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Some chiropractors are falsely claiming that spinal “adjustments” will do everything from “boosting the immune system” (which you can’t do), helping ward off the novel coronavirus, to actually preventing patients from contracting the virus. They also advise other dubious measures for keeping the virus at bay.

These bogus assertions are based on their misrepresentation of the human nervous system as susceptible to interruptions of “nerve flow” or “nerve energy” between the brain and the rest of the body. According to chiropractors, these putative interruptions are caused by “subluxations”, or “misalignments”, of the spinal vertebrae, creating deleterious effects such as a compromised immune system. Chiropractors can “correct” these “subluxations” with spinal “adjustments”, thereby restoring “nerve flow”. As one chiropractic website “explains”:

Spinal adjustments have been shown to boost immune function because they serve to correct the spinal misalignments that cause neural dysfunction. Neural dysfunction stresses a body out, which may lead to a weakened immune system and lowered response to a foreign body, such as the cold virus.

Organs that have a strong relationship with the immune system, such as the lymph nodes and the spleen, communicate with your brain and nerves, and if your nervous system isn’t functioning at an optimal level, a communication breakdown can occur. You can imagine what may happen next. Getting a chiropractic adjustment is a great place to start so you can get any spinal misalignment you may have corrected. Even one adjustment can bring about an immediate immune boost.

No, it won’t. Actually, what the “adjustment” (in the form of spinal manipulation) may do is cause anything from mild to moderate adverse events, such as pain, to vertebral artery dissection and consequent stroke following cervical manipulation. At the least, the patient will have wasted money on a worthless treatment.

Unfortunately, neither the uselessness of, nor risks associated with, their treatments are keeping chiropractors from exploiting the coronavirus epidemic. There’s even a new poster and patient handout offered by one company warning that skipping your chiropractic “adjustments” will put you at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus.

As is often the case in the service of pseudoscience, a good, old-fashioned anecdote is employed as evidence of the “adjustment’s” effectiveness. In a post titled “Coronavirus”, this chiropractic practice claims that

a patient [was seen] last week suffering from cold and flu symptoms for two weeks with no change after 2 rounds of prescribed medications and a variety of over the counter medications all to no avail. One adjustment and 2 days later the patient was 80% better. That is the power of an adjustment. Safe and effective. No side effects. That’s protection. Have you had an adjustment lately?

[Emphasis in original.]

A Texas chiropractor is, more creatively, window dressing his false claims with science-based advice, while at the same time adding adjunct pseudoscience and a touch of historical negationism which casts chiropractors as the saviors of Spanish flu victims. Under the title “7 Ways to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus” we find:

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing . . .

This comes with a warning against two perennial CAM bugaboos, sugar and dairy, because

too much sugar weakens our immune system, and voilà! Sickness isn’t an if, it becomes a when.

But that’s nothing compared to what milk will do to you: milk increases antibiotic resistance, making us more susceptible to “superbugs” like coronavirus; contains high levels of estrogen and progesterone, which leads to abnormal early puberty and increases the risk of uterine, breast and prostate cancers; contains casein, which facilitates the growth of cancer cells; increases the risk of Type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis; disrupts the body’s Vitamin D production and negatively affects bone growth; and, because of sulfurous amino acids, leaches the calcium out of our bones, thereby “leading to a vastly higher risk of osteoporosis at an earlier age”.

While there may be reasons one would not want to consume milk, this is a vast overstatement of the risks.

In any event, chiropractic “adjustments” are essential:

Of course I have to include this. Everyone who comes into my office for their first visit has a misalignment of their C1 vertebra, also known as a vertebral subluxation. This is significant because just about every nerve in the entire body passes through the C1 as the spinal cord. When there is a subluxation of the C1, this adds stress, tension, and/or pressure to some aspect of some nerve that travels to somewhere in the body. When this happens, people experience symptoms either immediately or eventually. Removing the subluxation and restoring proper positioning of the C1 allows the nervous system to properly communicate with the body and vice versa. Since the nervous system is the master system, it happens to control all other systems, including the immune system.

Everyone?

