As I sat down to write this, I was torn. What topic to deconstruct? There appear to be so many! Certainly, the latest Huffington Post excretion by the ever-clueless (but amusing in his cluelessness, which results in posts of pure hilarity) Dana Ullman, entitled Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize Winner, Takes Homeopathy Seriously sure looked tempting. Ullman always makes an amusing target. However, I realized that I had already discussed Montagnier, not just once but twice in the last couple of months, first for promoting autism quackery and then, more recently, for having fallen hard for homeopathy, so hard that he’s trying to convince people that DNA can teleport. Then I realized that Steve Novella had already gotten to it, and my enthusiasm for taking it on diminished. True, the fact that a fellow skeptic had beat me to a woo-ful post never stopped me before, at least not in and of itself, but when I combined Steve’s having beaten me to the punch with my having visited the topic a couple of times, a distinct sense of ennui hit me.
So I perused the propaganda blog of everybody’s favorite band of anti-vaccine loons, Age of Autism, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a screed by our old friend J.B. Handley entitled Paul Offit and the “Original Sin” of Autism, which is nothing more than an extended screed against the man that the anti-vaccine movement considers to be the Font of All Evil, the Dark Lord of Vaccination, living in his Barad-dÃ»r of vaccine-derived wealth (to mix fantasy/science fiction metaphors), complete with this gem:
I think Paul Offit is a blowhard liar, a vaccine profiteer and apologist, and every time he opens his mouth he disrespects my son.
Actually, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better description of J.B. Handley himself than “blowhard liar.” In my opinion, of course. Which is why my reaction was a big yawn and a question: Project much, J.B.? Add to that reruns of an old post attacking Paul Offit for actually making some money off of a vaccine he helped invent that can save the lives of children and a new post in essence saying the same thing, and all I could conclude is that it must really burn AoA that Paul Offit was on The Colbert Report last night. Really, really burn them. Good.
But not good enough to inspire me to lay some not-so-Respectful Insolence on something so idiotic. That’s why I decided to revisit Dr. Oz instead.
One message that I’ve been trying to get my readers to understand is that much of what falls under the rubric of “alternative” medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), and “integrative medicine” (IM) is in reality a “bait and switch.” The bait consists of various modalities that naturally fall into the bailiwick of science-based medicine (SBM). These modalities include diet, exercise, relaxation. Indeed, it irritates the hell out of me when various apologists and advocates for CAM claim that science-based physicians don’t recognize the importance of diet and exercise or how they can have a profound effect on health, in particular on diseases like type II diabetes. I ranted about this not long ago when i wrote about the woo of raw “living food” diets. Diet and exercise are every bit a part of science-based medicine; yet CAMsters appropriate them as being somehow “alternative,” the better to bring in the real woo along with them. The pitch is, in essence, that diet and exercise work and are “alternative.” Therefore there must be something to other forms of “alternative” medicine. That’s the “switch” in the bait and switch.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated in a segment from a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show called Dr. Oz’s Holistic Health Overhaul. It illustrates exactly what I mean when I describe the “bait and switch” of alternative medicine. I’ll show you what I mean. Let’s start with Part I.
Right from the start, Dr. Oz comes out and announces his “holistic health overhaul.” First, what strikes me is that what he is supposedly “overhauling” is based on people who feel run down, who lack energy, who feel older than they are. Right from the start, he promises that he can make you feel younger and better, all within 28 days. After this, he immediately introduces a yoga instructor who calls himself Yogi Cameron Alborzian, who talks about spirituality, yoga, and how he became a yogi. There are many shots of him doing yoga poses in beautiful, natural surroundings (of course!) interspersed with shots of him talking about “mind-body” connections and how he asks people what they’re feeling. The segment finishes with Yogi Cameron showing up on Dr. Oz’s set for an introductory interview.
Then, in part II, Patricia from New Jersey is introduced. She is a stay-at-home mom of four boys, who describes herself as feeling “toxic, tired, and stressed-out.” Her biggest problem, according to her, is that she’s a junk food junkie and that she doesn’t exercise. She complains of sluggishness, feeling “hung over,” and wiped out. Here is the bait. In response to her complaints, Yogi Cameron and Dr. Oz show Patricia her health risks, pointing out that her body mass index qualifies her as obese and that her waist size suggests that most of her fat is in her abdomen, which is known to be a risk factor for type II diabetes and a variety of other health problems. Basically, the problem is laid out. It’s (mostly) science-based. Unfortunately, the solution is a mixture of woo and science-based diet and lifestyle changes. Enter Dr. Oz and Yogi Cameron and his “holistic health overhaul” in part 3 and part 4. Here’s where the switch comes in.
First, let me show why this is not a surprise at all by referring you to Yogi Cameron’s own website. One thing we learn about Yogi Cameron is why he is such a fantastically good-looking man. It turns out he was a fashion model for several years and even was cast in what looks in the video like Madonna’s Express Yourself video:
On his website, Yogi Cameron opines about Ayruvedic, referring to it as the “science of life”:
Before Western medicine, before homeopathic medicine, and before even traditional Chinese medicine, there was Ayurveda. This is an ancient system of healing created by sages in India over five thousand years ago. While yoga was developed as a science for the practitioner to bring balance and control to the mind, Ayurveda is a sister science developed for the practitioner to bring balance to the body.
