‘The Biophotonic Scammer’

saxophoneIn the summer of 2015, I received a message on Facebook from a faint acquaintance whom I got to know over the course of the previous year, having played in a jazz orchestra with the fellow. We exchanged the occasional pleasantry from across the trumpet section during rehearsals, and surely he knew that I studied medicine, though we lost contact with one another at the end of the school year. He had messaged me about a “new business project” with some “very interesting science type stuffs [sic].” We set up a time where he and his mentor could unload a 30-minute presentation on my easily impressionable mind.

We met in early September at a Starbucks in downtown Toronto. Amidst the low chatter of students preparing to return to classes, I sat, while protégé and mentor explained to me the miracle of ageloc technology, patent pending.

Based on Nobel-prize winning technology, the biophotonic pharmanex scanner can measure carotenoid levels in the skin, which I was told, correlates to antioxidant levels in the body. This medical technology, I was told, was used by some highly-regarded doctors here in Toronto were fervent adherents of the photonic scanner along with a pharmacopoeia of ancillary products to be pushed after paying for a scan. This dubious product, which after a scan would spew out spurious data hardly correlating to a client’s health becomes the perfect inroad to sell supplements to ‘improve’ one’s results. After a course of supplements, a client would scan themselves once again to see if their results had changed.

The scanner was one of the many flagship products offered through a company called Nu Skin (which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, I was told), who’s chief quack Joe Chang has been discredited time after time. Another product, called the Galvanic Spa purports to alter the charges in collagen molecules, while their Ageloc Technology, alluded to before, fleetingly grasps at buzzwords like ‘epigenetics’ to for you to ponder at while your pockets are unsuspectingly emptied.

Having finished with the pseudoscience, we moved on to how I could get involved. I vibrated with excitement anticipating what I could only expect to be a phenomenal pitch. I was asked first whether I considered myself a successful person, and then to suggest reasons for what drove me to this success. It was most certainly my personality, of course! Now what if I could drive my success financially? Who would not be interested in that? Other doctors had taken advantage of offering the Nu Skin line of products, and it had benefitted them beyond their greatest expectations. For the low cost of $200 per month, I could lease my very own photonic scanner, and charge people $55 per scan. I could then grow a roster of clients to scan and enlist a team of my own to recruit other people who would scan even more clients. The mentor pulled out a small cardboard pamphlet and pointed at a six-figure number representing my potential earnings. I slowly sketched a pyramid in my notebook.

The pitch had finally concluded, and I was asked if I would like to have my antioxidant levels measured. I knew the machine to be harmless, but I declined, told them I would not likely be in touch, and walked out. On my way to the subway I began to ponder this curious encounter. Before the meeting I thought about how lucky I was to have an opportunity like this fall right before me – the chance to write an exposé on this most absurdflim flam. Was it really such a rare occasion as I had previously suspected? The reality is that pseudoscience is on the rise. Today, with the great advances we have made in medical sciences, with our armamentarium of treatments for diseases which were once deadly, doctors and scientists are losing the public battle to quacks of the highest order. The concern over this movement cannot be understated. It is clear however, that our greatest asset is a healthy balance of ridicule and education, and we must fight back.

Jason Gencher

University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine

Class of 2018

@jasongencher

Please don’t eat the daisies

daisiesBy: Christopher Labos MD CM FRCPC

Like most people I get most of my news by scanning the headlines and picking a few choice articles to read in depth. In general, political scandals get a pass and world events get a second look. But one day I awoke to find this headline in my Twitter feed: Eating flowers ‘could help reduce cancer risk.’

I really couldn’t let this slide.

I had to read this article if only to find out why “could help reduce cancer risk” was in quotation marks.

The article was published in the British newspaper The Telegraph and opened with this paragraph: “Eating flowers grown in British gardens could help to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, according to a new study.”

It made me wonder whether the chipmunks that harass my garden all summer might be on to something.

The article itself was sparse on details, so I went back to the original study, which was published in the Journal of Food Science. This is hardly a high-end medical journal, with an impact factor (how we measure the quality of medical journals) of 1.775, which is pretty underwhelming.

Already skeptical, I read on. Essentially a group of researchers measured the levels of phenols in various species of flowers and reported their antioxidant effects using a variety of chemical tests. Nowhere did the report mention cancer or heart disease, nor did they do any tests on human subjects. Clearly, the Telegraph reporter decided to editorialize a bit.