To “boost” his case, the website cites this unpublished 4-page paper from 1978, full of uncredited statistics and anecdotes, for the claim that:

[P]eople infected with influenza [during the 1917-18 epidemic] who received chiropractic care as their primary means of treatment died at such a lower rate than those treated by medicine that it was staggering.

While some chiropractors may depend on the patient’s making the connection between an immune system “boost” and protection against the coronavirus, others are not so subtle. From a Charlotte, NC, chiropractor’s website:

[W]hat I want to talk to you about is how to strengthen your immune system, how to make yourself coronavirus proof, so that you don’t have to worry about it, your family doesn’t have to worry about it. . . .

So, in order to make you coronavirus free and may make you independent and not have to worry, make your body strong enough to know, that regardless, if somebody walks in and sneezes on you or shakes your hand or kisses you, you’re not going to wind up getting sick because you got to make sure your immune system is kicking on all cylinders. Which means, your nervous system has to be kicking on all cylinders. . . .

Now, the best way to do that is to find an upper cervical chiropractor. To check this area, we have objective tools [one of these, perhaps] that we can actually scan your neck and see if there’s any interference anywhere between your brain and your body. If there is, then we can figure out what’s causing that interference. We can remove that interference. Make sure the brain’s talking at 100%, and that way it keeps your immune system kicking at 100%, so then you can fight off anything, anything that comes in and tries to hurt you.

[Emphasis added.]

This is not only patently false, it is dangerous. Anyone who believes he is immune from the coronavirus is unlikely to take precautions for himself or others, increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19.

If an “adjustment” isn’t enough to nip your coronavirus in the bud, you can, according to this California chiropractor, pop some dietary supplements, which he conveniently sells to his patients. After incorrectly saying that the coronavirus is “the latest version” of the flu, he says:

In my office we have some amazing supplements in the area of immunity. One of these is Echinacea Premium from Mediherb. It is fabulously potent. . . Echinacea is an immune booster and balancer. . . We use the Standard Process supplement Immuplex to rebuild the immune system. [Caution: non sequitur ahead.] Dig that people used to live much shorter lives than we live today. So all these supplements rebuild a tired, depleted system. . .

Acute infections can be addressed with Congaplex and sometimes Andrographis Complex which contains echinacea premium. Garlic can be helpful for many people too. We sell garlic capsules. The trick to acute infections is to jump all over them with supplements within a few hours of the moment you get an inkling you might be coming down with something. Why? There is a good chance if you address the infection quickly enough it never takes hold.

Immuplex” is basically a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to which a “proprietary blend” of bovine liver, spleen, and thymus extracts, veal bone extract, and other ingredients have been added. Even the maker of “Congaplex” (which also contains animal organ extracts) admits it doesn’t know if it works in humans. There is no evidence that either echinacea or garlic will prevent, or reduce the severity of, COVID-19. In fact, federal law prohibits the sale of dietary supplements to treat infectious diseases.

Fortunately, the promotion of bogus preventatives and remedies for coronavirus infection is getting media, blogosphere, and government attention. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the FDA and FTC sent warning letters to seven companies touting various products, including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. The Post also ran a column by a registered dietician several days ago noting that claims one could “boost” one’s immune system were proliferating and explaining why this is nonsense, although it did not mention chiropractors. Televangelist Jim Bakker’s shilling for “Silver Solution” was widely reported. Even the CAM-friendly National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is warning against alternative remedies being promoted for coronavirus infections.

Unfortunately, no one has alerted the public to the dangers of chiropractors promoting their “immune boosting” powers. In fact, the standard recommendation to “check with your health care provider” could lead some patients to rely on their chiropractors for advice about the coronavirus. After all, they promote themselves as “primary care providers”. Newspapers and other media should do a better job of warning the public away from unreliable health care advice given by those who are, regrettably, licensed by the states to practice pseudoscience.

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Posted by Jann Bellamy

Jann J. Bellamy is a Florida attorney and lives in Tallahassee. She is one of the founders and Board members of the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM) dedicated to providing accurate information about CAM and advocating for state and federal laws that incorporate a science-based standard for all health care practitioners. She tracks state and federal bills that would allow pseudoscience in health care for the SfSBM website.  Her posts are archived here.