Death by intravenous “turmeric”: Why licensed naturopaths are no safer than any other naturopath

March seemed to be naturopathic quackery month. Let’s face it, though, every month is naturopathic quackery month. It’s just that in March there were two stories that really caught my eye. The first was the story of a naturopath in Bowling Green named Juan Sanchez, who was gunned down in his office one Friday evening, allegedly by the distraught widower of a cancer patient whom he had treated, after having told her and her husband that “chemo is for losers” and claiming that he could eliminate her cancer in three months.

The second was even more shocking. Basically, a naturopath in Encinitas, California executed a clean kill of a patient with intravenous turmeric. The victim was a young woman—only 30 years old—named Jade Erick, who had consulted a local naturopath to relieve her symptoms of eczema. Although all the news reports said that it was IV turmeric, most likely it was actually IV curcumin, for reasons I discuss later in this post. Whatever it was, it doesn’t, in my not-so-humble opinion, absolve the naturopath of guilt for a “clean kill.”

Kim Kelly, ND (Not A Doctor). He prescribed the dose of intravenous turmeric that killed Jade Erick.

Kim Kelly, ND (Not A Doctor). He prescribed the dose of intravenous turmeric that killed Jade Erick.

In my discussion of the case two weeks ago, I noted how the woman apparently went into cardiopulmonary arrest due to a hypersensitivity reaction. At least, that was the initially suspected cause of death. I also discussed how conventional medicine has been studying curcumin, which is derived from turmeric, for its potential anticancer activities. I also discussed how, in my estimation at least, the hype over curcumin as an anticancer treatment far outweighs the actual promise. That’s not to say that there isn’t some promise there, but it’s modest at best, and the natural compound has a lot of properties that make it less than ideal as a drug, particularly its lipophilic properties, which make it relatively insoluble in aqueous solution. Naturopaths, of course, go far beyond the modest potential health benefits of turmeric or curcumin suggested by science-based medicine and claim that it cures almost everything (e.g., eczema), hence the naturopath using it. However, I had never heard of anyone using turmeric or curcumin IV before, and naturopaths were quick to fall back on the “no true Scotsman” defense, falling all over themselves to deny that any competent, licensed naturopath would ever, ever, ever do such a thing and trying to claim that IV turmeric/curcumin is not quackery because allergic/hypersensitivity reactions are rare. At the time, they got away with it because the name of the naturopath had not been released.

Now it has, and guess what? The naturopath was Kim Kelly, and he is fully licensed to practice naturopathy in the state of California:

Jade Erick reacted immediately to the turmeric infusion delivered intravenously by her Naturopathic Doctor. She passed out and went into cardiac arrest.

Dr. Kim Kelley and his staff called 911, then tried CPR and an EpiPen to revive her. By the time an ambulance arrived, the 30-year old Oceanside woman had no pulse.

Erick was revived, but after five days in the intensive care unit of Scripps Encinitas Hospital, she died, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report.

Her death was ruled accidental.

Dr. Kelly is now under investigation by the FDA and the California Department of Consumer Affairs, according to a spokesperson for the Medical Examiner.

Here are a couple of news updates on the story, including autopsy report findings:

This definitely sounds like an acute hypersensitivity reaction, given how fast Erick’s reaction was after how little turmeric solution had been infused before it occurred.

I actually knew that Kelly had been the naturopath, as a couple of readers told me. However, I couldn’t in good conscience mention him publicly without confirmation. Now I have that confirmation. I actually explored his website a couple of weeks ago, when this story first broke, but didn’t delve deeply. Now’s as good a time as any to do so. The first thing I note is that “Not-a-Doctor” Kelly is everything that organized naturopathy says a naturopath should be, as opposed to those unlicensed quacks:

Dr. Kim D. Kelly graduated from Bastyr University in 2001 and is a licensed Naturopathic doctor in the state of California. Growing up on a farm in Northern Minnesota is where he first had experience in the healing power of nature. This was further fostered when reading about the numerous clinical trials using alternative therapies when he was getting his Master’s of Public Health (MPH in Epidemiology) at the University of Minnesota. After realizing the power and effectiveness of alternative therapies, his career goal as Epidemiologist changed to wanting to become a Naturopathic Doctor; thus, he enrolled at Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.

Upon graduation from Bastyr, he underwent a rigorous three year training program at a cutting edge clinic, where he was trained by a team of medical and naturopathic doctors (Nazanin Kimiai, ND, LAc; Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, PhD; David Musnick, MD, MPH). Through his experience at this integrative clinic, Dr. Kelly learned the art and science of progressive healing modalities for musculoskeletal pain, autoimmune conditions, chronic infections (parasites, Lyme, mold), environmental & heavy metal toxicities and general health issues.

In the world of naturopathy, Bastyr is the equivalent of Harvard or Stanford. Of course, being the Harvard or Stanford of quack schools is not saying much. My point, of course, is that Kelly graduated from what groups like the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) view as the crème de la crème of naturopathy schools and is fully licensed in the largest state in the country. Of course, I can’t help but note that in his bio asserting his pseudoprofessional bona fides, he can’t help but mention one of naturopaths’ favorite forms of quackery, “heavy metal detox.” I find that appropriate.

