Fact-checking naturopathic talking points at DCFLI

Naturopathic students and me lobbying at DCFLI; May 21st, 2011
Naturopathic students lobbying at DCFLI. (I am seated in the middle.) May 21st, 2011.

Every year, naturopathic students and practitioners go to Washington D.C. to lobby for naturopathic medicine during an event called the DC Federal Legislative Initiative, DCFLI for short. The event is organized by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). I participated in DCFLI, five years ago today, weeks away from graduating from Bastyr University.

All naturopathic students are heavily encouraged to be politically active. Naturopaths simply have too much at stake, especially, their massive amounts of student loan debt that is on par with that of graduates from real medical schools. As a dutiful naturopath-to-be, I had high hopes of advancing my profession and career.

I went on to practice in Arizona and Washington for three years before learning that naturopathic medicine is based on discredited and dangerous practices without any demonstrable medical training. I now advocate against the naturopathic profession, state licensure of naturopaths, medical scope expansion, and inclusion in health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

It is my opinion, as a former naturopath, that naturopathic practitioners cause more harm than good.

The following information will be useful to lawmakers who are considering support for the naturopathic agenda after having been visited by naturopathic lobbyists, like myself five years ago.

“Naturopathic doctors are trained as primary care physicians.”

This statement is false.

The education and clinical training of naturopathic doctors takes place entirely outside of the medical education system. The naturopathic system has been designed and managed by other naturopaths and positioned in such a way to eschew external review. There is no oversight by medical professionals or academic educators.

Naturopathic schools teach students pseudoscientific theories for the diagnosis of real and fake diseases and perpetuate the use of debunked and scientifically implausible treatments. A detailed description of my training from Bastyr University is available on ScienceBasedMedicine.org.

Here are some facts about naturopathic education based on my training at Bastyr, considered “The Harvard of naturopathic medicine”:

  • 88 hours in homeopathy and 146 hours in herbalism
  • 198 hours in combined massage, water therapy, and chiropractic
  • 55 hours in pharmacology
  • 850 hours of clinical training directly on patients
  • No standards of care
  • No clinical training on children
  • Lots of anti-vaccine promotion
  • No required residency

For comparison, by the time an actual primary care physician finishes residency training, he or she has completed about 20,000 clinical training hours and seen tens of thousands of patients.

“Naturopathic physicians have attended 4 year accredited medical schools.”

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Naturopathic programs are accredited by the Council for Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). This agency operates independently from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME), which accredits medical schools in North America. The LCME has not accredited any naturopathic program.

This lie is being used to create a false equivalency between naturopathic school and medical school.

The U.S. Department of Education does not directly accredit schools or programs. Instead, the DoED uses private accrediting agencies for this task. Accreditation of a school or program reflects adequate administration, organization, and operation of the institution. It is not a stamp of approval by the DoED for any curriculum.

The LCME is a reputable organization staffed by medical professionals and academic educators. The CNME is run by naturopaths and “public members” who previously served as top-level administrators at chiropractic organizations.

For more information, please read this article.

“Naturopathic students take all the same courses as medical students.”

False and misses a crucial point.

Naturopathic students take basic science courses that allegedly parallel courses offered in medical school. However, this is an irrelevant point that distracts lawmakers from the most important part of medical training that naturopaths lack: a rigorous medical residency.

The skills and expertise needed for practicing medicine are not acquired in basic science courses, such as histology. The practice of medicine is learned during a physician’s residency and fellowship programs.

According to the American Medical Association,

The education of physicians in the United States is lengthy and involves undergraduate education, medical school and graduate medical education. (The term “graduate medical education” includes residency and fellowship training.)

The residency is a mandatory part of medical education in order to train competent physicians. Completing basic and clinical science course work and then passing licensing exams does not allow medical graduates to practice medicine independently. They must complete residency training. Medical schooling alone is not enough training.

The truth is that basic science courses offered by naturopathic programs have the same titles as those in medical schools, but the content is vastly inferior. Even in a best case scenario that naturopathic students get the same coursework as medical students, it is a moot point because medical residencies are not required.

“Naturopathic medicine is safe and natural.”

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Naturopaths love dietary supplements. The problem is that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way that prescription drugs are regulated. Dietary supplements fall under a regulatory framework that operates independently from the FDA, which states:

FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.

According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements,

Supplements are most likely to cause side effects or harm when people take them instead of prescribed medicines or when people take many supplements in combination.

The FDA agrees: “mixing medications and dietary supplements can endanger your health.”

The sale of dietary supplements out of naturopathic clinics is a mainstay of naturopathic practice. Most naturopaths sell dietary supplements directly to their patients for a large  profit margin after prescribing them for health benefits. This is a glaring conflict of interest.

Emerson Ecologics, a company that sells supplements to naturopaths for resale, is financially supporting naturopathic lobbying and state licensing efforts. Its scientific advisor is the president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Naturopaths claim the supplements they sell in their offices are higher quality than the ones sold at health food stores. There is no data to support this claim. It is further troubling that dietary supplements often contain undisclosed or adulterated ingredients, which pose a great danger to those with allergies and those taking prescription medications.

Naturopathic medicine is not good for America

Most relevant to the political advancement of naturopaths is the predicted primary care physician shortage by 2025. Naturopaths aspire to fill this gap by becoming licensed in as many states as possible, with scopes of practice that would allow them to act as medical doctors.

This possible future is a dangerous one.

We need more physicians. We need more nurse practitioners. We need more physician assistants. We need fewer naturopaths.

More naturopaths can lead to the following outcomes:

  • Higher health care costs for patients. Naturopaths frequently need to refer their patients to medical professionals for the management of chronic and acute illnesses.
  • Increased medical errors due to accidental herb/supplement-drug interactions and missed diagnoses.
  • Increased spending on dubious practices, such as homeopathy, esoteric blood tests, essential oils, high-dose vitamin injections, detoxification, coffee enemas, or ozone gas therapies.
  • Increased confusion for patients that the U.S. government endorses disproved and implausible practices by practitioners without real medical training.
  • Increased number of unvaccinated children, leading to a higher prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Naturopaths overwhelmingly do not support vaccination.

The primary impact of naturopathy is negative, but naturopaths will present sugar-coated arguments that are emotionally appealing. I encourage lawmakers and their staff to ask difficult questions of the naturopaths sitting before them. America deserves medicine that is based in science, not fringe practitioners who take shortcuts.