Quackademic medicine tightens its hold on the Cleveland Clinic


It’s no secret to my regular readers that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be getting a job at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF) any time soon. After all, I’ve written posts about the CCF in which I’ve criticized its promotion of reiki, its establishment of a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal medicine clinic, complete with a naturopath running it, and its recent embrace of the founder of “functional medicine” (not to mention collaborator with antivaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) Dr. Mark Hyman. A quick Google would reveal me as the author of such criticisms. Such is life as a medical skeptic.

So here’s another nail in the coffin of my chances of ever working for the CCF:

Children receiving care for chronic conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, nerve and muscle pain and even post-traumatic stress disorder will now be able to access complementary and integrative medical techniques to help them heal at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s new Center for Integrative Medicine.

A team of pediatric rehabilitation specialists will offer acupuncture, biofeedback, guided imagery, hypnosis, reiki, relaxation and breathing strategies, therapeutic touch, yoga, and other treatments.

I suppose this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The CCF had already been subjecting children to acupuncture for at least two years now. In fact, we’ve met the leader of the this new program before, Dr. Benjamin Katholi, when he wrote an article advocating acupuncture for children, which I duly deconstructed in my own inimitable way. As I put it, he was mixing cow pie with apple pie in pediatrics, as he “integrated” quackery with science-based medicine. Personally, I’ve often wondered how one would get children to lay still and let someone stick needles into them or why one would want to.

So what’s going on here? If, as I wrote about a while ago, the CCF has been offering these services to children for several years now, what’s the big deal here? Why does it matter if there’s a new Center for Integrative Medicine? Well, this is CCF’s rationale:

Many of the children Katholi treats have post-concussive symptoms, juvenile arthritis and nerve-related pain, he said. Other children who use integrative services have chronic headaches, back pain, anxiety and other complex medical problems.

Cleveland Clinic Children’s has offered many of these services to patients for several years, Katholi said, but did not have a centralized space for kids to receive care. That space will now be at the Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Cleveland.

“The hospital has a lot of medically complex patients who are referred here for inpatient or outpatient care, so it made sense to have the center here to help enhance the quality of life for those patients and to help enhance their recovery.” Katholi said.

So now there’s an actual building for this woo, and, of course, if there’s an actual formal name for the program with an administrative structure, that’s a message that it’s here to stay. So, curious, I wandered on over to the actual webpage for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Integrative Medicine . I knew it would probably raise my blood pressure, and it did. The thought of children being subjected to some of this quackery at an ostensibly respectable academic medical center is depressing to behold indeed. Here are the services offered:

That’s quite a collection, isn’t it? I particularly like the laser acupuncture, because, you know, everything’s better with lasers. If sharks with laser beams on their head are better, why not acupuncture? Still, it’s very, very disturbing to me that any academic medical center anywhere would offer craniosacral therapy for any reason—particularly to children. Doesn’t Dr. Katholi know that craniosacral therapy is pure quackery? Basically having been pulled out of his nether regions by William Garner Sutherland, it’s based on physiology that doesn’t exist (craniosacral rhythms). Basically, Sutherland conjured up the idea that there is a “primary respiratory mechanism” that has five components:

  1. The inherent rhythmic motion of the brain and spinal cord.
  2. The fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that bathes and nourishes the brain and spinal cord.
  3. The shifting tensions of the membranous envelope (dura mater) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This entire membranous structure acts as a unit and is called a “Reciprocal Tension Membrane.”
  4. The inherent rhythmic motion of the cranial bones.
  5. The involuntary motion of the sacrum (tailbone) between the ilia (hip bones).

But wait, there’s more:

As the lungs breathe and the heart beats with a rhythmic alternating expansion and contraction, the central nervous system (CNS) also has its own involuntary rhythmic motion. Dr. Sutherland described this inherent activity of the CNS as a respiratory motion with “inhalation” and “exhalation” phases. The hands of a skilled osteopathic physician connect directly with the primary respiratory mechanism to bring about a therapeutic response. Primary respiration is the guiding principle; it is the inherent intelligence within. This Primary Respiratory Motion actually expresses itself through every cell of the body, influencing all body functions. Physicians trained in Cranial Osteopathy can place their hands on any part of the patient to perceive and influence this important mechanism.

