I was recently alerted to yet another example of highly questionable chiropractic health claims. It’s a bad one. Real bad. And while the core components, including claims regarding health benefits in young children and marketing gimmicks carefully designed to trick people into becoming long term patients, are standard boilerplate you will see on hundreds of individual practice websites, this one pushes the envelope in ways that are particularly egregious.

Can chiropractic care help a sick child?

While the answer to the above question is unequivocally no in my opinion, the article that led me to once again hack my way through the fetid underbelly of pediatric chiropractic attempts to present evidence in support of the claim. The article in question was written by Tim Smith, a chiropractor who graduated with honors from Life Chiropractic College West and who claims to have been one of the official chiropractors for the U. S. Olympic team. He describes himself additionally as a “Maximized Living doctor highly trained in delivering the 5 Essentials of health.” More on this later.

To perhaps provide some helpful context to the content of his article, Life Chiropractic College West, whose motto is “Express your potential”, is located in Hayward, CA and embraces the existence of the chiropractic subluxation. They also claim to train chiropractors to function as primary health care providers, and offer instruction on something called “fractal biology.” Mastering this particular course requires that a student “understand the basic fractal geometry of Nature and how its iterated patterns shape the fate of human civilization.” Oh, is that all?

Of note, Life Chiropractic College West graduates roughly one hundred new practitioners every year. Each of these graduates likely contributes to the “minority” of chiropractors who practice blatant quackery. Most chiropractors, I am frequently told…by chiropractors, are above average when it comes to accepting the evidence on subluxations, the safety and benefit of vaccines, and the treatment non-musculoskeletal complaints.

In the article, Smith describes how his 9-month-old daughter had become ill for the very first time in her life. He gives credit to his being a “Maximized Living doctor”, and the fact that she is a “5 Essentials Baby”, for her perfect health up to that point. Again, more on this a bit later. He fails to explain why she became ill, something which shouldn’t have happened according to the claims he goes on to make.

In his vignette, he describes his daughter as very fussy, with a temperature over 100 degrees. Somewhere between 100.1 F and 5,778 K, I guess. She was both “tired and lethargic”, and “clearly in pain”. Her body, according to Smith, was “working hard to fight the infection”.

This description, taken at face value, describes a potentially very ill child, possible even in septic shock. As Chiropractor Smith doesn’t actually have any real experience with ill children, and is essentially no more knowledgeable than the average parent of an ill child, he is very likely using the term “lethargic” incorrectly. To a trained medical professional, lethargy describes a state of altered mental status where the patient is barely able to achieve a wakeful state, and typically only with significant stimulation. Caregivers, however, will often use the word to describe a child who is merely less energetic, or a bit more sleepy, than usual.

Most childhood infections do not result in a child being “clearly in pain”. When they do, it is often the sore throat, swollen glands, upset stomach, or muscular ache that can accompany many common viral infections. But to be “clearly in pain” is a worrisome description that if true could apply to a variety of serious afflictions depending on where the pain appears to be originating from and its severity. We aren’t given this information, however.

If a parent were to describe their febrile child as excessively sleepy and in obvious pain, most people would recommend that they immediately be evaluated by a competent medical provider. Smith didn’t have his daughter checked by an actual doctor, though I take comfort in the fact that he is almost certainly exaggerating for effect. Also a possibility is that the situation never actually occurred and is just a fabricated marketing ploy. In reality, if truly tested by his child being seriously ill-appearing, Smith would probably seek legitimate medical care, even as the arrogance of his ignorance is an impetus to encourage other parents to do the opposite.

What would you do?

After having described his ill child, Smith then asks readers what they would do in this situation, and he provides the following options:

  1. Do you rush to the doctor for an antibiotic?
  2. Do you reach for a bottle of Tylenol to lower the pain and fever?
  3. Do you stay home and skip your adjustment that day?
  4. Do you disinfect your entire house in an attempt to kill every invisible bug out there?

Chiropractor Smith then reveals, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, that he didn’t choose any of these options and that his daughter was fully recovered in less than 24 hours. Can you guess what he chose to do? I’m pretty sure you can.

She is a healthy 5 Essentials Baby and what we did to help her get better was adjust her daily, breastfeed her more, keep her warm, give her a bath with essential oils and rubbed them on her feet and let her rest… her body took care of the rest!

