Stephen Budiansky performed a splendid service to the nation by detailing Senator Tom Harkin's role in the establishment and operation of the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) [U.S. News & World Report, 7/17/95].
The article dispels the illusion that the OAM was founded because medical scientists saw great value in "alternative" medicine. In truth it was the influence of quacks on gullible politicians who then used their political power to impose the OAM on NIH. The result has been the biggest public relations victory for quackery in history (which the article quotes NCAHF president as stating).
The article also establishes the fact that individuals are using their association with OAM to sell people on the value of the questionable methods they promote. This article is must reading--especially for journalists who are doing stories on the OAM. NCAHF has been collecting media reports on the OAM and it is abundantly clear that the media has missed the real story. Worse, it has become the unwitting accomplice of quackophiles who are using NIH's prestige to advance their causes.
Cat's claw cancer herbal Peruvian folk remedy is being touted as a cancer medicine in the USA. Ads have been run on Spanish-speaking radio stations. The remedy involves Una de Gato--Cat's Claw in English.
Cat's Claw can involve either of two herbs whose scientific names are Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis. Cat's Claw is being quacked as "a wondrous herb from the Peruvian rain forest" thus capitalizing upon the current fascination with rain forest explorations.
Reports in the fringe literature are typical. They talk about how the herb is used to treat cancer by people in Peru (none of whom seem to be qualified to judge its worth), and quickly and without warning shift to other uses and/or information that have more credibility.
According to a scientific report in the Journal of Natural Products (1991;54:453-9) researchers have isolated six new quinovic acid glycosides from Cat's Claw samples. Oral doses inhibited edema (swelling) but showed no significant anti-inflammatory action on experimentally induced edema in a rat's paw. Because of anecdotal reports of Cat's Claw having been used as a folk remedy for cancer, samples have been submitted to the National Cancer Institute for testing.
NCAHF believes that quackery can be cost-effective: (1) if it is cheaper, (e.g., vitamins and herbs instead of prescription drugs); and, (2) because patients will die sooner than they would with standard care.
Health care has become outrageously expensive. Overloads of paperwork, the for-profit legal profession using its creativity to find ways to milk the medical system, a politically-sustained welfare bottomless pit, and more have driven costs to beyond reason. By comparison, most quack (i.e., alternative medicine) is cheap. Some insurance companies are already testing the financial viability of writing policies for "alternative" medicine.
It is the lack of effectiveness of quack remedies that makes them financially appealing. Shortening the time of care saves money. Quacks substitute patient satisfaction for effectiveness. This is attained by communication skills (i.e., simple answers), compassion (friendliness and expressions of concern), providing hope (never say "die"--literally!), and administering mood-altering substances and/or procedures (i.e., Dr. Feelgood techniques). Dr. Feelgood techniques include: (1) herbal "energizers" (e.g., Ma Huang, caffeine- containing substances, coffee enemas, or ginseng); (2) "bodywork" (e.g., massage, manipulation, laying on hands) which relaxes people and increases their suggestibility thus enhancing the placebo effect; (3) colonic irrigations, which give people a jolt, and are erotic experiences for some (if you don't believe this, you should see the pro-colonic materials in NCAHF's files); what appears to be a "natural" remedy can be adulterated with prescription drugs that produce real effects.
Quackery offers another benefit -- it is socially-acceptable euthanasia. Jack Kevorkian has made physician-assisted suicide a matter of national debate. Cases such as those of Nancy Cruzan, Baby Jane Doe, and Baby K have stymied medical ethicists and cost the nation millions in resources.
In contrast, overwhelming apathy is seen when someone opts for quack medicine. Why is there such a difference between our views of withholding life-support versus substituting quackery for life-prolonging standard care? Using quackery creates the illusion of having treatment rather than giving in to fate.
In addition, we seem to be culturally conditioned to quackery-use as an acceptable expression of individual autonomy, but not so with euthanasia. If politicians and health business profiteers take notice, we're in real trouble.
How To Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking For A New Age, by Schick and Vaugh (Mayfield, 1995) in my view, does what no other book on critical thinking has done; it delivers!
Many lament over the great need for the teaching of critical thinking. As a teacher, I have followed this concept for years, reading everything I could find on the topic, and attending seminars. Interestingly, no one has ever been certain about how to go about teaching critical thinking. Many resort to coursework in logic, but this doesn't seem to work for anyone but those who already think logically!
The idea has been advanced that the best defense against bad ideas is a wide base of knowledge that enables one to have many touch points with reality. Critics say that people are so highly specialized that they can only recognize error within their own very narrow scopes. At the same time they have been taught to be open-minded.
The method I have preferred is to recapitulate the order of events historically that brought humankind from primitive, prescientific (magical) thinking, through early attempts at science, and noting landmark improvements on the scientific method.