Let’s just put it this way. The “primary respiratory mechanism” that is based in physiology has little relationship to what Sutherland described. But note the “inherent intelligence.” It’s very much like what chiropractors like to call the “innate intelligence.” Basically, it’s vitalism, in which the practitioner is said to assist and facilitate the “inherent healing intelligence to reconnect with its state of balanced health.” At its core, the “inherent intelligence” is no different from the chiropractor’s “innate intelligence” or the qi (or life energy) of traditional Chinese medicine. By “detecting” (or “listening through the hands”), supposedly the CST practitioner can recognize the body’s “subtle rhythms” that indicate “congestion” of cerebrospinal fluid, which they can then correct by various manipulations. In reality, all craniosacral therapists do is to gently massage the head, in order to treat almost anything.

It’s utter pseudoscientific, vitalistic nonsense, of course. Unfortunately, it’s utter pseudoscientific, vitalistic nonsense being sold to children by the CCF. I suppose that’s appropriate, given that the CCF advertises acupuncture on its site by appealing to qi and to nerve stimulation.

Personally, reading the news story, I was intrigued (and not in a good way) by this passage:

The center will also begin research on several integrative treatments — acupuncture, reiki and a form of low-intensity electrical stimulation called frequency-specific microcurrent therapy — to figure out what their potential benefits are for kids.

Amusingly, the abbreviation for this is FSM. (No, not that FSM.) Here’s how it’s described on a naturopathic website:

The roots of Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM) date back to the early 1900’s from Dr. Albert Abrams, who was the first physician to use calibrated instruments capable of detecting the radiations of living tissue. Dr. Abrams concluded that: all matter radiates electromagnetic energy; the characteristics of the radiations from any type of matter depend upon the molecular constituents of the material examined; and the radiations emitted by the different organs of living tissues can be detected, selectively differentiated, and the amplitudes measured. Dr. Abrams became convinced that the frequencies involved were radio waves and that electronic equipment could be developed to neutralize and eliminate disease radiations.

Oh, no. It’s vibrations! Toujours vibrations! Don’t believe me? Then check out how the mechanism behind FSM is explained:

Remember your high school chemistry class. Think about the explanation of the atom. At the center of the atom are the protons and neutrons. This is called the nucleus. The old theory, in the 1960s, was the electrons were spinning in orbits around the nucleus. Modern research has shown that the electrons actually vibrate back and forth in orbits around the nucleus, instead of spinning in continuous, mono-directional circles. This new understanding is the basis of our FSM theory.

Each tissue in the body has individualized frequencies. The individualized and specific vibrational characteristic of each atom, of each tissue type, varies even more specifically for varying conditions, such as: trauma, inflammation, stress, environmental influences, etc. To put the theory of vibrations in a better overall perspective: different vibrations / frequencies of sound, light, radio waves, etc., are responsible for notes of music, colors of light, and radio stations. Vibrations are specific and unique for all matter, inorganic and organic.

When an injury occurs to a tissue, the electrons in the affected tissue take on a different vibrational characteristic, unique to that injury or other abnormal condition. As the vibrations of the electrons change, it is believed the electrons concurrently may also change to a different “orbit” from what was normal for that tissue type.

FSM is “frequency specific” because we match the frequencies of the tissue disruptions with the frequencies we choose for our therapy. The new vibrational characteristics that occur from damage to a tissue are countered with specific microcurrent frequencies that match the exact abnormal frequencies that are present in the damaged tissue. The desired effect is to neutralize those frequencies that are incorrect for the damaged / affected tissues.

Yep. Vibrations again. What is it with woo-meisters and vibrations? Of course, there is no good evidence that when a tissue is injured it takes on a “different vibrational characteristic” (whatever that means). I can sense any physicists and chemists out there (and, remember, my undergraduate degree was in chemistry) cringing heavily. I mean seriously? Injuring tissues cause electrons to go into a different orbit? Don’t these people know that that requires energy to do that? Not the kind of “life energy” that acupuncturists and other TCM practitioners believe in, a mystical magical “energy” that does no work and is undetectable to scientific instruments, but real energy! Don’t they also know that such higher energy orbital states tend to be unstable, with the energy that moves the electron to its higher energy orbital being released as light. What’s being described here is nothing but science-y sounding gobbledygook.

But it goes beyond that. The inventors of this woo seem to think that the vibrations of the electrons supposedly altered by injury can be corrected just by running low level electrical current at various frequencies through the area. It’s utter nonsense that’s based on, yes, a high school level understanding of physics, and a poor high school level of physics at that.

And CCF is seeking to combine this woo with reiki. I suppose it makes sense in a way. Both are invoking pseudoscientific “energy” as their explanation. Reiki’s just a bit more fantastical.

What doesn’t make sense is that a respected (fast becoming once respected) American bastion of academic medicine would offer this sort of quackery.