Increased fluid intake may help prevent dehydration in a persistently febrile child, particularly if they have increased fluid loss though respiratory secretions, vomiting, or diarrhea. And a warm bath and foot massage, known to some simply as TLC, may be comforting to a child feeling a bit under the weather. But adjustments and essential oils do not play a role in recovery from any illness.

One thing that is certainly accurate is that her body did recover on its own. That’s what our bodies do when faced with mild self-limited viral illnesses. If she had a serious bacterial infection, or one of the many potential non-infectious etiologies of lethargy and pain in an infant, intussusception for example, the outcome would likely have been very different.

The rest of Smith’s article is full of absurd and potentially dangerous claims. In particular, he clearly isn’t a fan of medications (other than the supplements he recommends), and he demonstrates a profoundly ignorant understanding of biology. Even germ theory itself isn’t safe from the clumsy blows of his meager, and hopelessly biased, intellect.

Here is one gem:

The biggest problem with medications like antibiotics is that they are ineffective against the innate intelligence of bacteria, and they are becoming even less effective every month.

This is particularly ridiculous when you consider that many of the antibiotics we have used therapeutically over the decades are produced by various soil bacteria to kill other bacteria competing for real estate and nutrients. Smith likely thinks that all (non-supplement) medications are unnatural chemicals cooked up in a Big Pharma laboratory on Skull Island. At one point he even writes that parents should rethink ever giving their ill children any form of (non-supplement) medication.

Another one:

Taking a medication to lower your fever (called an antipyretic) WORKS AGAINST INNATE! If your child’s temperature goes above 103, I suggest a cold shower or ice bath before you start dumping in the medication. Recent reports with the flu show that people who let their fevers ride out fought it off in 5 days, versus 9 days in people that took aspirin or acetaminophen.

There are many problems with this other than the fact that so-called “innate intelligence” is merely the chiropractic version of the vitalistic “life force” prominent in the beliefs of myriad forms of alternative medicine. These days there aren’t that many chiropractors left who will openly admit a belief in this concept, with many preferring more scienticious modern explanations for how (fictional) chiropractic subluxations can harm the body. More concerning to me is the fact that cold showers and ice baths are a terrible option when managing fever.

For much more detail on the subject of fever in children, check out my 2012 post on fever phobia. In it, I describe how the application of cold to the skin of a febrile child can actually counteract the body’s natural temperature-lowering mechanism of dilating peripheral blood vessels. Preventing this can result in prolonged and more intense symptoms, and would be unnecessarily stressful. Ice baths are a recommended part of the acute management of severe hyperthermia, however, such as at medical stations set up during the Boston marathon. I live on the route, right where one such station is set up every year, and have seen as many as seven tubs occupied at one time. Hyperthermia, to be abundantly clear, is not the same thing as fever, even if both involve an elevated core body temperature.

The claim regarding the effect of treating fever on the duration of symptomatic influenza is also questionable. I was unable to find the study that they were referencing, but perhaps it is Plaisance et al. which unfortunately I don’t have access to. I discuss the effect of fever, and of treating fever, on outcomes in various infections in my earlier post on the subject. Scott Gavura also tackles the subject of fever and influenza, specifically addressing the hype surrounding this study on the effects of suppressing fever at a population level.

While there is certainly plausibility to the claim that fever is a beneficial process in certain circumstances, it is also demonstrably harmful in others. How sick the child is, how high the fever is, what infection is causing the fever, what treatment resources are readily available, and many other complex variables likely play a role in whether or not treating fever worsens outcomes. Most of what we know is based on animal data and, as Scott discusses, theoretical math based on zero actual evidence.

There is currently no compelling data to suggest that fever is so beneficial that allowing a child to suffer is warranted. That being said, fever is not generally harmful. There is also no good reason to treat an asymptomatic febrile child, or one with only mild symptoms not interfering with sleep/appetite/play, aggressively because there are potential side effects from any medication.

Here is the big secret nobody wants to talk about…if the germ theory were true, we would all be dead! If you culture my nose or your nose right now, there is all sorts of deadly bacteria and viruses to be found.

Smith and Bill Maher would get along swimmingly. Germ theory denial runs deep in the histories of many forms of alternative medicine, and chiropractic is no different. You just don’t see it so blatantly expressed that often anymore. You still do though, and it isn’t exactly hard to find. In this video, an “accelerated thinker” disproves both germ theory and genetic theory with a couple simple analogies. Oh, and the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association endorses germ theory denial.