Schick and Vaughn approach the problem by raising key issues, asking the basic questions, providing insightful information on the landmark cases that have driven popular beliefs, and drawing principles that can be used in making judgments in the future. The factor that wins the point time after time is that they provide the information that discredits the anecdotal cases that have given credence to new age beliefs.
As a result, readers are not only armed with guiding principles on how to think about weird things, they can explain how weird things appeared believable in the first place. I rate this book as one of the best I have ever seen. It should be required reading for every student. -- William Jarvis
MET-Rx, a sports performance aid, claims to contain a special, superior "European-produced protein." The company has sold over $60 million worth thus far.
Because of the number of high profile professional athletes and teams which are touting the product, San Francisco Examiner medical writer Lisa Krieger took a careful look. She reported (9/15/95) that MET-Rx is just another high-priced item that capitalizes upon athletes' wishful thinking.
David Lightsey, Coordinator of NCAHF's Ergogenic Aids Task Force, says that there is no magic in MET-Rx and that the money spent on the product would be more wisely used to buy food. The company's founder, A. Scott Connelly, MD (anesthesiologist) acknowledges that there are no conclusive studies, but says that studies will eventually prove the superiority of his product. In the meantime, he is relying upon the testimonials of happy celebrities.
Lloyd Clayton of Birmingham, Alabama operates a number of diploma mills. (An organization that awards degrees without requiring its students to meet educational standards for such degrees established and traditionally followed by reputable institutions. [Pollution in Higher Education; Efforts of the US Dept. of Education in relation to degree mills, USOE, 3/74.]) Included are the Clayton School of Natural Healing, Chadwick University, and the American Holistic College of Nutrition. (Clayton also sells "Dr. Clayton's herbals and homeopathics.") Although the Clayton "schools" operate in Alabama, they are not licensed there. Alabama's Department of Education attempted to close Clayton down in 1981, but Clayton fought it legally. The State Attorney General opined that the "schools" would not be required to be licensed if they offered no programs to Alabama citizens.
[Joe Miller, Private School Licensure Section, Alabama Dept of Education, letter 9/18/95]
Comment: The AG's action gave sanctuary to a socially despicable operation. This apparently does not please the Dept of Education, but its hands are tied. Mr. Miller is to be thanked for being forthright in his response to our questioning on the status of the Clayton "schools." (Clayton "schools" are "accredited" only by an accreditation mill!)
Deepak Chopra, MD has become so popular that the Los Angeles Public Television station KCET used him for its 1995 fund-raising campaign. Chopra lectured on his metaphysical views and was interviewed and praised by the moderator as the phones rang and the pledges poured in.
The scene resembled religious TV shows that preach and raise money. Those who have followed Chopra from his days promoting the Maharishi, through his success as a writer of wishful thinking books and association with the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine, to his rise and fall at Sharp Hospital in southern California will find Elise Pettus's article in New York magazine (8/14/95) a fact-filled journey from his birth to his future plans as a guru. This is a four-star article for readers who want to collect profiles of the leading personalities in alternative medicine.
Ellen Burstein was a TV investigative reporter for 13 years who was struck with multiple sclerosis. In 1991 she read a glowing front page New York magazine report about Dr. Irving Dardik and his Superesonant Wavenergy (SRWE) program. Dardik's credentials included having been chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sports Medicine Council.
Dardik told her that his SRWE program was aimed at correcting imbalances in the immune system through a stress-recovery regimen and that in time her MS would disappear. He demanded $100,000 up front for treatment. In time, Burstein came to realize that Dardik's program was a fraud, and she didn't take it lying down. Drawing upon her experience, Burstein pursued the matter. This resulted in the New York State licensing board lifting Dardik's medical license. She has also filed common fraud charges.
Burstein told her story in TV Guide (10/15/94). The concise and substantive article is one of the best we've seen. Ironically, it is an instance where a story in a prominent publication duped a media professional into becoming a victim of quackery, and how that victim used her media-learned skills to bring her assailant to justice.
At NCAHF we see cases in which the media was the source which both made the victim aware, and instilled the confidence necessary for the victim to pursue, some form of quackery. Burstein's case can be used as a model to illustrate the problem our society faces due to the interaction of a media philosophy that denies social responsibility for promoting quackery and the current buccaneer free-enterprize political philosophy.
The August 21 Newsweek carried an item alleging that the ayurvedic practice of drinking one's own urine is gaining in popularity. Therapeutic applications are dubbed "urotherapy" and "uropathy." The article stated that Gandhi followed the practice--the implication being that if a great man like him would drink his own urine, it may not be as crazy and disgusting as it seems.