The big leap was that antioxidants must be good for you because everyone is talking about them. In fact, the clinical evidence for antioxidants is very poor.

It is true that antioxidants can neutralize free radicals. It also true that free radicals have been implicated in a number of diseases, including heart disease and cancer. But clinical trials of antioxidants have come back negative.

Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids (all antioxidants) have been studied in large trials like the Physician’s Health study and the Women’s Health Initiative and have been found to have no benefit in preventing heart disease or cancer.

A recent Cochrane Review came to the same conclusion. Certain supplements like beta carotene have actually been seen to increase cancer risk in certain subgroups like smokers. Will phenols, the latest class of antioxidants to gain popularity, have better outcomes? We shall see; but so far the track record for antioxidants is not stellar.

Clearly, the conclusions of the newspaper account went beyond what the scientific study had reported. The danger of these types of stories is that, firstly, the public becomes misinformed. Although some flowers are edible and can be part of very appetizing dishes, some can be poisonous when ingested. Lilies, azaleas and poinsettias can cause health problems if eaten, although serious health consequences are fairly rare.

What happened here is that a study with very limited clinical applicability was given undue prominence by a British newspaper that capped it off with an eye-catching title that had little evidence to back it up.

Fortunately, most North American media outlets didn’t pick up the flower story and the National Health Service in Britain did a fairly good job of exposing the flimsy evidence behind the headline.

Although I recognize that most people are not going to start reading obscure medical journals, it is worthwhile to go beyond the headlines and read news reports all the way to the bottom. It is especially important to do so if the headline contains the word “miracle cure” or “breakthrough,” because by the end of the article you will probably realize that it is neither.

So my advice to you is not to go eat the flowers in your garden, not to go buy something simply because it has the name antioxidant on the label, and always read health related articles all the way to the bottom. For those of you who made it to the end of this article: well done.

 

Christopher Labos MD CM FRCPC

Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health

McGill University

A History of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Bharat Srinivasa, PhD, Experimental Medicine

VaccineThe leading killer of humanity, and indeed of most species on earth has not been war or famine. Rather, the cause of death has been infectious disease. Infectious diseases have altered the nature of species, controlled the success or failure of organisms in a given environment, and indeed, been crucial to the evolution of a myriad of organisms itself. The bubonic plague, which ravaged medieval Europe and killed a majority of the populace, resulted in the selection of a certain group of people with genotypes that now happen to confer resistance to HIV. Such pandemics are common- more recently, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 resulted in over 50 million deaths the world over, and the SARS and swine flu epidemics of the past 10 years are still fresh in our minds.

Despite these recent epidemics, we have been more successful in the past few centuries in reducing infectious disease deaths, as well as preventing life long disfigurations that are characteristic of certain infections. A number of factors have contributed to this success- the establishment of sewage draining systems, the discovery of antibiotics; but the most controversial of these developments has been the discovery of vaccines.

Modern vaccines are a far cry from the first vaccines we created. Indeed, the first vaccine- Edward Jenner’s small pox vaccine was the similar looking cowpox virus isolated from the pustules of a person infected with cowpox. These early vaccines, including Pasteur’s rabies vaccines and more recently, the formalin inactivated vaccine against Respiratory Syncytial Virus have had unfortunate side effects- including life long disability and death. But the success of many other vaccines- polio, small pox and measles vaccines for example, have established the importance of these early life innoculations in preventing what would otherwise have been severely debilitating diseases in children. Unfortunately, vaccines are thought to be the victims of their own success.

The rise of the anti-vaccine movement in recent years has flummoxed researchers and vaccine policy makers. Why would parents refuse to vaccinate their infants against diseases such as polio that could cause lifelong disability? Why refuse vaccines against diseases that have previously had high mortality rates in young infants? Why not receive a vaccination that could significantly reduce the development of cancer in later years? The anti-vaccine movement was encouraged by the Wakefield paper, which correlated the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine with the development of autism. Wakefield’s data could never be replicated, and investigative inquiry showed obvious financial biases in Wakefield’s data, and his papers were subsequently retracted. Despite this, the anti-vaccine movement has continued unabated, and recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough have been linked to intentionally unvaccinated children.