It also turns out that Kelly has been scrubbing his website of all mentions of IV turmeric, something noted by ex-naturopath Britt Hermes. However, some of his advocacy of IV turmeric as a wonder drug lives on in the form of what looks like an ad or announcement of a talk on the wonders of IV turmeric:

I am excited to announce that I’ve started administering intravenous curcumin. Curcumin has been used for thousands of years for culinary and medicinal reasons. People have used it to help with pain, inflammation, immune system, arthritis, liver conditions and cancer. It’s also been found that intravenous curcumin in combination with vitamin C and glutathione (I call it the “Mother of All Antioxidants”) has a potentiating effecting in helping people with chronic health conditions e.g. hepatitis C, liver fibrosis. Intravenous Curcumin is absorbed better, faster and can be given in much higher doses compared to taking it orally. Therefore, the benefits usually can be seen much sooner. Patients who have received it thus far have reported benefits very soon after treatment.

If you are suffering from any type of inflammatory condition, whether it be arthritis, autoimmune condition (e.g. scleroderma, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), Alzheimers or dementia, this may be a great modality of treatment to try. It may require multiple treatments or may be just one treatment, depending on each person and the condition.

The safety, tolerability, and nontoxicity of curcumin at high doses have been well established by human clinical trials. Promising effects have been observed in patients with various pro-inflammatory diseases.

I can’t help but note that that last statement is absolutely false. Yes, orally administered curcumin is generally pretty safe even up to 8 g per day. However, intravenous curcumin hasn’t been well studied, as I discovered when I started doing more PubMed searches (although I did find a bunch of articles in which investigators were trying to curcumin nanoparticles, micelles, and the like to administer curcumin IV). Moreover, intravenous curcumin is not the same thing as intravenous turmeric. Curcumin is a constituent of turmeric; there is so much more in turmeric than just curcumin. So even if there were rock-solid safety data for IV curcumin, that would not mean that IV turmeric is just as safe. Remember, all the news reports said quite clearly that Kelly administered intravenous turmeric, not curcumin. Given the above entry, I wonder which it was that Kelly actually administered to Erick, particularly in light of this ridiculous defense of intravenous curcumin by another “Not-A-Doctor,” Paul Anderson. After reading that and Hermes’ article, I now think that it was IV curcumin administered to Erick, not turmeric. It doesn’t really matter, though. She’s just as dead, and her death remains just as unnecessary. Whatever Kelly used to treat Erick, this is is naturopathic “reasoning,” such as it is: If the isolated compound is safe, then the crude plant from which that compound is derived must also be safe, and if a little is good, a boatload would be better. Finally, if real medical science is investigating a natural product for one indication and it shows a bit of promise, then to naturopaths it must be a wonder medicine that cures everything.

Perusing the rest of Kelly’s website, even without the benefit of the almighty Wayback Machine at Archive.org, which rescues web pages from the memory hole every day, I found plenty of quackery. For instance, he offers biopuncture, naturopathic detoxing, hormonal balance treatment, IV nutrition, and “wellness programs.” Biopuncture, I note, is an unholy combination of acupuncture and homeopathy so quacky that Dr. Oz promoted it. Kelly describes it thusly:

Biopuncture is a technique that combines neural therapy, trigger point therapy, prolotherapy and homotoxicology. It stimulates the body’s own healing mechanisms thus speeding up the process of injury recovery, natural rejuvenation/repair and also lowers pain and inflammation. The technique involves using pin-prick needles to inject miniature amounts of homeopathic remedies under the skin or into muscle encouraging the body to start healing and to help stimulate local blood circulation.

In other words, it’s some most excellently ridiculous woo, a witches’ brew of quackery, to go along with all the other nonsense in Kelly’s blog, such as (of course) more biopuncture and more “detoxification,” along with other quackery such as adrenal fatigue treatment, intravenous vitamin C, and a dangerous modality like intravenous peroxide for chronic infections. All of this costs only $150 per 30 minutes plus the cost of the therapy.

Naturopaths love to portray themselves as the equivalent of primary care doctors, able to take care patients safely using “natural” methods. Organized naturopathy, as embodied by the AANP, promotes naturopathic licensure as a strategy for both turf protection against “those” naturopaths from what they view as lesser schools or even online schools (although the case of Kim Kelly shows that the products of “elite” naturopathy schools are no better, even though naturopaths cynically point to their “therapeutic misadventures” as a reason why naturopathic licensure is desirable) and as a PR strategy to win legitimacy for their pseudoscientific medicine. It’s had considerable success. Their key argument is that licensure will provide a level of regulation that will maintain a minimum level of competence and benefit the public. Yet, as the case of Jade Erick and the naturopath whose treatment killed her, Kim Kelly, demonstrates, licensed naturopaths from the “best” naturopathy schools are just no more science-based or safe than any “lesser” naturopath, something I periodically demonstrate by surveying the websites of licensed naturopaths and finding the same sorts of collections of pseudoscience and quackery offered as services as I found on Kelly’s website.

Britt Hermes also notes something of which I was unaware. The law that established the licensing of naturopaths in California expires on January 1, 2018, and there is a new bill (SB 796) that was introduced by Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) that would extend naturopathic licensure to 2022. She further notes that if this bill fails, after that date no new licenses will be issued. We can only hope that, as California legislators consider SB 796, the case of Jade Erick gives them pause before renewing naturopaths’ license to kill.

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