Medical advice from Chuck Norris

Not too long ago, I posted a rather amusing little video called Immunize! One line in the song that amused me went something like this:

Don’t give Chuck Norris shots!
That’d be dim.
Chuck need vaccines? Naw
Vaccines need him?

Actually, not too surprisingly, it turns out that the word “dim” should be applied to Chuck Norris, particularly when it comes to “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), also known as “integrative medicine” (IM), or, as I call it, “integrating” quackery with real medicine. Of course, as fellow Sb bloggers have demonstrated, Chuck’s well-toned biceps aren’t the only repository of muscle in his body. There appears to be plenty right between his ears, and his attitude towards IM demonstrates that that muscle is busy pumping the stupid not just by spewing out far right wing talking points but apparently by engaging in more than a bit of credulity towards IM as well. That credulity is on full display in Norris’ C-Force column from last week entitled Conventional Medicine and Alternative Medicine. It is what I like to call a “target-rich” environment. True, not as target-rich as a Mike Adams screed, but target-rich nonetheless.

The article starts out with a reader named Roy J. asking for Chuck’s “take” on alternative medicine. Chuck, unfortunately, is all too happy to oblige. First, he starts out with an analogy that never fails to irritate the crap out of me, namely likening the choice of “alternative” medicine versus science-based medicine as a choice akin to mundane, every day choices we make every day:

With anything in this life, from fast foods to politics to toothpastes, humans have polarizing opinions. It seems innate in us. And all we need to set us off is a simple question: Paper or plastic? Organic or inorganic? Cloth or disposable? Diet or regular? Tap or bottled?

No doubt, the best answer is sometimes “this one” or “that one.” But often the best answer is “both this one and that one.” Not jumping down on either side of the fence of opinion sometimes allows us to fish the ponds on both sides. That is where I land in the debate about conventional and alternative medicines.

Yes, you heard it right. The choice of whether to use quackery like reiki, homeopathy, or the like rather than science-based medicine that works is no different than choosing paper or plastic at the supermarket checkout counter. I suppose on one level, one can argue that that’s true. After all, purveyors of quackery have skillfully used vacuous marketing buzzwords and slogans the same way that marketers have turned “organic” into a whole brand. Then Norris does another thing that irritates the crap out of me; he engages in the fallacy of the golden mean. As you may recall, that’s the fallacious argument that, if there are two sides to an issue, the best solution or the answer that’s closest to the truth must be somewhere in between the two. Unfortunately, in science and medicine, there are questions with seemingly two positions (or even a lot more) for which there is a right answer and a wrong answer. Take homeopathy (please!) again. Homeopathy is nothing more than water; it’s one of the purest forms of quackery I’ve ever seen. In choosing between homeopathy and medicine, the correct answer is not to “integrate” the two. It is not to choose both. It is not to do something somewhere between the two forms of medicine. Yet, that is exactly what Norris is arguing.

Asserting that he believes that “alternative approaches have made great advances, too, for they often seek natural or holistic approaches with the same fervency that traditional experts seek results in their own specialty fields,” Norris then goes on to parrot many common alt-med tropes, including its co-opting “prevention” and nutrition, both perfectly good science-based medicine modalities, citing studies that exaggerate how many Americans use alternative medicine by including prayer and various other spirituality as “alternative.” Of course, the difference between science-based medicine and “alternative” medicine when it comes to prevention and nutrition is that at least SBM tries to make its recommendations in these areas based on actual science, epidemiology, and clinical trials. In contrast, much of the advice that falls under the rubric of CAM tends to be a mix of the science-based and pure woo, all mixed up as though they had been thrown into a blender and the blender turned on high, to the point where it’s difficult even for someone like me, as dedicated as I am to promoting SBM, to tell where the science ends and the woo begins.

The best test of the quality of Chuck’s advice comes in looking at the two “integrative” medicine clinics that he recommends:

Another positive trend is that more and more clinics are popping up across the country that offer a blend of conventional care with CAM, for example, the Integrative Medicine Center (http://www.imc-griffin.org) in Derby, Conn.

One integrative clinic that my wife, Gena, and I personally recommend because of the way we have been helped there is the Sierra Integrative Medical Center (http://www.SierraIntegrative.com) in Reno, Nev.

