I must admit that these days I probably spend too much time on Twitter. On the other hand, Twitter is a lovely place to find blog fodder for days when the inspirational juices aren’t flowing quite as well as I would like and there doesn’t seem to be a study or news item so urgent that the burning desire to write about it jars me into action. So it was yesterday when somehow I got involved in a Twitter “discussion” with a couple of naturopaths. One of them was named Paul Theriault, and the other is someone familiar whom I’ve written about on this blog and elsewhere before, Dugald Seely, the “naturopathic oncologist” who helped develop the Society for Integrative Oncology’s guidelines for breast cancer care and has two grants worth a total of $7 million dollars from an anonymous donor to try to “prove” that naturopathy improves survival in various cancers. Not surprisingly, Twitter being Twitter, Theriault and Seely were defending naturopathic oncology, while I (and a few other hardy skeptics) were pointing out that any specialty of which homeopathy is an integral component is not science-based. This led to Theriault challenging me:
On this topic David, you inherent bias has prevented you from an objective assesment of the facts.
How can your research on websites and things failed to have evaluated Drs. Paul Anderson, or Neil Mckinney? How could it have such vast blind spots?
— Dr. Paul Theriault BSc, ND, VNMI (@DrPaulND) November 17, 2018
To which I sarcastically responded:
Be very careful what you wish for, Not a Doctor Paul. I might just decide to do that.😏
— David Gorski, MD, PhD (@gorskon) November 17, 2018
At the time I was just joking, yanking Not-a-Doctor Theriault’s chain, so to speak. Really I was. I swear! But then I saw this response:
OMFG. Anderson the superquak from Seattle? Who throws around with big words (epigenetics, genomics, crispr) but has no clue to what they mean? Who uses SNPs and mutations as synonyms? Who thinks mitochondrial dysfunction is the primordial cause for cancer, and detox can “cure”?
— Sartorius Medicus (@SartoriusMD) November 17, 2018
That made me curious, and my curiosity led me to start to do some digging.
I then realized that Anderson’s name sounded very familiar and kicked myself (metaphorically speaking) for not having immediately recognized it. I’ve mentioned him before. He is a proponent of intravenous curcumin, the treatment that resulted in the sudden death of a young woman in California, and issued a rather clueless defense of the practice in the wake of that tragedy. As Jann Bellamy characterized him, he’s also a tireless campaigner against FDA attempts to rein in compounding pharmacies of the sort that produced the curcumin that resulted in the woman’s death. In any event, he runs a practice in Seattle, Advanced Medical Therapies.
I didn’t recall having heard about McKinney before; so I Googled him too. He runs a practice called Vital Victoria Naturopathic Clinic, Ltd. Both Anderson and McKinney bill themselves as “naturopathic oncologists”, and apparently Theriault “trained” (if you can call it that) under both of them.
At this point, let me remind everyone that the discussion on Twitter involved Theriault jumping into a discussion about homeopathy to defend it, with Seely chiming in to call me (and others) dogmatic defenders of the medical “orthodoxy” while claiming that the arrogance of doctors, areas where medicine is not as evidence-based as it should be, and all the other problems in medicine make naturopathic medicine’s record appealing, thus giving me not one, but two opportunities to cite Ben Goldacre’s famous retort to these sorts of arguments:
Quacks citing problems in pharma make me laugh. FLAWS IN AIRCRAFT DESIGN DO NOT PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF MAGIC CARPETS.
— ben goldacre (@bengoldacre) January 31, 2013
So I decided to look into these “naturopathic oncologists”, who, if you believe Not-a-Doctor Theriault, are paragons of evidence-based practice. It’s a good exercise, and time was tight this weekend because my wife and I are fostering a rescue dog and her litter of puppies and their pen in our basement needs a good cleaning. Indeed, before I dig into the records of the two naturopaths, I think I would be remiss not to let you know where to see them if you so desire. Videos from the last week on my YouTube channel have the story, and the story of the other puppies we fostered this time last year can be seen there too, as well as a video that’s very appropriate for my discussion below:
Yes, we do discuss homeopathy in this post, because we have to. The post is about naturopathic oncologists and naturopathy.
Not-a-Doctor Paul Anderson: Chelation, micronutrients, and other nonsense
Visiting Not-a-Doctor Anderson’s website, it didn’t take me long to find this introductory video:
In the video, he touts “advanced processes” and “advanced protocols” in which he orders naturopathic interventions by protocols that he’s developed over his career. Now here’s an interesting thing:
AMT was founded by Dr. Paul Anderson with a specific focus on advanced therapies that he has developed over the past three decades to improve health via therapeutic synergy. With staff trained by Dr. Anderson, Advanced Medical Therapies (AMT) offers infusion therapy (IV), hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), and infrared sauna – mild hyperthermia (IRMHT).