Key points in the history of the anti-vaccine movement:

  1. Jenner’s cowpox innoculation to prevent small pox was not the first attempt at trying to stop this highly pathogenic virus. Since time immemorial, variolation, or injecting tiny doses of live small pox virus from an infected person to uninfected people was used to prevent severe disease by small pox. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu imported the concept of variolation to the UK in 1702, and despite some success, the treatment may have been as dangerous as the disease itself. In between then and 1796, when Jenner described his cowpox vaccine, a number of physicians had given cowpox to humans and successfully preventing small pox. Jenner’s treatment involved scraping the pus of a cowpox blister on a milkmaid and giving this to a young boy. Jenner then variolated the kid, and observed no disease. His vaccine had worked! Jenner was responsible for popularising vaccinations, introducing the scientific study of vaccinations, and indeed coming up with the term vaccine (vacca, latin for cow).
  2. Fears of vaccination date back to Jenner’s cowpox vaccine. The Anti-Vaccine Society in the UK famously published the following caricature of ” The Dangers of Cow Pock [sic]” drawn by the pre-eminent caricaturist of the time, James Gilray in 1802.

Anti-vaccine movement

  1. In the 1800s, a number of laws were passed in the UK requiring compulsory vaccinations. In 1853, a law that made vaccinations compulsory in infants less than 3 months and fines for those who did not get vaccinated resulted in wide-spread riots throughout England. This led to the formation of the Anti-Vaccine League. An 1867 law resulted in vaccinations being compulsory up to the age of 14, and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League was formed to oppose this “infringement of personal liberty and choice”. Extremely vocal, the league’s publications inspired other movements in Europe, resulting in dramatic decreases in vaccinations and a concurrent increase in small pox. By 1898, a new law was passed which removed penalties for not vaccinating, as well as allowed certain parents who did not believe vaccination was effective to obtain a certificate of exemption.
  2. The anti-vaccine movement in the US arose from the movements in the UK. William Tebb, a leading anti-vaccinationist visited New York and founded the Anti-Vaccination Society of America in 1879. Over the next few years, this movement led to the formation of a number of splinter societies that were able to repeal compulsory vaccinations in a number of US states. Thus, far from being a recent phenomenon, the anti-vaccine movement can trace its origins back to the founding of the modern vaccine itself. The increase in media coverage, as well as the freedom of opinion that the Internet allows simply gives anti-vaccinationists a louder voice.

What do anti-vaccinationists fear?

The modern small pox vaccine is a far cry from the original one Jenner created. Rather than taking out the virus from pustules of people infected with cowpox, the vaccine that was used the world over was the live form of cowpox, that was used to vaccinate people. Small pox was finally eradicated in 1976. This remains, the only example where complete eradication of a virus has been achieved. Other viruses, such as polio still exist in small pockets of the world, and recent outbreaks have been linked to a lack of vaccination.

Given that the small pox vaccine was the live virus, it is inevitable that there would be some adverse reactions. While most of us would have been able to generate a strong enough immune response to the virus, those of us with immune deficiencies, or pregnant women were recommended against getting the vaccine due to its inherent side effects, which include, in those susceptible, full blown infection with cowpox.

The antigenic component of the vaccine (ie the protein or other particle derived from the virus or bacteria that tricks the immune system into responding and generating a memory immune response against the protein and thereby, the parent microbe that it was derived from) can be of various kinds: live-attenuated (live, but weakened so only replicates a little), inactivated (live, but cannot replicate), antigen alone (certain proteins from the surface of the microbe) and more recently, the DNA or RNA that encodes for certain proteins of the microbe. This list is also in order of severity of side effects to those with weakened immune responses, with live attenuated having higher risks than proteins or DNA. No new vaccine uses a live virus similar to the small pox vaccine- rather; any virus that is present is either inactivated or highly attenuated.

Like nearly all therapies, a certain level of risk is inevitable. Indeed, many of our anti-viral therapies- drugs that are given after a serious infection have similar chemical structures to our DNA and RNA building blocks, and thereby prevent viral replication by incorporating into viral RNA. A certain amount is also incorporated into our own DNA or RNA, thereby increasing the risk of cancer and/or other side effects. Other drugs work by directly activating our inflammatory response. A vaccine may just be far safer.

