Britt Hermes and the Naturopath’s Path Out

“I believed I was a real doctor.” So said Britt Hermes, a former naturopathic doctor who later came to recognize naturopathic medicine as a fraud, and now dedicates her efforts toward exposing its nonsense.

But before we even get to the case Hermes makes against naturopathy today, one has to grapple with the fact that this pseudoscientific practice had Britt Hermes, who is obviously incredibly intelligent and deeply empathetic, convinced of its power. She believed she was a real doctor. If she can fall for it, even if temporarily, our work really is cut out for us.

And she was rather hard on herself. Early on, she displayed a biographical blurb of credentials from her naturopathic days, and she mocked them. That can’t be easy. It’s one thing for an accomplished physician to deride the false claims of alt-med, but for someone who used to be devoted to it to then stand before an audience of skeptics and eviscerate her former life takes some pretty substantial guts.

And in case you thought that a naturopath was primarily concerned with herbs and being gluten-free or something, Hermes has news for you. Take, for example, the work being done on “plants and planets” in an “astrological system of medicine.” Or perhaps “the ancient art of bleeding,” where one can cure herpes by bleeding one’s knees. This isn’t some benign hippie health food concern. This is Theodoric of York stuff.

So, a tip of the hat to she who once called herself “Dr. Britt.” She’s doing a hell of a lot of good for people’s health now.

David Gorski: Quackery, Limitless in Abundance

What on earth is going on in academic medicine? From David Gorski’s presentation today, I learned that an association of schools with fake-medicine facilities exists, the Academic Consortium of Integrative Medicine, has over 70 member academic medical centers, which is up from only eight in 1999. What?

Gorski recounted a long list of deeply troubing developments in “quackademic medicine,” such as the recent $200 million gift to UC Irvine for the construction of an inegrative medicine research facility, Harvard students learning about meridians from an acupuncturist, and the Cleveland Clinic’s wide array of offenses against science, which includes nonsense treatments like reiki.

Reiki. Man, that’s a real humdinger, that one. The Cleveland Clinic’s website boasted that reiki involves a “universal life force that is limitless in abundance.” As Gorski clarifies, “Reiki is just faith healing with Eastern mystic religious beliefs.”

It’s maddening. So many resources and so much time and energy directed toward these unscientific non-disciplines. Those $200 million could certainly be better used to pursue real medical breakthroughs rather than making the supporters of homeopathy feel validated.

Part of the problem is how the quackademics muddle their claims with sciencey sounding terms, and layering it all with heaping dollops of self righteousness. Alt-med, CAM, integrative medicine, functional medicine, all of these in one form or another assert that they “treat the whole person,” the exclusively “treat the root cause of disease, not just symptoms,” and only they emphasize prevention of diseases (which is a surprise to, well, real doctors. But it’s okay, because these alt-med types are using “the best of both worlds.” This leads Gorski to ask, “How can you use the ‘best’ of quackery?”

Clearly, though, the reality-based community and the champions of integrative medicine are having different conversations. If you doubt that, note the quote from Dr. David Katz, who insists that homeopathy works, and that medical science needs to embrace “a more fluid concept of evidence.”

If your head has exploded over this, perhaps you’d like to check in with the Cleveland Clinic, and see if your unlimited life force energy an heal your freshly detonated skull.

Harriet Hall on Functional Medicine: Redundant and Full of Babble

Harriet Hall, the Skepdoc, joins us to talk about “functional medicine,” a term that was fairly new to me. Here’s what Wikipedia says functional medicine is:

Functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine which proponents say focuses on interactions between the environment and the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems.

Uh oh.

Practitioners attempt to develop individual treatment plans for people they treat.

Well that just sounds like “medicine.” Big deal, right?

Functional medicine encompasses a number of unproven and disproven methods and treatments, and has been criticized for being pseudoscientific.

And we’re off to the races.

As Hall pointed out, this is really just a new branding of what’s usually been known as “integrative medicine,” and the principles that proponents of FM say make up the core of the practice are no different than what real doctors using conventional medicine already do. For example, one tenet of FM was that “the acute care approach is inappropriate for chronic diseases.” To which Hall responded, “Well, DUH.”

When you drill down to the claims in FM marketing, we learn that all diseases are, at their roots, caused by “imbalances,” including “toxic emotions.” (If that’s true, then I am poised to get literally every disease ever.) FM even invents conditions that aren’t even diseases, like “toxicity” and, my favorite, “leaky gut.” Not a thing.

Hall shows us that FM, like much in the world of alt-med and pseudoscience, sounds a lot like sectarianism. There is a glaring lack of evidence for any of the practice’s claims, and it’s riddled with “indecipherable babble and word salad” in order to explain any of those claims.