AMT physicians are guided by Dr. Anderson’s protocols. Patients receive the most up to date treatments and protocols created in a team setting with Dr. Anderson and AMT physicians.
Dr. Anderson does not see patients one on one.
So, basically, this sounds like a franchise or a way for Anderson to make money and have a lot of patients seen without having to do a lot of work himself. The video itself also features Anderson explaining how some of his patients come with a plan of care to which he adds naturopathy and for some there is “nothing left” that conventional medicine can offer and how his processes are different for each kind of patient. No doubt (I’m guessing) he has to keep some of the rankest pseudoscience toned down for patients who are still seeing real doctors.
So what “services” does Anderson offer? It states that his clinic’s practice areas include IV therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and infrared medical therapies. None of these can be said to have high quality evidence supporting their use in the conditions for which Not-a-Doctor Anderson is using them. For example, check out the infusions they offer in his section on IV therapy:
Here at advanced medical therapies we offer a wide variety of infusions, ranging from nutritional IVs with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to chelation and detox services, to ozone and pharmaceutical therapies, including treatments such as antibiotics. With regard to nutritional IVs, these are infusions that have been designed and formulated from the collective experience of over three decades from the minds of Dr. Anderson and the other physicians at AMT, guaranteeing that you are given a customized and tailored approach for whatever symptoms or condition you may be experiencing.
So what about these “therapies”? I’ve written about “micronutrient therapy” in detail before. Suffice to say that it is pretty much useless and has resulted in FDA action against at least one company selling it. Chelation therapy is not only useless for anything other than actual medically documented acute heavy metal toxicity (as opposed to the bogus “heavy metal toxicity” diagnosed by tests sold by dubious companies to naturopaths to do “provoked urine testing”), it is potentially dangerous and can kill. It does not treat autism; it does not treat cardiovascular disease; it doesn’t treat much of anything except for the relatively rare case of acute metal poisoning; and it certainly doesn’t treat the plethora of chronic diseases and other conditions for which naturopaths prescribe it.
The same is true of “detox”. The whole concept of “detox” is based on the idea that our body is bombarded with unnamed “toxins” that are causing all manner of chronic diseases and that the only way to eliminate them is to “detoxify” by whatever scientifically-nonsensical means naturopaths (and other alternative or integrative medicine practitioners) come up with. A variant of the idea is that our bodies are “poisoning themselves” with our waste products (and have 20 lbs. of poop backed up in our intestines to boot!), meaning that we must “cleanse.” It’s an idea that actually dates back to ancient Egypt but was particularly popular during the Victorian era, when surgeons would actually do colectomies to eliminate the “autointoxication” and treat diseases having nothing to do with the colon, including psychiatric illness. (Because of the lack of antibiotics, this was a high mortality procedure back then.) As I like to point out, our livers and kidneys (and lungs) are quite good at eliminating “toxins” and only need help when they are failing. Such failure is not generally a subtle diagnosis. Renal and liver failure produce distinct clinical syndromes, for instance. Basically, “detoxification” is more akin to religious ritual purification than anything else. It’s a scam in our opinion.
I could go on and on about my conclusion that Not-a-Dr. Anderson’s protocols are pseudoscientific nonsense, just like most naturopathic treatments, but you already know that. After all, he offers intravenous ozone, high dose vitamin C, and a very cornucopia of infusions, all while claiming to be able to treat these disorders:
Additionally, when evaluating really any disorder or symptom, oftentimes at its root is an elegant solution based upon your complex biochemistry and physiology. Providing nutrients or cofactors for certain biological processes or tailoring nutrients for your genetics may be the missing piece in your treatment.
There is always a place for infusion services in your treatment; however, at AMT we specialize in complex, chronic degenerative diseases and conditions which generally do not respond to conventional medicine. IVs are used alongside the other treatments to assist with a variety of conditions such as for those suffering with chronic infections, neuropsychiatric conditions, pediatric disorders, and supporting persons with cancer.
Chronic infections? I wonder if he means chronic Lyme disease, a favorite fake diagnosis of naturopaths. He also claims his infusions can offer “immune support”—whatever that means; it’s basically a fancy way of saying a favorite meaningless quack phrase, “boost the immune system“.
And I haven’t even discussed the hyperbaric oxygen treatment (which is only evidence-based for a very few conditions not including many of the conditions for which Anderson uses it, like autism) and infrared sauna mild hyperthermia, which Anderson claims can be used for “anti-infective, cancer, toxicity and many others”.