Components of a vaccination include an adjuvant, which helps triggering a stronger immune response, and agents such as formaldehyde (for inactivating the microbe), thiomersal (a mercury derived compound that acts as a vaccine preservative). The National Vaccine Information Centre, an anti-vaccine group with a title masquerading as a source of scientifically correct information on vaccination lists these and other ingredients of vaccines, such as bovine protein albumin, egg protein, MSG in bright red circles rather than numeric terms, thereby increasing the confusion of people looking for knowledge. For instance, the amount of mercury in the annual flu vaccine is marked by a red circle many fold bigger than the circle representing influenza antigens. What this would tell the uninformed is that far more mercury is present in vaccines than the active antigen, thereby resulting in severe disease than the flu itself.

The seasonal flu kills between 3000-49000 people in the US. On the other hand, deaths from the flu vaccine were miniscule. The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) collects adverse events after vaccination as reported by vaccinees. In the 2011-2012 year, VAERS data reported an increase in febrile seizures in infants under 2 years of age after receiving a vaccination. Febrile seizures in young infants are caused by fevers, and an increased risk after influenza infection (4-9% of young infants with influenza infection have febrile seizures). VAERS also reported upto 90 cases of Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS). Amongst the many decades of seasonal influenza vaccinations, only the 1976 vaccine was linked with increased risk of GBS. GBS arising from influenza vaccinations are rare, and probably account for 1 in every million vaccinations, which is significantly lower than the actual epidemiology of GBS (1-2:100,000). It should be noted, that VAERS data is primarily from vaccinees themselves, which means that it could be biased much more research is needed on any of the adverse events that are noted from these data sets. The VAERS therefore could be equivalent to a wikipedia for vaccine adverse events.

The thiomersal fears arose from the fact that the preservative contains mercury-as ethyl mercury. Thiomersal is a preservative, and prevents growth of bacteria and/or mold in vaccine bottles. Most toxicity studies on mercury however were conducted with methyl mercury. Comparing ethyl and methyl mercury is as futile as comparing ethanol (which is in all of our alcoholic drinks) and methanol (which can cause blindness or death). Despite no correlation between thiomersal and side effects, the FDA has regulated that no vaccine licensed after 2001 should contain thiomersal. The use of single dose bottles (one dose per bottle) and the nasal influenza vaccine do not contain any thiomersal. Only multi dose bottles (ie many doses in one bottle, so the constant use may increase risk of microbial growth) contains small amounts of thiomersal.

Formaldehyde is another component of some vaccines. In high concentrations, formaldehyde (or formalin, the aqueous form of formaldehyde) is used to preserve body tissues. At lower concentrations, formaldehyde is used to fix cells- notable in laboratories for further experimental assays. Formaldehyde acts by crosslinking proteins, thereby preventing the virus from actively releasing its genomic contents and replicating. Formaldehyde is present in the seasonal influenza vaccine, in order to inactivate the virus and ensure it does not replicate in vaccinated people, while inducing a protective immune response. While formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, it has been shown to be essential in the synthesis of purines and pyrimidines, which form the backbone of our genomes. The level of formaldehyde in our bodies has been estimated to be 2.5 micrograms/ml of blood, which means even in the smallest of infants, the total amount of formaldehyde is more than that present in vaccine formulations (which at most, is 0.1mg)

At times, the level of misinformation is astronomical. Most information on vaccines and vaccine safety comes from the primary care physicians, and the case for vaccines isn’t helped if the physician is Dr Robert Sears, America’s best known pediatrician. Rather than saying vaccines are bad, Sears claims that the vaccination schedule in infants, as proposed by the American Academy of Pediatricians and the CDC is wrong and crowds the infant with a host of vaccines. Sears proposes an alternate schedule that relies on infants being vaccinated multiple times over their first 5 years of birth rather than being vaccinated early on, which is when a majority of infections occur due to the immaturity of the immune response. Sears goes further in his best selling book, “The Vaccine book: Making the Right Decision for your Child”, and states that parents should hide their infants in the herd; ie rather than vaccinate their children and risk vaccine-related diseases, parents should hide in the herd of vaccinated infants, so that the unvaccinated kids don’t contract any disease. This is flawed on many levels: While there is truth to herd immunity, delaying vaccinations (as he proposes) as well as informing people of the hiding tactic prevents parents from discussing or understanding the risks it entails for kids. If many of the herd are unvaccinated, but continue to act like they are, the levels of vaccine preventable illnesses will certainly rise since herd immunity has not significantly thinned. Sears also comes off as condescending; he claims he alone has understood the true nature of vaccinations, that the vast legions of medical students and doctors don’t understand the risks of early life vaccinations. It doesn’t help that Dr Sears is an engaging personality, and appearing on the Oprah show can definitely boost one’s perception in the public’s eyes, even if the thoughts are scientifically wrong and potentially dangerous.

