NCCIH sanitizes naturopathy

NCCIH sanitizes naturopathy

Back when the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health was called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there was a refreshingly honest entry on naturopathy on the Center's website. It included these warnings to the public (emphasis added):

"Although some of the individual therapies used in naturopathy have been studied for efficacy and safety, naturopathy as a general approach to health care has not been widely researched."

"'Natural' does not necessarily mean 'safe.' Some therapies used in naturopathy, such as herbal supplements and restrictive or unconventional diets, have the potential to be harmful if not used under the direction of a well-trained practitioner."

"Some beliefs and approaches of naturopathic practitioners are not consistent with conventional medicine, and their safety may not be supported by scientific evidence. For example, some practitioners may not recommend childhood vaccinations. The benefits of vaccination in preventing illness and death have been repeatedly proven and greatly outweigh the risks."

"Naturopathy is not a complete substitute for conventional care. Relying exclusively on naturopathic treatments and avoiding conventional medical care may be harmful or, in some circumstances (for example, a severe injury or an infection), have serious health consequences.​"

My only quibble with this was the statement that safety is improved if herbal supplements and weird diets are used under the direction of a well-trained practitioner, naturopathic training being what it is.

That issue aside, none of these statements have, to my knowledge, been proven false. Naturopathy still has not been widely researched. "Natural" still does not mean "safe." Herbal supplements and offbeat diets still have the potential for harm under the direction of "well-trained" naturopaths. Naturopathic beliefs and approaches are still inconsistent with conventional medicine, and not in a good way. Naturopaths are still very much anti-immunization, even though vaccination is still one of the great public health successes of all time. Relying on naturopathy as a substitute for conventional care still can be harmful and have serious health consequences. (See also here.)

So it was with some surprise that I recently discovered all of this vital information had been removed from the NCCIH's main information page on naturopathy. Now, there are no warnings whatsoever about the possible dangers of seeing a naturopath, or, as they say, "naturopathic physician."

The public now learns only about the education and training of naturopathic "physicians" at 4-year "medical schools" and the fact that they have "continuing education requirements." As well, "some U.S. states and territories have licensing requirements for naturopathic physicians; others don't." The public doesn't learn the fact that they are licensed or registered in less than a fourth of these states and territories. And, if they're not (and NCCIH doesn't tell you this either) naturopathic "physicians" better not be calling themselves "physicians" or trying to pretend they can practice as "physicians," as that would be illegal. To be fair, some of this information was in the former information page on naturopathy, but it was tempered by some appropriate warnings.

The public is now told that "people visit naturopathic practitioners for various health-related purposes, including primary care, overall well-being, and treatment of illnesses." Of course, to the average member of the public, unaware of the total nonsense that comprises a good portion of naturopathic practice, this probably implies that seeing a naturopath for "primary care" or "treatment of illnesses" is perfectly sensible. And the NCCIH isn't going to discourage anyone from thinking otherwise.

If you really dig around the website, you can still find the more truthful description, which has been made into a pdf. However, given the tendency of the NCCIH to prevaricate, there's no telling how long that will be available.

The entire premise upon which the NCCIH is based -- "integrative healthcare" -- is a false one. As my friend, fellow SBM blogger and SFSBM colleague, Mark Crislip, MD, famously said of trying to "integrate" pseudoscience into medicine, "when you integrate cow pie into apple pie, the cow pie is not improved, the apple pie is made worse."

And partaking of it can make you sick too. Which is exactly what happens when people visit a naturopath because they didn't know any better. And they won't, if they rely on the NCCIH. 

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