As its website conveys, the people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies. The facility has become a haven of hope and healing for those seeking care for a variety of debilitating conditions. It specializes in chronic degenerative, autoimmune and infectious diseases.

Hoo boy. The Integrative Medical Center at Griffin is actually known to me (and, possibly, to you). The reason is that it’s home to Dr. David Katz, who was infamous for advocating a “more fluid” concept of evidence, not to mention thinking that homeopathy is a perfectly fine therapeutic modality. Also on staff at Griffin are naturopaths named Lisa Rosenberger and Ather Ali, and the therapies offered include some serious woo, including naturopathic medicine, nutritional supplements, nutriceuticals, herbal medicine, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, therapeutic touch, homeopathy, intravenous micronutrient therapy (Myers’ Cocktail), relaxation therapies, as well as referrals to counselors, trauma therapists (EMDR), and chiropractic. Myers’ cocktail is particularly useless, consisting of a solution of magnesium, calcium, and various B vitamins plus vitamin C. It’s good for making expensive urine but not much else, as there are relatively few science-based indications for intravenous vitamins. Total parenteral nutrition comes to mind, but not a lot else.

However, if you want to go one woo further, then Chuck’s favored clinic, the Sierra Integrative Medical Center, is the place to go. Here’s a look at the conditions treated at SIMC:

Patients at SIMC, even those with the same “diagnoses” are treated differently. For example, a patient may have a “diagnosis” of Multiple Sclerosis. The cause(s) of this disease can vary from viral infections, bacterial infections, from hyper sensitivities to vaccinations, Toxoplasmosis or ParvoVirus from ones pets or even Lyme Disease from a tick bite.

Hypersensitivities to vaccinations? I guess that means that vaccines don’t need Chuck Norris after all. Whenever a woo-meister “diagnoses” a “hypersensitivity” to vaccines, it’s a good bet that he’s bought into the anti-vaccine nonsense that permeates so much of alt-med and that is so prevalent in alt-med circles.

And here’s a look at the therapies offered by Sierra:

The treatment program is assembled from various disciplines of the healing arts including but not limited to homeopathy, natural and biological medicines, behavioral medicine, nutritional therapies, orthomolecular integration and neurotherapy. The time and effort invested in individualizing the treatment programs proposes eradication of illness and restoration of health to the body.

Not surprisingly, they offer “detox,” too.

But, above all, SIMC offers what I consider to be The One Quackery To Rule Them All, homeopathy! As I’ve said before many times, homeopathy my litmus test for woo. If a clinic offers the magic water that is homeopathy, I know that it’s nearly beyond hope when it comes to anything resembling science or science-based medicine. Similarly, if a practitioner considers homeopathy to be anything more than sympathetic magic diluted in water, I know that practitioner is pretty far gone. SIMC qualifies. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the medical director of SIMC, Bruce Fong. Yep, besides being a DO, he’s a homeopath, too! And how does SIMC evaluate its efficacy? Why, testimonials, of course!

A fondness for woo in the form of alternative medicine quackery is often represented as a “left wing” tendency, but I’ve known for a long time that alt med is the woo that transcends politics. Chuck Norris is just one more example, and, like most right wing promoters of dubious medicine, Norris cloaks his rationale in the language of “health freedom” (which, let’s face it, is nothing more than the freedom of quacks from pesky government interference in their activities):

For too long, medical insurance and pharmaceutical marketing have been the king and queen of your medical treatment. It’s time you took back the reins in controlling your and your loved ones’ health. It is your body, your health and your life on the line. You are the boss; you are the captain of your body. So take the helm and chart your course!

If Chuck hates health insurance and pharmaceutical marketing so much, one wonders why he’s so firmly against anything resembling health insurance reform. Of course, far be it from me to tell anyone that they shouldn’t be in charge of their own health care or that they shouldn’t be the “captain of his body.” However, to do that requires knowledge, not misinformation. Unfortunately, although Chuck Norris might be amusing enough as an action hero, as an advice columnist discussing health, he only reinforces his reputation as a wingnut.

There’s no doubt about it. Vaccines don’t need Chuck Norris.