Natural Awakenings… and Stupidity

A friend of mine recently turned me on to a magazine, Natural Awakenings. It is basically a magazine that promotes healthy living through natural products, green living, and naturopathy.

My friend did not turn me on to this magazine because he thought it was insightful or meaningful, he turned me on to this magazine because he saw the dangers in promoting the pseudoscience that this magazine pushes. To be fair, there are a number of pseudosciences pushed within this magazine, from editorials to advertisements. But a few, namely essential oils and naturopathy, stand out above the others. While we are on advertisements, here is an actual quote from Natural Awakenings:

“We do not necessarily endorse the views expressed in the articles and advertisements, nor are we responsible for the products and services advertised. We welcome your ideas, articles and feedback.”

Well, then. Here is some feedback. Also, please check out some informative links that I have included. I am merely trying to provide an introduction and basic overview. Arm yourself with knowledge.

What is Naturopathy?

From the opening of Wikipedia: “Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, is a form of alternative medicine based on a belief in vitalism, which posits that a special energy called “vital energy” or “vital force” guides bodily processes such as metabolismreproduction, growth, and adaptation. Naturopathy favors a holistic approach with non-invasive treatment and generally avoids the use of surgery and drugs.”

Such treatments include essential oils, color treatment, brainwave entrainment, homeopathy, and acupuncture, to name a few.

Straight from the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners, here are the principles and foundation of Naturopathic treatment:

  • The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae): Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in people that is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process.
  • Identify and Treat the Causes (ToIle Causam): The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.
  • First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere):Naturopathic physicians follow three guidelines to avoid harming the patient:
    • Utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat;
    • Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms; and
    • Acknowledge, respect, and work with individuals’ self-healing process.
  • Doctor as Teacher (Docere): Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.
  • Treat the Whole Person: Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.
  • Prevention: Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease, and by making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness.”

This is a basic overview of Naturopathy, but I think we all can see what is the goal of Naturopathic medicine. It is to treat the body with the body’s own immune system by enriching it naturally with the nutrients and energy it needs. A noble task.

Where Naturopathy Falls Short

Probably the first and largest glaring issue with Naturopathy is the very foundation it is built upon, life force and vital force.  Vital force is a non-material force that appears to defy the laws of chemistry and physics. There is absolutely no scientific proof for anything that can be labeled as a vital force. Despite the many claims, life force cannot, and has never been measured. Especially by any credible scientific source.

Furthermore, a vital force is subjective. We do not know what optimal health is, it is a vitalistic concept with no real scientific or empirical measurement. Also, these “optimal health” levels and “vital forces” cannot be scientifically tested.

This isn’t just a new concept either. Medical doctors and scientists have been debunking Naturopathy for quite some time now. An early skeptic of the Naturopath, named Morris Fishbein, M.D., debunked the following Naturopath treatments and theories:

  • Aeropathy: baking the patient in a hot oven ( a personal favorite)
  • Alereos system: spinal manipulation plus heat and mechanical vibration
  • Astral healing: diagnosis and advice based on reading the patient’s horoscope (I hope I do not have to explain why a horoscope is a bad thing)
  • Autotherapy: treating infections with potions made from the patient’s infected tissues
  • Biodynamochromic diagnosis and therapy: administering colored lights while thumping on the patient’s abdomen (color therapy, which I mentioned above, is still in high use)
  • Bloodwashing with herbs
  • Chromopathy: healing with colored lights (more color therapy,s till used)
  • Electrotherapy
  • Geotherapy: treating disease with little pads of earth
  • Irido-diagnosis: diagnosis based on eye markings—now called iridology
  • Pathiatry: self-administration of spinal adjustment, massage, and traction
  • Porotherapy: treatment through pores, used to treat internal and intestinal problems
  • Practotherapy
  • Sanatology, based on the theory that acidosis and toxicosis are the two basic causes of all disease
  • Somapathy: spinal adjustment followed by applications of cold or extreme heat
  • Tropo-therapy with special nutrition based diets
  • Vit-O-Pathy, a combination of 36 other systems
  • Zodiac therapy, combining astrology and herbs
  • Zonotherapy (now called reflexology): pressing on various parts of the body to heal disease in designated body “zones.”

Most of these occurred in the 1930-1960’s. Many, if not all of these are still practiced. Despite all of modern medical science disputing the efficacy of these treatments.

The Education Needed to be A Naturopath

In the United States, there are 5 full time schools dedicated to students become a Doctor of Naturopathy. Most programs are 4 years long. These 4 years include 2 years of basic sciences and then another 2 years of rounds and outpatient clinicals. This may sound very similar to the tract of an MD program, but there are some key differences.

One difference is the sheer scope of an M.D. program. A M.D. program encompasses literally every aspect of disease, infection, treatment, surgery, and other medical practice. An M.D. program will send a prospecting doctor through every discipline of medicine before they are out of the program. Medical schools also are larger staffed, better trained, and have access to all of the current technology and theories surrounding the medical curriculum.

The rounds of a N.D. includes that of homeopathy, which has long been proven to be nothing more than a placebo affect. And in some cases, homeopathy has additives that can cause serious harm to a patient. If a person is doing rounds in disciplines that fall outside of scientific validity, one can not expect a full education that is robust with current curriculum is being obtained.

