Massachusetts takes a big step towards licensing naturopathic quackery

Living and practicing surgery in Michigan, it’s not surprising that I am very concerned about a bill being considered in the Michigan House of Representatives. The bill, HB 4531, would license naturopaths as health care providers. In fact, it would give them a very broad scope of practice, defined by a newly created board of naturopathic medicine. Basically, HB 4531 would give naturopaths a scope of practice almost as broad as that of primary care providers, like internists, family practitioners, and pediatricians. The only difference, if HB 4531 passes, would be that naturopaths would not be able to prescribe controlled substances. Given how utterly riddled with pure quackery naturopathy is as a “profession,” HB 4531 has spurred me to write a lot more about naturopaths, in particular the quackery they practice and routinely talk about.

As alarming as seeing HB 4531 pass the House Committee on Health Policy here in Michigan was, our state isn’t the one in most danger of seeing naturopaths licensed to ply their quackery. After all, it’s quite possible that it won’t get past the House. The last time naturopaths got a bill introduced into the Michigan legislature in 2013, it didn’t go anywhere. However, naturopaths are nothing if not relentless, and they have supplement manufacturers supporting their lobbying effort. No matter how many times naturopathic licensing bills are defeated, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians keeps coming back year after year. Advocates of science-based medicine have to succeed blocking such bills every time; the AANP and its allies only need to succeed once because, as Steve Novella notes (and I paraphrase), naturopaths are like the Terminator: Utterly relentless, and they absolutely positively will not stop until they have naturopathic licensing bills in all 50 states.

The situation in Massachusetts is more dire in that last week the Massachusetts Senate passed S.2335. As Jann Bellamy notes, this will be, by her count, the eleventh legislative session in which a naturopathic practice bill has been introduced. Alarmingly, she also notes that a bill actually passed one year, “thanks to some questionable legislative shenanigans at the end of session,” but, fortunately, it was vetoed by the governor. (That should give you an idea of how utterly relentless these quacks are.) S.2335 has moved on to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Reading the text of S.2335, I’m struck at how similar it is to Michigan’s bill. It allows naturopaths to do basically what they claim they should be able to do, function as, in essence, primary care providers, even though, as I’ve described time and time again how woefully undertrained they are to function as anything close to the role of family practitioners. If you don’t believe me, just ask an ex-naturopath, who has explained how inadequate naturopathy training is.

As I did with naturopaths in Michigan, I thought I’d look around to see what sorts of quackery naturopaths in Massachusetts are offering. So I did a very simple thing and just Googled “naturopathy Massachusetts.” Then I perused the websites of some of the results. It’s not that I expected to find anything different than what I found for Michigan, but you never know. I also recognized a couple of names from my Sh*t Naturopaths Say series, for instance, Shiva Barton of Winchester Natural Health Associates.

Not surprisingly, Barton offers acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (pretty much all naturopaths do). He also offers The One Quackery To Rule Them All, Homeopathy (pretty much all naturopaths do, because, as I like to say, you can’t have naturopathy without homeopathy):

Homeopathic medicines (also known as homeopathic remedies) are made differently than other natural remedies. They are made by creating a very diluted solution of a plant, mineral, animal, chemical or food substance. The remedies come in many dilutions and unlike conventional drugs, it is thought that the more dilute the solution the more powerful the effect. Scientists are not certain how homeopathy works. Some think that it works similar to a vaccine: give a small amount of a substance to help promote cure. In any event, it has been shown to be a valuable tool.

Homeopathy has a wide range of uses. It can be very effective in treating acute conditions, such as colds, flu, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, food poisoning, etc. It also shows tremendous value in treating chronic conditions and mood disorders, phobias, etc.

Naturopathic Doctors are the only doctors who are trained in the use of homeopathy in their medical education. Let us help you use this therapy to help you feel your best.

Thank you, Mr. Barton for confirming what I’ve been saying all along. I just love it when physicians, real honest-to-goodness MDs who have been seduced by “integrative medicine” strenuously deny that they would ever have anything to do with homeopathy and even admit it’s pure quackery at the same time they are collaborating with and referring patients to naturopaths, nearly all of whom use homeopathy. Be that as it may Mr. Barton is a Very Important Naturopath, having been the past president of the Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors and the Massachusetts Acupuncture Society. He’s also a big wig in the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).

