The Height of Irony

I read this short article from the CBC and it relates to my neck of the woods — the Maritimes. It got me thinking. Here’s one quote that had me scratching my head:

“The absence of regulations for naturopathy is putting the health of Islanders at risk, says the P.E.I. Association of Naturopathic Doctors.”

While I suppose I should laud naturopaths for insisting on quality control, it’s relatively … interesting … to see this particular group bring up the word “risk” to advocate for regulation. For example:

“There’s individuals recommending people have their teeth removed, without medical training — they’re not dentists — performing invasive procedures like colonic irrigation in unsanitary places.”

Alright, let me catch up: it’s not ok for not-dentists to tell people to have their teeth removed, but it’s okay (apparently) for not-doctors to needlessly invade patients’ colons as long as the equipment is clean? While it is refreshing to see that limits are being set, this is disturbingly inconsistent. Also, naturopaths can’t seem to decide what they are — see the recent push to gain the ability to prescribe medicine, an idea that is 180 degrees contrary to their main purpose. So what is being “regulated” when invasive practices are indiscriminately encouraged and the practitioners can’t decide on their core values? 

I paid a visit to the website of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors. I present this screenshot without comment (taken from their website, 1 Oct 2009):

According to the CAND “What is naturopathic medicine?” page:

“Naturopathic Medicine emphasizes disease as a process rather than as an entity. Treating both acute and chronic conditions, naturopathic treatments are chosen based on the individual patient — their physiological, structural, psychological, social, spiritual, environment and lifestyle factors.”

Physicians also consider the involvement of environment and lifestyle for various ailments, most notably diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But they also recognize the necessity of pharmaceuticals or invasive procedures based on the individual patient. Compare this to naturopathic recommendations of colonics (an invasive procedure) to pretty much anyone with an anus. What is done in practice gives the impression that even regulated naturopaths aren’t necessarily practicing what they preach. For this I think they should be taken to task.

“In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, natural therapies including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation and traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture, may also be used during treatments.

In Canada, the naturopathic medical profession’s infrastructure includes accredited educational institutions, professional licensing, national standards of practice, participation in many federal health committee initiatives, and a commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research.”

If the last part were true, that list of treatments would be much shorter. And herein lies the irony: A request for quality regulation in an industry that claims to use state-of-the-art scientific research, yet apparently ignores any research that doesn’t fit its predetermined ideals (whatever those may be — they can’t seem to decide).

So are the Maritimes better off if naturopaths regulate? Other than semantics I don’t see much difference, as it apparently would not change their general practice. Sure some dangerous practices/people would be eliminated, but other dangerous and unsubstantiated practices would remain with those who are regulated. So what would regulation really accomplish? Until naturopaths embrace evidence, and not only the evidence that suits their prior beliefs, I unfortunately cannot support them as legitimate health care practitioners. The way things are now, naturopathy in general is putting Islanders at risk. That is what needs fixing.

*The above comments do not necessarily represent the views of my past, present, or future employers. I would also like to clarify that I have great respect for anyone who devotes their lives to helping other people. What I criticize here is the apparent lack of science-based practice within the profession of naturopathy as a whole, not necessarily the practicing individuals.

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.