Upon completion of medical school, most doctors spend another 3-6 years specializing in a certain field, and will spend most of their time dedicated to that one part of specialization. A N.D. may start practice upon completion of school, and will practice amongst many parts of medicine, or their brand of medicine. No specialization, no extra training.

A statement from the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare:

Naturopathic theory and practice are not based upon the body of basic knowledge related to health, disease, and health care which has been widely accepted by the scientific community. Moreover, irrespective of its theory, the scope and quality of naturopathic education do not prepare the practitioner to make an adequate diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment.”

Back to the Magazine

On page 10 of the April 2014 magazine, there is an advertisement for Medical Aromatherapy Certification Classes. The Middle Earth Healing and Learning Center offers a Level One class on medical aromatherapy (essential oils). For the cost of $475, you may learn all about essential oils and their medical uses. It even encompass the dangers of using modern medicine over essential oils. Not surprisingly, you may also buy essential oils directly from them after the class.

I was honestly going to try and debunk why this is a waste of money and a bad idea. But I quickly realized I did not have to. There are almost zero credible studies championing the use of aromatherapy and essential oils as a legitimate medical use. It is snake oil. We are dealing with literal snake oil. If you are using essential oils as a legitimate form of medicine, you are going to hurt yourself or someone you know. A great little website has even more detail here: https://skeptoid.com/blog/2014/04/05/essential-oil-claims-the-dangers-keep-on-coming/

Dr. Emu’s Rx for Pain

On page 28 of the April 2014 edition, we see a lovely little add for Dr. Emu’s Rx for pain. A naturopathic medicine. A list of uses includes:

  • Diabetic neuropathy foot pain
  • arthritis pain
  • stiff joints
  • knee, neck and back pain
  • sore muscles
  • inflammation and swelling
  • clear brain fog
  • restore positive a mood
  • regenerate energy levels
  • and increase circulation

Oh my! That is quite the topical solution! From the WebMD website, it does state that Emu Oil does have some uses in relieving some inflammation pain. However, it states that it works better (if at all) for sudden acute inflammation and not long term. As a matter of fact, the very things WebMD says Emu Oil may be used for also fall under the category of insufficient evidence. So, does Emu Oil even really work? At this time, we have not done enough scientific research on emu oil to know if it is truly the miracle drug it says it is. It does have some slight positive affects on rodents done in a lab setting, but not much is known outside of that. The truth is, emu oil probably has slight very short term inflammation reducing properties, but nothing to suggest it does anything more than that.

Conclusion

Naturopathy, essential oils, emu oils, and all of these new age medicine have absolutely no basis in science. Anecdotal evidence and testimonials are not a substitute for science. Naturopathy and magazines such as Natural Awakenings make countless claims that what they offer is better than modern medicine. My thoughts? Prove it. The science community should not waste countless hours debunking your…well, bunk. If you can get in a lab and show with consensus that what you sell works, we will listen. Until, then, we want none of what you are selling.

Informative Links

http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/altbelief.html

http://skepdic.com/acupuncture.html

http://www.skepdic.com/aroma.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aromatherapy

http://www.chelationwatch.org

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/134385.php

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/reference/naturopathy/

Atl Medicine

4 Comments
  1. Few points. Most of what you write I agree with. But before this turns into a bullying fest of some misguided free thinkers, I’d like to point out:

    –Essential oils doesn’t really fall under this. The fact that it is lumped in with the rest is a shame, because all that is going on there is that oils that we KNOW have an effect on mood, skin treatment, heart rate, etc. are being used as such. They are just so simple that they’ve been lumped in with the same sort of pseudoscience as “vital energy.”

    –I do agree with the tenet of taking your health into your own hands. Not that you should be doing invasive surgery on yourself. Or finding an oil that supposedly completely avoids that. But that you find ways to help yourself preventative instead of letting it get to the point that you have to see a doctor, i.e. eating right, exercising, taking the right medicines, finding natural ways to calm yourself and to mitigate stress (like Aromatherapy).

    –Many things have been considered pseudoscience before they were confirmed. Someone notices that a chemical or practice has an effect on them. They spread the word. People use it. The scientific community lab tests it and now we have medications/surgeries that we KNOW work, and know HOW and WHY they work.

    • 1.) From PubMed on the potential for danger of aromatherapy and essential oils: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22936057

      How smells offer minimal scientifc validity, and need more research to make any claims that are credible: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22849536

      Another study finding no aromatherapy validity: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22828020

      There is virtually no credible evidence suggesting essential oils have any type of real medical, health, or neruo affect. The claims of essential oils are greatly exxagerrated, It is more likely that they just smell good and people like good smells. That is it. I can even provide you to the only credible source of essential oils as used in medical treatment, however, it was of a very minimal effect: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360273/

      2.) You should absolutely eat right and exercise. But we should not overstate the helpfulness of these activities on your body. Things happen, we can do our best, but our body can act in ways we could never see coming. This is why we have medince.

      3.) Anecdotal evidence is not medicine. Like essential oils, we have heard claims of medical use. We have tested these, and we have now found that there is almost no scientific validity. Usually, if there are healing and medical uses in certain items or ingredients, the science bares this out early in the scientific process. This has not happened with naturopathy or essential oils.

  2. Chris,
    Is the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine ACOM in our hometown considered one of those five schools that you mentioned?

    • No. Although I do have criticisms on osteopathic medicine, it is not nearly as egregious as Naturopathy. A D.O. is not the same as a N.D..

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