Western medicine tends to treat a patient’s symptoms with different pills and medications without any attention to healing the cause of a disease that is feeding the symptom. It is like weeding a garden without taking out the roots; the weeds just grow back. Ayurveda works to define the cause of the patient’s symptoms and to treat the body with various methods for the sake of restoring balance to the system as a whole. These methods include eating in a way appropriate to one’s constitution, taking herbal supplements and remedies, and receiving treatments such as oil massage. Effective use of Ayurveda can help to alleviate digestive problems, allergies, insomnia, asthma, obesity, migraines, and many other bodily complaints.
The ancient sages who developed Ayurveda many centuries ago observed that our bodies are formed by three fundamental energy types or doshas. The first (Pitta) is responsible for metabolizing for the sake of processing oxygen and perpetuating life. The second (Kapha) forms our bodies, which serves as a container so that life can exist as matter. The third (Vata) shifts matter’s position in space through the act of motion.
And this is how Yogi Cameron treats his clients’ problems:
Through other Ayurvedic treatments such as Pancha Karma we also clean the inside of the body. Cleaning the inside of our system is fundamental to our wellbeing and without such cleanings we can never experience complete health and vitality, youth and vigor. When the inside of the body is clean we experience young skin and vibrate energy on the outside.
For those of you who don’t know what Pancha Karma is, it the name for five actions that make up an Ayruvedic method to purify the body. There are three stages of treatment. First, there is the pretreatment, which consists of oil therapy, massage, and something called formentation therapy. This part actually doesn’t sound too bad. Whether it cures anything or not, who knows? However, having your body oiled up and massage can’t be all bad. The formentation therapy is basically heat, either steam from herbs, sitting under the sun, or using warm blankets. Of course, this latter treatment, depending on what it is used for, is a perfectly fine science-based treatment. Be that as it may it’s the next part of the Pancha Karma that is supposed to do the purification. This consists of Nasya (nasal therapy), Vamana (emesis or vomiting), Virechana (purging) and two kinds of Vasti (therapeutic enema), Nirooha Vasti and Sneha Vasti.
Enemas? What is it with enemas? Truly, enemas seem to be the woo that knows no national or ethnic boundaries, the quackery that is truly world-wide. Fortunately, there does appear to be an alteration to this ancient art of purging in America:
Originally, this phase consisted of five practices: nasal cleansing, enemas, laxatives, emesis (vomiting), and blood-letting. Although the five practices are followed in India, the practice of emesis and blood-letting is omitted in North America.
Imagine my relief. But:
A cleansing fast is often used during this period.
Bummer. This does, however, set the stage for what Yogi Cameron recommends for Patricia in parts 3 and 4. This is where the switch in the bait and switch comes in. Right from the start, Dr. Oz describes week 1 of this plan as “detox,” as Yogi Cameron helpfully chimes in that his methods “burn off toxins.” Dr. Oz then immediately asks Yogi Cameron about tongue examination. Now, there’s one thing you need to know about tongue examination. When an Ayruvedic practitioner talks about tongue examinations he is not talking bout what they teach us in medical school about tongue examinations, where we look for turgor, moistness, plaques, and a variety of other physical findings that might indicate disease. No, the Ayruvedic art of tongue diagnosis is very much like reflexology in that various organs are claimed to map to various parts of the tongue:
To be fair, some of the tongue diagnoses actually do agree with science-based medicine, for example, a yellow tongue being indicative of jaundice. However, someone with jaundice will also usually have yellow visibile in their sclerae, which are probably more sensitive. In reality, the Ayruvedic tongue diagnoses that match science-based medicine diagnoses are actually a classic case of being right for all the wrong reasons, and most of them are wrong, wrong, wrong, particularly the mapping of various organs to different parts of the tongue. Not that that stops Yogi Cameron from proclaiming that the “head is represented by the tip of the tongue.”
I will admit that there is one highly amusing part of this entire segment. Yogi Cameron has a rather strong disagreement about the amount of sex people should have. Yogi thinks that people shouldn’t have sex too much; Dr. Oz is apparently a randy little bugger and thinks people should have sex all the time. I’m not sure whether I should feel sorry for Mrs. Oz or not. However, my amusement aside, one thing that strikes me about this argument is that it appears to be vitalistic in nature. Yogi Cameron claims you shouldn’t have too much sex because it’s about “conserving energy,” in essence implying that sex somehow saps your life energy.
Basically, Dr. Oz has performed the classic “bait and switch” here. He presents the story of a typical middle class mother who works hard, doesn’t eat right, is a bit obese, and as a consequence of her lack of exercise, her work, and her poor diet feels run down. A perfectly fine science-based solution to her problems would involve a change in diet, less junk food, and regular exercise (all things that I myself have a lot of problem managing to do). Instead, what Dr. Oz and his guest Yogi Cameron present is an improved diet and yoga, plus woo that includes tongue diagnosis, “detox,” and “Nasya lite,” given that all Yogi Cameron had Patricia do was to place some Ghee in her nose, rather than shooting water in and out of it. At least he spared her the purging and enemas, and I guess the bloodletting is too much even for the woo-full. But there’s enough there, even the classic favorite of apologists for Ayruveda and traditional Chinese medicine, the appeal to ancient wisdom, the claim that, if people have been doing this for thousands of years, there must be something to it, they must know something we don’t.
Is Dr. Oz’s journey to the Dark Side complete? He’s certainly controlled his message, but has he fully released his woo? I don’t know, but I suspect we’ll find out. Today’s show will feature a faith healer. I might have to make this a two-parter. Oh, well. It’ll be a nice distraction from the anti-vaccine movement for a couple of days.