I continued my perusal and tried to see what else I could find. There is, for example, Peter Swanz, whose website is vitalforcenaturopathy.com. You know, if I were a naturopath trying to convince legislators that naturopathy is not quackery and is science-based, I would try to refrain from reminding people of the prescientific vitalism at the core of naturopathy with a name like “Vital Force.” Not surprisingly, Swanz uses homeopathy and something I’ve never heard of before called Scenar Therapy. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, there are still some forms of pseudoscientific medicine that I haven’t heard of.) Swanz describes it thusly:

The SCENAR device uses active biofeedback, constantly changing its own electrical impulses to more accurately respond to the body’s own neurological impulses. The EMF impulses from the SCENAR device are a dynamic energy directed to help guide the body in its own healing process – the release of neuro peptides and regulatory peptides; and the release of endorphins. This is a totally unique and revolutionary means for supporting our body’s own healing ability, and is only available through SCENAR therapy.

That’s some serious woo to be attributed to nothing more than a weak electrical current run through the skin. It’s basically a scam, not unlike a Scientology e-meter or Hulda Clark’s Zapper.

Then there’s Ian Bier at Human Nature Natural Health. Bier, not surprisingly, offers homeopathy, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, and the usual naturopathic quackery. To this, he adds oxygen quackery, including hyperbaric oxygen. Then there’s the immersion bath:

This is a wonderful, relaxing, enjoyable therapy that gives lasting relief from pain and stress. It is effective on many levels simultaneously, as the warm water soothes and relaxes, the jets promote circulation, colors can be chosen for various effects, and essential oils of selected herbs are added to deliver a wide array of desired outcomes.

Because of its versatility and enjoyable effects, this treatment can be tailored to suit almost any patient.

New immersion bath technology from Germany contains an oil dispersion nozzle which atomizes botanicals and essential oils added to the bath water. This process provokes a thousandfold expansion of the oil surface so that it can be absorbed intensively by the skin. A specially designed bubble mat keeps mixing the water and herbal oils around you while allowing the bath to take place in quiet comfort. Human Nature Natural Health’s bath solutions are all-natural herbal formulas, containing no synthetic chemicals.

Serious woo. It’s basically a bubble bath with essential oils and oxygen. Still, you know what I consider to be an infallible sign of a quack? This:

The German Footbath is used to clear the blood and lymphatic circulations of impurities. For reasons that are not yet understood by science, the soles of the feet have a special relationship to the body as a whole.

This relationship has been utilized for thousands of years in reflexology, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the natural medicine system of India, among others. Detoxification of the circulation and tissues is among the primary goals of natural medicine systems around the world, as it enhances recovery of many conditions and promotes overall health and vitality.

Patients immerse their feet in the basin of water, to which has been added a blend of imported herbs and minerals. The activator is switched on, and within minutes the patient experiences a burning or tingling sensation on the bottom of the feet. This is the signal to turn the activator off, as the burning can become painful. The thermometer clearly shows that the burning sensation is not related to an increase in water temperature. Treatment time is 20 minutes per session.

A “German Footbath”? This is nothing more than what we know as the detox footbath. Basically, it’s a footbath with minerals through which a weak current is passed. The claim is as above: That the water changes color because the foot bath is drawing “toxins” out through the person’s feet. Of course, it’s utterly ridiculous on a strictly physiological basis to posit that any significant “detoxification” can occur through the feet. Also, it’s been shown many times that the water changes color whether a person’s feet are in the bath or not, as I’ve explained many times. It’s all just another bit of “detoxification quackery,” a form of quackery of which naturopaths are particularly fond. No wonder Bier also offers colon cleanses, lymphatic drainage massage, and far infrared sauna.

Yes, Massachusetts naturopaths are much like Michigan naturopaths and offer the same sort of quackery. I could have gone on, as there were many websites that I didn’t cover, but if you’re interested in more, Britt Hermes has looked at some sites that I haven’t. Of course, this is not surprising, given the nature of naturopathy as a pseudoscientific specialty.

We are currently witnessing a concerted push by naturopaths to achieve licensure in as many states as possible, their goal to have licensure in all 50 states by 2025. They’ve scored a victory in Massachusetts that can still be reversed if the citizens of Massachusetts make sure that S.2335 never gets through the House. In the meantime, I will be keeping an eye on HB 4531 in Michigan to try to find out when it comes up for debate in the House. This could be a more difficult task than you might think at first, as the Michigan legislature is very good at debating and passing bills under the radar without much press coverage. If you don’t have someone on the inside, you can easily miss when a bill comes up for debate. I learned that when the Michigan legislature sneakily passed our “right-to-try” bill in 2014.