Smith continues along these lines:

But you are alive and well right now? Does this mean germs do not in fact cause illness? It means that when your immune system is strong, germs are no big deal, in fact, they seem to strengthen our immune systems. Unless you live in a bubble, you cannot avoid germs. So instead of disinfecting everything, put that energy into doing things that boost your immunity.

What are the “things” Smith is referring to? Adjustments? Organic foods? Avoiding any medication or “over the counter ointment”? Removing toxins such as vaccines, plastics, and fire retardants? All of the above??? None of which will boost the immune system.

Maximized Living and The 5 Essentials

As I’ve mentioned at least a couple of times already, Smith describes himself as a “Maximized Living doctor”. He apparently also runs a “Maximized Living clinic”. A logo for Maximized Living can be found in the upper left corner on every page of his website. But what this actually means is considerably less exciting than it sounds.

What Smith and hundreds of other chiropractors, at least according to the developers of the Maximized Living program, have hitched their wagon to is one of many chiropractic practice building firms. And although this particular company is one of the most impressive I’ve come across, they are pretty much all the same. To be clear, I don’t mean impressive in regards to the quality of the content, rather in how far they go to avoid coming across as just another practice building firm.

The founders, chiropractors Ben Lerner and Greg Loman, would probably disagree with my interpretation, however, preferring to think of their creation as something much more meaningful:

Understanding that they had each lived a solution and lifestyle that could save the world, Dr. Lerner and Dr. Loman decided it was time to start a new movement committed to transforming health and wellness around the planet.

Maximized Living has embarked on a global initiative to change the way healthcare is viewed and delivered. With 15+ years in business, a network of Health Centers, and partnerships with first tier organizations, our organization has developed a scientifically based holistic process founded on 5 core principles of wellness. We deliver on our vision through a group of related companies that provide educational programs, franchise opportunities, innovative products, programs and a non-profit foundation. We give chiropractic doctors the tools and expertise needed to build chiropractic practices that are dedicated to transforming communities through The 5 Essentials.

Sounds impressive. Wait, there’s more! The benefits for patient’s signing up for a Maximized Living plan include treatment of the underlying cause of any medical condition, overcoming any life hurdle, getting off all medications, treating depression, boosting the immune system, and healthy aging. Amazing!

Only something completely revolutionary would be able to do all of that, right? This is where the 5 Essentials come in. They are as follows:

  1. Maximize your mind – Understanding the true principles of health and healing and creating a mindset of success.
  2. Maximized nerve supply – Restoring and maintaining proper function of the nervous system through spinal correction.
  3. Maximized oxygen and lean muscle – Cutting edge exercise programs that work to facilitate optimum fitness in minimal time.
  4. Maximized quality nutrition – Nutritional science that sustains well-being, disease prevention and ideal weight.
  5. Minimized toxins – Supporting the body’s own ability to permanently remove toxins from the cells.

Final thoughts

When you cut through all the jargon, the 5 Essentials are nothing more than the typical collection of co-opted science-based health recommendations, such as increased exercise, better sleep, stress reduction, and healthier dietary choices, plus spinal adjustments to correct old school bone on the nerve subluxations. They employ standard straight chiropractic philosophy, meaning the belief that subluxations are the root cause of all medical problems. They add a little power of positive thinking style life coaching, sprinkle in a few shout outs to the Christian deity, and promote some serious nonsense about toxins. Oh, and they sell supplements. Lots of supplements.

Maximized Living, with its 5 Essentials, is nothing more than a dogmatically vitalistic and subluxation focused practice building scheme at its core. They want other chiropractors to buy in to their thoroughly unoriginal propaganda and to convert their practices to franchised Maximized Living clinics, all for a fee of course. They sell trademarked materials, books, educational programs, and supplements like Max Kids Detox Powder. They go after chiropractic students with promises of a successful business and a fulfilling career.

I don’t recommend that parents ever seek care from a chiropractor for their children, and involvement with a Maximized Living doctor should definitely be avoided. Some adults might claim to experience benefit from seeing a chiropractor for certain musculoskeletal complaints, but not kids and especially not infants. And I challenge anyone reading to provide just one example of a chiropractor treating a child for only musculoskeletal complaints, which is a thoroughly absurd concept in itself. I argue that every single chiropractor who sees kids makes claims regarding general health, and I’ve provided numerous examples here on SBM over the years.

Now watch this video.

Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician practicing at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @skepticpedi and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey.