The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health teams up with quacks

Naturopathy is quackery.

I like to start most, if not all, posts about naturopathy with that simple statement. The reasons are simple. First, it’s true. Second, most people—including doctors—are unaware of this simple fact. Finally, it irritates naturopaths and their fans. It also has the benefit of setting the tone I want to convey whenever I hear about naturopathy being granted the appearance of academic legitimacy by being embraced by a real academic medical institution. Such were my thoughts when I was made aware of this press release entitled SCNM Offers Dual-Degree Program for Master’s of Public Health and Naturopathic Medical Degree in Collaboration with University of Arizona:

In collaboration with the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) is pleased to offer a dual-degree program for a naturopathic medical degree (ND) and a master’s degree in public health (MPH). Naturopathic medical students will begin classes in the fall 2016.

Students must apply and be accepted into both programs in order to qualify. For the master’s degree in public health, students can choose to concentrate in either public health practice (PHP) or in health services administration (HSA). “For a student interested in leadership positions in public health at government agencies, international health organizations and non-governmental associations, this is a tremendous opportunity to develop a career path,” said SCNM President Paul Mittman. “For SCNM, this collaboration represents another milestone in our strategic plans to grow the college’s academic side as well as our ability to reach and engage more students, faculty and staff.”

Yes, you heard that right. The UA’s College of Public Health has made a deal with a school of naturopathy to offer a dual degree consisting of a fake degree from a fake medical school, namely a degree in naturopathic medicine (ND, or, as I prefer to call it, “not a doctor”) and a real degree from a real school of public health, or an MPH. It’s like a bizarro world copying of a trend that’s been going on in medicine for a while, namely for physicians to obtain both an MD and an MPH in order to be able to do a combination of medical research and public health research. It’s a powerful combination; so I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that naturopathy schools, mimicks of all things medicine as they are, saw this trend and tried to copy it for their not-doctors. What I am surprised at is that any reputable school of public health would fall for it. On the other hand, I suppose if medical schools have gotten into bed with naturopathy schools before, as the the Georgetown University has done with Bastyr University and National University of Health Sciences.

So what is the rationale for this collaboration? This:

“Students of naturopathic medicine seek formal public health training. The fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine are similar to those of public health in such areas as health promotion, prevention, and patient education,” said Dr. Cecilia Rosales, assistant dean of Phoenix programs at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health. “NDs are trained to be more proactive in their approach to wellness than reactive approaches to disease management and treatment.”

“We think it is important to offer public health training to all health-care providers responsible for individual care. This is especially important with the new health-care law that seeks to keep the population well rather than treating and managing illness.”

Dr. Rosales said the collaboration enhances career opportunities for SCNM students as well as opens up wider inclusion of naturopathic medicine in the broader public health community. “At the same time, we are at the very front end of what we expect to be a tremendous partnership with the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.”

No, the fundamental principles of naturopathy sound superficially similar to those of public health, but that’s it. Naturopaths claim to be about health promotion and prevention. When their teachings overlap science-based medicine, which they sometimes do by coincidence alone coupled with their co-opting of the science-based modalities like exercise and diet, there is a tiny amount of truth to the claim. However, naturopathic “prevention” comes at a high price, and that price is exposure to pure quackery. As I like to say, you can’t have naturopathy without homeopathy. It’s a mandatory part of the curriculum in naturopathy schools. It’s even in the examination naturopaths take to become certified, the NPLEX. Many naturopaths use it in their practice. Given that homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, the very fact that naturopaths so readily embrace homeopathy should tell you all you need to know about how weak their commitment to science is and how much their specialty is infused with pseudoscience.

Homeopathy, of course, is not the only quackery that naturopaths learn and practice, just the most quacky. As Britt Hermes, a former naturopath who gave up naturopathy up when she realized how ridiculously full of pseudoscience it is, points out, naturopathy school also requires its students to master hydrotherapy, herbology, acupuncture and energy medicine (or, as I like to call it, faith healing).

Of course, among all medical institutions, the University of Arizona would have been one of the first ones I’d expect to team up with quacks because the University of Arizona School of Medicine is already highly infused with quackademic medicine, thanks to its resident “integrative medicine” guru, arguably the most famous quackademic in the world, Andrew Weil. Indeed, a year and a half ago, I learned that the University of Arizona Cancer Center was offering the faith healing that is reiki to its pediatric cancer patients, indeed to all of its cancer patients. Meanwhile, Dr. Weil has founded an “integrative medicine” residency program and developed a board certification in this specialty that “integrates” quackery like naturopathy into medicine. Meanwhile, UA rakes in the dollars from the National Center Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) to study acupuncture and other alternative therapies. So, unfortunately, the precedent had been set. It also doesn’t help that Arizona as a state is about as quack-friendly as it gets, licensing homeopathic physicians and naturopathic not-doctors.

Britt Hermes makes an excellent point about the claim that naturopaths like to make that they are all about “prevention” while regular doctors are not:

This notion accuses the medical community of being incompetent and misguided. It is an old argument from the late 19th century when scientific medicine was still figuring itself out while homeopaths, osteopaths, chiropractors and naturopaths aggressively marketed fanciful methods designed “to treat the root cause of disease, not just symptoms.” For buying into this archaic ideology, the UA is being academically disingenuous, hindering the scientific process and tarnishing its reputation.

To be clear, there is nothing “proactive,” let alone safe, about giving patients sugar pills, recommending severe dietary restrictions, prescribing untested plant extracts, discouraging vaccines or injecting a cornucopia of substances from high-dose vitamins to ozone gas into patients’ veins.

Exactly. It is not a good thing to be “proactive” when being “proactive” involves subjecting patients to homeopathy, IV ozone, unproven supplements, using thermography to diagnose breast cancer and many other diseases (as naturopaths like to do). Being proactive should involve applying the best science to medicine and prevention. Good MPH programs teach their students how to do just that. By embracing the quackery and pseudoscience that is naturopathy, the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health has abdicated its responsibility to teach their students about prevention, health maintenance, and public education about medicine.