Now comes a letter from Arun Gandhi of the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence saying that urine drinking was not a therapy he believed in or advocated. [Newsweek 9/18/95:25]
In August, 3,500 distributors of Cell Tech's blue-green algae products gathered in Klamath Falls, Oregon. According to the report, the number of distributors has grown from 26,000 to 185,000 in the past two years [The Oregonian, 8/4/95].
Cell Tech is the successor of KC Laboratories that was shut down by the FDA in 1986. We have been unable to distinguish between the claims and activities of Cell Tech and those that caused KC's demise. The fact that blue-green is also the color of money seems to be a significant factor.
The Justice Department decided not to file charges against Jonathan Wright, MD, the Kent, Washington physician whose office was raided by the FDA in 1992.
Wright, who is the former president of the American Quack Association and current president of the National Health Federation, was accused of smuggling unapproved drugs, among other things (for details see "Health foods industry backs 'persecuted' doctor," Priorities, Winter, 1993).
Alexander Schauss, who leads the health food industry lobbying group Citizens For Health (CFH) rallied its activists to clamor on Wright's behalf. CFH portrayed the FDA raid as an abuse of federal power (a la, Waco & Ruby Ridge). I t is not known whether the bombing of the Federal Building at Oklahoma City has caused the Justice Department to back away from noisy radicals, or if politicians have used their influence (Orrin Hatch is head of the Senate Judiciary Committee) to "call off the dogs."
At any rate, CFH's Schauss is calling the decision "a great day for alternative medicine." [Seattle Times wire story in Kansas City Star, 9/26/95]
The Colorado Attorney General has charged Colorado Springs dentist Hal Huggins with prescribing drugs having nothing to do with dentistry (eg, insulin), removing the dental amalgams from patients with the promise that it would solve incurable diseases, and employing oddball methods (e.g., devices, equipment without clinical justification, and strange procedures such as vitamin C purges) in his practice.
Huggins has developed a national following of maverick dentists throug h his books and continuing dental education courses. Huggins claims that he is being persecuted by the dental profession for exposing the dangers of mercury fillings. Huggins justifies medical tests and procedures on his claim that dental mercury causes medical problems. This report says that Huggins' license to practice dentistry is in jeopardy.
[Denver Post, 8/30/95]
On June 20, Michael Kent Bilbrey, 44, of Chandler, AZ was sentenced to 5 years in prison and ordered to pay $39,300 in restitution for selling a quack cure that was nothing more than a concoction of cranberry juice, saline solution and household bleach. Bilbrey pleaded guilty in March to a charge of theft, admitting that he promoted his potion as a cure for cancer and AIDS with no scientific justification.
A California-based public interest attorney, Donald Driscoll, has filed lawsuits in that state against major drug chains, including Payless, Long's, and Walgreens, charging that package inserts indicating specific uses for homeopathic remedies constitute false advertising.
Driscoll hopes to accomplish what the FDA failed to do when drug companies starting marketing homeopathic products in the mid-1980s, which is to require such medicines to comply with the 1962 Amendment to the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act that requires drugs to be proved effective prior to marketing. Driscoll's lawsuits are mentioned in a story covering homeopathy that appeared in Time magazine on 9/25/95 (pp.47-8).
Comment: Homeopathy spokesman Jay Borneman states that Driscoll's lawsuits "are another attempt by the National Council Against Health Fraud to attack homeopathy" [Resonance, Sept-Oct, 1995, p.25]. As pleased as we are with these lawsuits, NCAHF had nothing to do with Driscoll's action. Dr. Barrett provided information after Driscoll contacted him and told him of his intent to file the lawsuits. Of course, NCAHF will provide whatever help it can in these cases. A question being raised by Borneman is whether legal action filed in a California County Court can restrict the sale of products marketed in compliance with current federal policy. NCAHF contends that current FDA policy violates the law the agency is supposed to uphold. #
Colloidal silver is being touted as a "natural universal antibiotic." It is also said to (guess what) "enhance the immune system" (which seems to have become the universal claim for contemporary quackery!). Promoters claim colloidal silver is useful for HIV/AIDS, cancer, herpes, candidasis, stap h & strep infections, shingles, TB, diabetes, as an antiparasitic medication, and more. The FDA is not aware of any substantial evidence which demonstrates that colloidal silver solution is useful to prevent or treat any serious condition, or that it is safe. The substance has not been proved safe or effective. FDA warns that the indiscriminate use of colloidal silver solutions can result in argyria which includes a permanent ashen-grey discoloration of the skin.
[Unproven product warning, Univ of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension News Office, Madison 11/11/94] #
Chiropractic: The Victim's Perspective is a detailed, penetrating 260-page report that exposes the dangers of chiropractic health care.
The author, George Magner, who was permanently injured by chiropractic treatment, spent several years collecting information on others who suffered serious trauma at the hands of chiropractors. His manuscript was edited by Stephen Barrett, MD, who provided additional data.
