Field of Science

Naturopathic shenanigans in the Maryland state legislature


Quacks never give up.  In their never-ending quest to make money from bogus treatments, they try all kinds of strategies to convince people that what they're selling really, really works, despite the evidence to the contrary.

One strategy is creating a legal licensing system.  If the government licenses your profession, it must be legitimate, right?  Legislators wouldn't approve a licensing system for nonsense, would they?  Of course not!

So it's strange that the Maryland legislature is considering a bill in its upcoming session to allow naturopaths to practice medicine in the state of Maryland.  

Some of you might be wondering, what the heck is a naturopath?  As Peter Lipson explained recently in his Forbes column, naturopaths are little more than fake doctors, whose practices are a modern-day version of folk medicine.  When naturopaths got licensed in Minnesota, PZ Myers suggested they be called "witch doctors."  Too harsh?  Well, one thing is clear: naturopaths are trying to get licensed in multiple states (Lipson described their efforts in Michigan) as a route towards legitimacy.

There's an easy way to become legitimate: practice science-based medicine.  This would be awfully difficult for naturopaths, whose practices include homeopathy, colloidal silver treatments, and chelation therapy, to name but a few.

When the naturopaths tried this in Massachusetts 10 years ago, my colleague Kimball Atwood put together detailed testimony describing many of the unscientific and downright dangerous practices of naturopaths.  I encourage anyone to read his full testimony or his series of blog articles.  Here, though, is a brief sample of the erroneous claims made by naturopaths, courtesy of Dr. Atwood:
  • "... that hydrogen peroxide dissolved in a bath can provide vital oxygen through the skin of a patient suffering from an acute asthma attack [5]; 
  • that balloons inflated inside the nose can cure learning disorders [8];
  • that strokes in progress can be reversed by cold compresses applied over the carotid arteries [9]; 
  • that vitamin C is an effective treatment for approximately 100 conditions, including glaucoma, male infertility, and AIDS [12]; 
  • that high blood pressure and coronary heart disease should be treated with unproven herbs and chelation therapy [17]."
The numbers refer to citations that Dr. Atwood provides for each of his points.

Among other things, the proposed new law (House bill 1029 and its companion Senate bill 783) specifically authorizes hydrotherapy, stating: 
"A license authorizes a licensee to ... administer or perform hot or cold hydrotherapy, naturopathic physical therapy, electromagnetic energy, colon hydrotherapy ... for the purpose of providing basic therapeutic care."
[Aside: I have no idea what it means to "administer electromagnetic energy"; perhaps you simply shine a light on the patient?  I suspect the legislators who are sponsoring this bill haven't a clue either.]

Hydrotherapy doesn't sound so bad until you learn what naturopaths do with it.  According to the naturopathic organization's own experts, 
"One technique is to lower your body temperature, with a cold bath for example, as much as possible without inducing shivering as soon as possible after a stroke has occurred, or is suspected to have occured.... Another hydrotherapy technique with a similar rationale is to soak the feet in a hot foot bath, as soon as possible after the stroke has occurred, while applying a cold compress to the neck, face and scalp. If this technique can be applied as a stroke is happening, it may even abort the stroke."
Again, quoting Dr. Atwood: "All strokes are potentially life-threatening, and are considered to be medical emergencies that require prompt and expert evaluation and supportive care. The treatments described above will do nothing to improve the outcomes of strokes, but are certain to delay competent diagnosis and treatment. 

Most disturbing, perhaps, is that the new Maryland bill would require physicians to violate medical ethics.  The AMA code of ethics states that
"It is unethical to engage in or to aid and abet in treatment which has no scientific basis and is dangerous, is calculated to deceive the patient by giving false hope, or which may cause the patient to delay in seeking proper care."
By adding a naturopath to the Maryland State Board of Physicians, and by requiring them to license naturopaths to practice medicine, the legislature is forcing physicians to act unethically.

So if you live in Maryland, take a few minutes and write to your state representative telling him or her not to support this quack bill.  Heck, contact them even if you don't live in Maryland, and tell them you were thinking of moving but now you want to move to Virginia instead. 


2 comments:

  1. The 2012 edition of the naturopaths’ main textbook by Joseph Pizzorno (founder of Bastyr, the foremost naturopath school) has new chapter that teaches four humors theory, “diagnosis” and “treatment.” Yes, this is none other than the ancient Greek belief system that held back the development of safe and effective healthcare for centuries and even led to the death of George Washington by repeated bleedings. I’d say that naturopathy is not only anti-scientific, but it is headed straight for the Dark Ages.

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  2. But..., but..., it's NATURAL!

    So is death.

    So is stroke.

    So is snake venom.

    So are viruses.

    And so on--an on.

    I know you get it, and I get it, but what's wrong with all those people at Bastyr?

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