously biased site called Quackwatch, if you cross out the word “pseudo-scientific” it reads pretty well. It sounds pretty down home and comfortable; medicine the way Grandma and Grandpa might have seen it when they were kids. Compared to today where we have doctors coming out of school with obscene levels of debt, who may be more motivated to push as many patients through their offices as they can in the interests of paying off the student loans. Sometimes it’s just easier to pull out the prescription pad and move on to the next stop on the assembly line.
Naturopaths say that they are trying to return to old ways; back when we knew better; back to the Ancient Knowledge that we’ve lost; damn you Atlantis!. Maybe just going back to a time when the doctor would come by your house and spend half the afternoon, chatting with ma and pa about their aches and complaints. There was coffee and a shared pie, and everyone felt better afterwards, including the doctor would take payment in any currency available; maybe a dozen eggs or a bushel of apples.
One of the most positive effects that any complementary or alternative practice has is that it seems to run at a slower, more personal pace. The doctor sits down across from you, and talks to you. She nods encouragingly, and coos reassuringly; they listen. Sometimes that’s all the patient wants; someone to listen to them and to actually hear their complaints. If more family doctors took the time to sit with their patients for a half hour, there might not be this gap in care that has been filled by Reiki and Aromatherapy.
Naturopathic medicine is a system of medicine that assists in the restoration of health by following a set of specific rules. A basic assumption is that nature is orderly, and this orderliness is designed to result in ongoing life and well being. This dependable orderliness is believed to be guided by a kind of inner wisdom that everyone has. This inner wisdom can be assisted to return a person to their best balance by naturopathic treatments. — AANP
This is the face that many people first see when they think of a Naturopath; someone who provides wisdom and maybe some good remedies out of the Farmer’s Almanac; clove oil for that tooth ache, or maybe some peppermint for that upset stomach. This is good; a doctor who listens and has some non-drug remedies, and some good advice on how to keep yourself in good health.
“Stop eating so much crap, eat some vegetables, quit smoking, and walk a mile or two every day”
Your naturopath might suggest more sensible options for fighting off a cold such as staying in bed and drinking plenty of liquids rather than drinking a bottle of Nyquil and taking the last dozen tablets of those antibiotics you kept after you had that infection… Rational, and this fits the picture of naturopathic physician as teacher; instructing people on how to care for themselves.
So, we’re basically dealing with a nutritionist, a psychologist, and a physiotherapist rolled into one doctor, right? Sounds great; I’d love to find a doctor that had more than a prescription pad and a stethoscope. The problem that I find is that the organizations that represent these practitioners and the schools that train them are a bit more far-reaching than reason should allow for.
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care system that blends modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine. It is based on the healing power of nature and it supports and stimulates the body’s ability to heal itself. Naturopathic medicine is the art and science of disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention using natural therapies including: botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation, traditional Chinese medicine / acupuncture, and prevention and lifestyle counselling.[sic] — CAND
Alternative practices are alternative for a reason; they’re not based in science, there’s little or no proper research, and there’s not typically much consistency between practitioner diagnoses If there were anything to Reiki, and it could be established in testing, it would cease to be alternative, and would become part of accepted medical practice. Until that happens, it’s in the sphere of phrenology.
I searched with Google and found the first residential university that offers an accreditation, and found the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. It has every appearance of being a legitimate organization, and a very stylish looking website and catalog; I haven’t looked much further for other schools to compare and contrast programs. Here’s a sample of some of the courses that I found interesting in SCNM‘s catalog, including a minimum of ten credits in Homeopathy. It seems that Naturopaths rely to a very large degree on homeopathic preparations.
CLSC 863 Viral Disorders/HIV
This course focuses on chronic viral and common autoimmune disorders. The student is trained to understand the predisposition, etiology, course, and diagnosis of these conditions. Special emphasis is placed on HIV and CFIDS. Naturopathic therapeutics are covered in depth.
Frankly, this one class worries me more than all of the homeopathy classes. There are reports out of an AIDS research center in Pune, India that I have seen referenced time and again regarding how effective a mysterious remedy of ayurvedic and homeopathic remedies that claim to kill HIV outright. There appears to be a connection between pages that report on these ‘studies’ and pages that deny the connection between HIV and AIDS. Not only does a secret mix of herbs kill HIV but they claim that there is no connection whatsoever between incidence of HIV and developing AIDS. I can’t find anything notable in PubMed that shows any studies with decent sample sizes, fully blinded, that show any effect from homeopathy, herbal remedies, energy therapies, etc in combating HIV.
Most pages sound more like what I find at this homeopathy HIV lecture page.
HMEO 620 Introduction to Homeopathic Medicine
Students learn the history, philosophy, and principles of homeopathy, including the organon of medicine and case studies. Course materials cover remedy provings and preparation, first-aid remedies, and the basics of homeopathic case analysis. The case studies emphasize acute conditions. Students are introduced to homeopathic treatment of chronic disease.
This is shaping up to be a rather long piece, and I’m not going to cover the required course in hydrotherapy (saunas and colonic irrigation), or in traditional Chinese Medicine tongue and pulse diagnostic techniques. I’ve focused on Homeopathy in the past, and it seems to make up one of the largest portions of the Naturopath’s course load, and one of its biggest sources of remedy. I am a bit surprised that SCNM didn’t seem to have an Ayurvedic course; though I may have missed it.
RSCH 610 Basic Concepts in Research I
This course discusses the scientific method, scientific technology and the analysis of scientific data in general as it relates to Naturopathic Medicine.
It is nice to see that research does have a place here in this program, and I’d like to know more about how they are actually teaching students to do research. I’m no doctor, and I only have an interest in science; I’m no researcher. I do know, however, that studies published in homeopathy journals with sample sizes of 1-10 people that aren’t blinded at all aren’t anything close to conclusive. I have yet to find a study in any publication that has a large sample size, good controls, double blinding, and proper placebo control. I keep asking homeopaths to show me one, but tend to end up hearing about how double blinding is a tool of allopaths to keep homeopaths out of the playground or similar. What are the research classes teaching if not proper research techniques?
I’d still like to test out my malaria drug hypothesis, where we take a hundred Homeopathic practitioners and give them as much “Big Homeo” anti-malaria preparation as they’d like. Dose a hundred medical doctors with their “Big Pharma” medicine of choice, and let them all loose to mingle in a hot swampy location with millions of infected mosquitoes. Let’s see who loses the most members after a month. Hell, let’s film it as a Reality TV show for Discovery Channel.
For more on homeopathy, the Skeptical Dog has both a reprint of a highly critical piece that was threatened with lawsuit by the British Society of Homeopaths rather than refutation. I’ve also done some of the math myself in an attempt to find out how homeopathic potions work. I would really like to start doing more writing for the Skeptical Dog and would welcome anyone who doesn’t believe just any dog gamn thing they’re told and looking for a place to post.