Of course, Anderson has also written a book, Outside the Box Cancer Therapies: Alternative Therapies That Treat and Prevent Cancer. Not surprisingly, the excerpt featured on the website touts an alternative cancer cure testimonial in which the patient survived five years with metastatic cancer but there was no mention of whether the cancer size actually decreased or increased, just that it was still there. He also offers review courses for the naturopathic licensing examination and sells webinars.
He’s also heavily into epigenetics and has even posted what is entitled a “master class” in epigenetics, nutrigenomics, and cancer. I tried listening to it, but soon abandoned it to protect my battered neurons. Let’s just say that @SartoriusMD (whose Tweet was quoted above) was correct in his characterization of Anderson’s beliefs about metabolism, cancer, and epigenetics. You can watch if you like, but don’t say I didn’t warn you:
Let’s just put it this way. If Theriault wanted to provide an example of a naturopathic oncologist who is practicing every bit as much evidence-based and science-based medicine as any conventional oncologist, Paul Anderson was a poor choice. I can see why Theriault trained under him.
Not-a-Doctor Neil McKinney: Homeopathy!
So let’s move on to Theriault’s other hero, Neil McKinney. He was even easier to peg as a typical naturopath than Anderson. For instance, he unabashedly and unashamedly uses “classical constitutional and complex homeopathy for acute and chronic illnesses.” He also embraces “energy medicine,” in particular reiki, or, as I like to refer to it, faith healing substituting Asian religious beliefs for Christian religious beliefs, complete with a reiki master in his practice:
Reiki (“Ray-Key”) is the laying on of hands in a traditional manner to direct healing energy to a specific part of the body, or the entire body. Reiki is not a religion, cult, dogma, or specific doctrine.
- Alleviate Pain, accelerate physical healing
- Promote deep emotional release, relaxation, and bring peace to agitated minds
- Support allopathic and holistic healing
- Allow space for spiritual connections
- Balance the energy system in our bodies.
Reiki is compatible with all other modalities of healing, whether traditional or alternative. It is non-invasive, safe and gentle for all ages. During your treatment, all your clothes are left on (except shoes). Usually your whole body is treated, while you lay on your back on a treatment table.
Not surprisingly, McKinney also offers acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, as well as these:
Dr. McKinney has innovated new and affordable therapies for cancer as well as powerful support for conventional care such as chemo radiation and surgery as well as palliative care. He has also formulated reinforcing therapies for maintenance, cancer prevention and remission.
Dr. McKinney provides alternative therapies for the treatment of cancer which may include high dose vitamins, tinctures and vupplements [sic] including Reishi mushroom, Indole 3 Carbinol, Curcumin etc. He also uses powerful therapeutics such as artemesinin, mistletoe therapy and low dose naltroxone.
Because he also uses low dose naltrexone too.
Particularly amusing is McKinney’s list of references supposedly supporting naturopathic oncology. It’s basically everything but the kitchen sink. If any supplement any time ever was shown to kill cancer cells in a dish, its reference is probably there. If there’s an alternative cancer cure testimonial turned into a publication in a quack journal, it’s probably there too. If there’s an article touting a supplement or alternative treatment to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, it’s likely there too. Overall it’s 86 pages, too long to examine in detail today, although perhaps I should peruse some of the articles in a future post.
Again, if Not-a-Dr. Theriault thought he would impress me by naming Not-a-Dr. McKinney as a practitioner of evidence-based “naturopathic oncology” treatment (yes, I know that’s a contradiction in terms), he was sadly mistaken.
Be careful what you ask for, Mr. Theriault…
This entire post started almost as a lark. I wasn’t sure if there was anything useful to be gleaned from taking Theriault up on his seeming challenge to look at the work and careers of two of his naturopathic mentors. Let’s just say that his mentors were less…impressive…than Theriault believes them to be. I suppose it’s no wonder that when I looked at his blog on his practice website I found that the vast majority of his posts were defenses of homeopathy in which he claims that homeopathy has good in vitro evidence, calls the claim that homeopathy lacks clinical trial evidence a “lie” (all while making excuses for why homeopathy can’t be easily subjected to double blind randomized placebo-controlled trials), and even suggests potential homeopathic “provings” for crocodiles. (I kid you not.)
Maybe this post is still a bit more “lark-like” than my usual post, but I still think it was a useful exercise. It served to demonstrate to me (and, I hope, to you) that what a naturopath considers to be “evidence-based” or “science-based” is a far cry from what is really evidence- or science-based. Even “naturopathic oncologists”, who seem to think of themselves as the most scientific and evidence-based of naturopaths, embrace rank quackery. Same as it ever was.