The book covers chiropractic's history and current status. Included are: "subluxation theory," chiropractic education and licensure, questionable marketing tactics, "preventive maintenance," dubious diagnostics and therapeutics, nutrition-related nonsense, "chiropractic pediatrics," insurance abuses, the AMA antitrust lawsuit, deceptions behind recent headlines, research considerations. significant risks, the need for informed consent, "freedom of choice" issues, and the urgent need for reform. The book is indexed, thoroughly referenced, and contains fifty illustrations.
Order from NCAF Books, P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105. $29.50; Canada $30; other countries $31. NCAHF members: $27; Canada $27.20. Other countries $28.50. Prices in U.S. funds. Foreign orders must pay in US funds.
A review of studies of physicians' interest in "alternative" and/or "complementary" medicine reveals that most writers don't understand their topic. There is no consistent definition of these terms and writers do not even apply simple dictionary meanings.
For instance, an article in Medical Economics (9/11/95) entitled "Alternative medicine comes to the OR" describes a cardiac surgeon (Mehmet Oz) who used qigong (a Chinese relaxation technique) on surgical patients. Qigong is considered legitimate as a relaxation technique, but so-called "qigong masters" who purport to heal by paranormal means are considered charlatans even in China. (Honglin. "Introduction to the theory and method of Chinese qigong and pseudo-qigong," Rocky Mt Skeptic, Nov-Dec '92).
The writer used the wrong word. Webster's Dictionary defines alternative as "a proposition or situation offering a choice between two or more things only one of which may be chosen" (emphasis added). Unproven alternatives that replace proven medicine are unacceptable. Oz was using qi gong as "complementary" medicine. Complementary meaning: 1: serving to fill out or complete; 2: mutually supplying each other's lack. Complementary is a standard medical term. Oz used qi gong to relax presurgical patients, which is an appropriate application of the art of medicine.
Too many fail to separate potentially useful alternative methods (e.g., suggestive therapies, psychological aids, relaxation techniques) from pure quackery (e.g., AIDS and cancer cures). Lumping all alternative practices together allows quackery to benefit from the credibility of those with some usefulness.
Time magazine this did in its 1991 cover story touting alternative medicine. Its poll showed that most people were using chiropractors and acupuncturists, but the article pictured people being treated with crystal healing and exotic ayurvedic sesame oil drips that no one had reported. A survey of Quebec general practice and family physicians asked only about acupuncture, chiropractic and hypnosis. Some have listed "counseling and psychotherapy" presumably done by clinical psychologists who are referred to as "nonmedical providers."
Other procedures that have been part of standard medicine for years that have been listed include hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, and acupuncture--yes, acupuncture! Acupuncture has been used in American medicine for decades. Granted, its effects may be largely placebo, but its mechanisms of endorphin release, suggestion therapy, counter-irritation, and its usefulness as a psychological aid have enabled it to survive clinically.
Some include "diet and exercise" as "alternative," which is crazy. Preventive medicine has been promoting these for years. Even Dr. Dean Ornish's program has been dubbed "alternative" despite the fact that he has provided evidence of its value which is widely accepted as valid.
Much tolerance toward alternative medicine is due to ignorance. I had bachelor's and master's degrees in health education from two major universities and had never heard the word "chiropractic." I learned of it because of an interest in manipulative therapy in the prevention and care of athletic injuries.
In the 1960s, a number of negative articles on chiropractic appeared in the literature. To get chiropractic's side of the story, I began reading their publications. It was reading what DCs said about themselves that alarmed me and made me realize that chiropractic is a dangerous health care cult. This led to the hypothesis that the more a health educator knew about chiropractic, the less he/she would like it. This was the focus of my doctoral dissertation.
I provided accurate, unbiased information on the history, theory, beliefs and practices of chiropractors through a programmed instruction course. The course was developed with the aid of two chiropractic groups (straights & mixers; n=19), and one medical groups (n=3). All agreed that the information provided accurately portrayed the chiropractic controversy. My hypothesis included another well-established reality, that knowledge was but one factor influencing attitudes, and that it was not the primary factor. This was proved by the fact that at the end of the course, the scores on the knowledge level of the test group equaled those of chiropractic students in training, but their attitudes were highly negative, while the chiropractic students' attitudes were highly positive.
I believe that current studies of the attitudes of medical doctors toward alternative medicine reflect the same reality that led me to conduct my study. I contend that this would hold true for most of what currently is calling itself alternative medicine. Studies of physicians' attitudes toward nonstandard medicine consistently find a combination of interest in these topics coupled with ignorance about them. Unless they are predisposed to believing in an ideology that is in conflict with scientific thinking, the more physicians learn about these procedures, the more negative their attitudes become toward them.