Another issue that arises out of the anti-vaccinationists camp is that “Natural infection is better than vaccination”. A few chickenpox parties have been hosted through Facebook, where uninfected kids are allowed to interact with infected kids so that natural immunity may occur. Chicken pox is mild enough for kids, so the infection is cleared. However, chicken pox can cause severe infections in pregnant mothers and is highly dangerous for the developing fetus. Additionally, the body never really clears the chicken pox virus- Shingles, the adult form of chicken pox arises when the virus reactivates, following treatments for cancer or immunosuppression, or simply when the immune response starts to weaken as people age. Additionally, chicken pox in adults is more dangerous than an infection in children, and can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia, hepatitis and secondary bacterial infections.

Conclusions:

It is a sad state of affairs that people trust celebrities such as Jenna McCarthy, Rob Schneider and Jim Carrey on the dangers of vaccines rather than the huge amount of scientific evidence that exists on vaccine safety. The anti-vaccine movement is not restricted to the US alone- although polio has been eradicated in the US, it still exists in a number of countries because of vaccine fears of a different kind- that the vaccine is secretly a sterility measure. This utterly ridiculous fear recently resulted in the death of 16 UN appointed aid workers in Pakistan, a move that has been linked to the Pakistani Taliban. Their crime? Giving the polio vaccine to poor children. There are other dangerous myths about vaccines- for instance that HIV arose out of the monkey cells used for to create the polio vaccine for instance.

It is unfortunate that these anti-vaccinationist movements have stronger media strategies than that of the pro-vaccine movement. Jenna McCarthy and Dr Sears have been on Oprah, and the NVIC recently put up public billboards extolling the dangers of vaccination. I’m not saying that there should be a war- that pro-vaccinationists should take to the streets and rally. Rather, ensuring that the right information reaches the ears of the people directly would be a good place to start. Government regulations that ensure compulsory vaccinations could be another step- some US states have made vaccination exemptions harder but there are still long ways to go. Perhaps there is a need for public debate on the importance of vaccines; for vaccine scientists and doctors to discuss the benefits of vaccine directly to the people rather than be condescending in their approach. In the 1800s, after small pox vaccination levels dropped in certain parts of Europe, a new wave of small pox rose that resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of vaccinations. Vaccinations then stayed high until small pox was eradicated over the 20th century. It is possible that there are people who have never seen polio or measles, and thus do not know of its life-altering disability or severity. Similarly, influenza is currently seen as a mild infection that leaves you in bed for a week at the most. Most people hardly know of how severe influenza epidemics can be- claiming that the 2009 outbreak was an “epidemic” may have been overkill by head honchos at WHO, but their fears arose from the greatest epidemic in recent times- and one that most people hardly know about.

The Spanish flu of 1918. In the midst of the first world war, an influenza epidemic took hold of the world and killed over 50 million people the world over- more than the number of people that had been killed in all the wars of the past century. Populations were ravaged, entire communities decimated, and entire cities becoming ghost towns. Imagine what these people would have given for a vaccine against that pathogen.

The above example was not given to scare people into getting any vaccines- rather, the sole purpose was to show that infections that we may laugh at, that we believe are mild inconveniences are only so because their worst has past back in our evolution.

The current anti-vaccination movement is dangerous if it continues unabated. Already, there is an increase in vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in a number of countries across the world. In a way, perhaps these small outbreaks may goad policy makers to ensure mandatory vaccinations for all, but at what cost?

Or maybe it is time for war. To ensure that the anti-vaccinationist movement is stopped. We need billboards. We need celebrities. Maybe we need a Justin Bieber to convince the world that vaccines are necessary- that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

References:

Wolfe RM and Sharp LK. BMJ, 2002. For the history of the anti-vaccine movement.

Offit PA and Jew RK. Pediatrics, 2003. A summary of the components of vaccines and their uses.

Offit PA and Moser CA. Pediatrics, 2009. An article countering Dr Sears alternative vaccine schedule.

Pseudoscience at its’ Deadliest: can sharks cause cancer?

Jason Gencher, U3 Bachelor of Music
@jasongencher

SharkFrom the great galanos that once tormented Hemingway’s Old Man, to the bloody scenes in Spielberg’s Jaws, a shark’s reputation always seems to precede it.

