I enjoyed this article at Stat, about former naturopath Britt Hermes. She graduated from a well-known program in the field and was in practice for several years before it began to dawn on her that (1) she didn’t really know that much about medicine and human disease, and (2) naturopathy was often a load of crap. Her web site, Naturopathic Diaries, is getting a lot of traffic, and a lot of hostility from the field’s other practitioners. This sort of thing would explain the latter:
Naturopathic medicine is not what I was led to believe. I discovered that the profession functions as a system of indoctrination based on discredited ideas about health and medicine, full of anti-science rhetoric with many ineffective and dangerous practices.
I left the profession of naturopathic medicine to pursue an education in biomedical research. Since my departure, I have been working to understand my former biases within naturopathic medicine. I am now exploring the ethics and evidence, or lack thereof, of naturopathic education and practice. I hope I can convey the message that naturopathy must be highly scrutinized, as its proponents have a seemingly on-going history of deceit, exploitation, and medical fraud.
You don’t run into that many people who completely fall out of this sort of belief system. In my experience, when someone starts to have doubts about one of these fields, they tend to sort of slide over into yet another fuzzy set of unproven/unprovable stuff, sometimes with the rationalization that it’s all the same thing, anyway, when you get right down to it, tapping into the natural energy of the universe and fighting the toxins, etc. So you see these practitioners who seem fine, simultaneously, with six or eight rather different belief systems (well, different if they were examined closely and taken to their conclusions).
For example, one of the things that seems to have caused Britt Hermes to throw her hands up and leave (rightly so) was that her former boss was importing and prescribing an unapproved drug for cancer patients. This stuff, known as Ukrain, has apparently been kicking around the cancer-cure underground for a while. That scene never really changes, as a look at Ron Rosenbaum’s article from the 1970s will show you (it’s in the excellent collection The Secret Parts of Fortune). The definition of “naturopath” is apparently elastic enough to bring in something like this, probably because it’s supposedly a derivative of a natural product mixture from the celandine plant. But it’s semisynthetic, if it’s what it says on the label, altered in a lab, and what’s natural about that?
The unifying principle seems to be that it’s “alternative”, something the Evil Medical Establishment doesn’t recognize. That gives you a very wide field to operate in. Hermes has said that her curriculum while getting her degree included things like putting sliced onions over a child’s ear to deal with an ear infection, and wearing wet socks at night to “boost the immune system”. Those are indeed pretty alternative, but one problem with them is that they don’t cost much. From a business standpoint, something like Ukrain that you can’t get from actual doctors and hospitals will be, by definition, desirable for some desperate patients. As a side note, it’s also something that no insurance will pay for, so your own payments come directly from those patients with no one else pressuring you on the price or taking a cut, which must be attractive, too. If you think drug companies have too much pricing power, wait until you see what the fakes charge.
Naturopaths are the source of a lot of nonsense about vaccines, cancer treatments, and much else, so I’m glad to see someone giving them a good shaking. I hope it does some good – hearing from someone who used to be in the field has got to be more effective than hearing from an Evil Pharma guy like me, that’s for sure.