After channel surfing through shark week this past summer, I started thinking about all the pseudoscience that surrounds sharks. The soups, ointments, lucky fins; different sections hacked off, ground up, or liquefied for puerile human superstition. The answer to the question above, however, is quite clearly no. Whether you have heard it or not (and let’s hope this is all news to you), the word going around is that sharks…or more accurately ground up shark cartilage, taken as a dietary supplement, fights and/or prevents a variety of illnesses, most notably cancer. Let’s not dismiss this claim so easily; let’s treat it in the same way that any other drug claim would be treated.

  1. Clinical Trials:
    Yes. Indeed, a form of the drug made it as far the clinical trial stage. Neovastat, as it was called had showed ‘promising results as an angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) inhibitor in animal tests. It moved on to human trials and was unable to produce any positive results. In fact, it outright failed – twice.
  2. FDA Approval:
    No. The drug, in whatever manifestation it appears, be it Carticin, Cartilade, or BeneFin has not been approved by the FDA…or for that matter even been submitted for approval. You would think that such a miracle drug would be swiftly approved. For now, (and forever) it shall be labelled as a ‘dietary supplement.’

Perhaps you are wondering how this notion arose? A book, written by William Lane, PhD entitled “Sharks Don’t Get Cancer” in 1992 sparked the notion that, well, sharks are unable to develop cancer. If sharks cannot get cancer, then what is it about the shark that prevents it from developing the disease? Logically, it would follow that there might be a compound that can be isolated and purified from shark cartilage that could be used as a cancer preventative. The proponents of this concept claim that it’s a specific protein that prevents angiogenesis. What confuses me is that absolute misunderstanding of science and medicine that follows. If the compound is a protein, then why would you grind it up and ingest as a pill, where the polypeptide chain would be cleaved by the acidic content of our stomach, rendering the protein completely non-functional? Matters plummet into greater abjection the farther we analyze the issue at hand.

As chance would have it, there have been about 40 different kinds of cancers discovered in sharks. Studies have shown that shark cartilage (I refuse to henceforth call it a dietary supplement, as the definition of supplement involves the object enhancing or completing its subject, and it clearly falls flat in both instances) mirrors the effect of a placebo thus effectively rendering it as an expensive sugar pill. Recent studies on the placebo effect have suggested that there is very little correlation between cost of the placebo and its effectiveness, therefore making this something of a scam. Luckily, many of us are prudent enough to call these issues out for what they truly are. It looks like something smells fishy (I am so, so, very sorry) about shark cartilage.

Jason Gencher, U3 student
@jasongencher

Naturopathic Medicine as your primary form of health care? I don’t think so.

Do you think that naturopathic medicine should be replaced as our primary form of health care? No? Neither does Dr. Joe Schwarcz, a well-recognized professor and author at McGill University.  However many people think that naturopathic medicine is a legitimate fit for our health care system, therefor Dr. Schwarcz agreed to participate in a debate on the matter on May 8th 2012 held at McGill university.  I was shocked to see that in the crowd of 200 people, there were few medical professionals, scientists and students but primarily naturopath supporters.  It is my hope that with more education on the matter and more debates such as this one, we can further educate the population and perhaps develop a more logical approach to medicine.  

Health care in Quebec, or in Canada for that matter isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  There is indeed much room for improvement, however turning to naturopathic medicine as a primary form of healthcare is surely not the answer.  In today’s troubled economy, our tax dollars are ever so precious as well as our medical resources.  It would be completely absurd to turn over our health care to naturopaths, in fact as far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t even be a debate.

Dr. Joe Schwarcz did a respectable job of placing valid arguments in response to the naturopath’s absurd suggestions, however with a crowd filled primarily of naturopath supporters who were rudely interrupting Dr. Schwarcz at any chance they got.  He chose a more reserved approach and humbly allowed their attack.

Isn’t it ridiculous that a professor at one of the world’s top medical schools with legitimate, scientific evidence on his side is being ridiculed by someone who believes a pill of essentially water can cure all illness?

Another accusation was the one regarding over prescribed antibiotics and vaccinations.  There may indeed be some truth behind this, however there is not yet any tangible evidence to elicit any long-term concern, in fact in with vaccinations; they have been determined to have no adverse effects.  Antibiotics do cure bacterial infections in both simple and life threatening cases and this is a fact. A fact that seemed to be overlooked by the naturopath considering that given the unsanitary conditions of the developing world, antibiotics could save millions of lives should we have more doctors, real doctors, to administer them.

Finally it became seemingly obvious that this naturopath was perhaps slightly undereducated when he started comparing schools of naturopathic medicine to Yale, John Hopkins and Stanford.  He was saying that schools of naturopathic medicine are superior to the world’s leading medical schools!  I would be very interested to hear if this naturopathic “doctor” has ever received any medical treatment himself.  For it is likely that any medical treatment he may have received was probably synthesized in one those medical schools he was critiquing.  In addition, the leading research on today’s biggest killers such as cancer, HIV/Aids and malaria is being carried out at these facilities and I’m almost certain that the invention of a water pill from a naturopath could not even compare to that.

One of my favourite quotes of the evening was when Dr. Schwarcz suggested that “ Perhaps you may be drawing the wrong conclusions from the correct results.”  Psychologists and doctors would agree that the placebo effect is in fact one of the most powerful effects that is responsible for what many call “medical miracles”.  Therefore when a naturopathic substance is scientifically researched and proven to have absolutely no effect on the human body, why do these so called “doctors of naturopathic medicine” simply ignore the prominent evidence of the placebo effect?  I suppose the answer to that question is, well frankly, they aren’t doctors at all and far from it.  Therefore as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think the words “naturopathic” and “primary health care” should even be used in the same sentence, let alone actually be put into effect.

Sasha Selby
U0 Bachelor of Nursing

Nullius In Verba

Jason Gencher, U3 Bachelor of Music
@jasongencher


            If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art,

            respected by all humanity and in all times;

            but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my life.

Final stanza of the Original Hippocratic Oath [translated into English from Ionian Greek]

It is truly a queer feeling one gets sitting in an auditorium where in the past you have been taught the collective knowledge of some 3000 years of scientific advancement, and then told in the present that it is all for nought. That at least was the feeling I had after sitting through a lengthy debate between doctors Joe Schwarcz and André Saine as they battled for the audience’s endorsement of their take on the motion, “Be it resolved that naturopathic medicine should be regulated as a primary care service in Québec and naturopathic doctors should have full scope of practice.”

The crowd wasn’t exactly a sterling example of unbiasedness in that this debate belonged to a greater series of events that took place over Naturopathic Medicine Week. To those of us, who I dare say were students of the ‘scientific enlightenment’, we sat quietly amidst hisses and mob-like retorts from the lynch-ready group of conventional medicine deviants. Dr. Saine’s principle arguments stemmed from a series of butchered statistics and demagogic appeals to the audience that could only be met with concealed giggles from those of us who actually knew of what he meant to reference. Perhaps my favourite of the night, which in turn prompted me to correct him from my seat in the crowd was his utterly fatuous claim that all amino acids were, in the context of the body, “acids” (they are amphiprotic). As Dr. Saine struggled through his opening remarks (if you haven’t quite gotten it yet, he was for the motion), requiring an extension of his allotted time, he described the 7 tenets (or might I suggest, dogma) of the naturopathic practitioner. Reciting them in his ‘broken latin’, aude sapere, praeventum, primum non nocere, vis medicatrix naturae and so on.

What strikes me the most about these tenets, are the remarkable similarities they share with parts of the Hippocratic Oath. It is fitting to mention these semi-ancient laws governing the original physician in two respects. They are of course the foundation of modern medicine, establishing and to some extent formalizing the practice of medicine and conferring it with some added dignity from what it had held in the past. It should be obvious to us however, that after 2500 years some of it might not exactly be avant-garde. Yet, this was the point that Dr. Saine stumbled to after an hour of debating with Dr. Schwarcz, stating that Naturopathy hasn’t changed in several centuries. That which doesn’t change is useful, therefore Naturopathy must be useful. A syllogism if I’ve ever heard one!

What could one do, if they were in the shoes of Joe Schwarcz that night? He accepted the challenge and delivered his arguments like a toothbrush trying to penetrate the bacterial plaque of a mouth that hasn’t seen such an object for quite some time. Dr. Schwarcz even agreed to meet with Dr. Saine for a second round of debate, this time on the topic of Homeopathy. I plan on attending the next one, and suggest that you do as well. Bring your antibiotics with you; I hear naturopaths can’t stand the stuff.

Jason Gencher
U3Bachelor of Music
@jasongencher

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