I am looking forward to speaking at the Northeast Conference for Science and Skepticism on June 30th. I’ll be talking about my time as a naturopath, why I left, and the political efforts to advance naturopathy in all 50 states. I’ll also be on a panel with the Science-Based Medicine folks. Ahead of that, I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about naturopaths in New York, where they are unlicensed but actively seeking new legislation.
Naturopathic licensing efforts in New York
Naturopaths cannot currently become licensed or registered in the state. But the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians (NYANP) is trying to change that. This year marks the tenth legislative season that naturopaths in the state have attempted to pass a naturopathic licensing bill. Naturopaths are blaming their past failures on the “heavy influence and money” of the New York Medical Association.
The NYANP has partnered with supplement companies that will donate a percentage of their sales to the association. It has also set-up a Go-Fund-Me account and is asking patients and naturopathy fans to raise $45,000 to help them “get the right education to key legislators and influencers to move through this [licensing] impasse.” Naturopaths are counting on momentum from the recent signing of a licensing bill into law in Massachusetts to boost a similar bill in New York.
— NY Naturopathic (@Nyanpbuzz) March 15, 2017
Licensing bills SB 4297 and AB 5913 would allow naturopaths to diagnose and treat disease. It would also give them a broad scope of practice including giving intravenous injections of a wide variety of substances, prescribing hormones, and ordering diagnostic imaging. The bills stipulate that in order to become licensed, naturopaths much complete a one-year residency.
Only one other state, Utah, requires naturopaths to complete a one-year residency in order to become licensed. Requiring a residency would be a huge barrier to licensure. There are very few “accredited” residency positions available for naturopaths. When I graduated in 2011, I was told there were about 40 accredited residency spots for the hundreds of naturopaths who were graduating that year.
I suspect this requirement was added in the hopes of easing concerns that naturopaths are hardly trained in medicine at all. The problem is that residency training in naturopathy does not come close to being similar to a real medical residency. In my naturopathic residency, for example, I talked parents into delaying or avoiding vaccines, I offered natural remedies in lieu of prescription medicine, and I provided patients with unnecessary care when a watch-and-wait strategy would have been sufficient. A naturopathic residency is no more than further indoctrination into anti-science practices that superficially appear to be medical in nature.
The leader of the NY licensing effort
The current president of the NYANP is Peter Bongiorno. I first met Bongiorno at an American Association of Naturopathic Physicians conference in 2010 where he lectured on using natural remedies, including supplements and homeopathy, to treat mental illness. Since then, Bongiorno has branded himself as a naturopathic mental health specialist who holds secret knowledge about treating anxiety and depression naturally.
I still have my notes from his AANP talk titled “Natural Healing for Depression.” In one slide Bongiorno wrote:
According to Dr. Mitchell, aurum is a good choice for patients with suicidal tendency: ‘a 200X or 200C potency can make them feel like the light has been turned on.’
Aurum is a homeopathic remedy made from gold. Dr. Mitchell is one of Bastyr’s co-founders. It seems as though naturopaths were just as dangerous years ago as they are now. Aurum will not and cannot treat suicidal ideations.
I remember writing down this note and being impressed that Bongiorno had information from Mitchell’s treatment notebook. At the time, I felt like I was being given special information. Now, I realize that I was being taught to recommend therapies that could place patients in grave danger. I was being taught how to sell snake-oil to the desperate and vulnerable.
Bongiorno practices at Inner Source Health. The clinic has locations in Long Island and in Manhattan. The website is a gold mine of quackery. If you have the time, I encourage readers to browse the site.
Invite the naturopath over
The NDs at the clinic encourage patients to book Prevention Parties. This is where patients invite friends to their home to hear a lecture by one of the naturopaths from Inner Source Health. While the NDs will lecture on any health topic, there is a list of suggested party themes, including Beautiful and Radiant Skin and Food and Your Genetics.
As a budding scientist in the field of evolutionary genomics, I was immediately intrigued by how an ND might describe food and genes in the context of preventative medicine. Bongiorno and his colleagues did not disappoint in their description of the topic:
It’s fun to think of eating as an exciting taste adventure, and of course what we eat also supplies the nutrients essential to our well-being and the calories that keep us going. But at a deeper level, foods contain vast amounts of information in a language our genes understand – and obey. Incredible as it seems, what we put on our plates actually contributes to, or modifies, the functioning of our DNA!
Incredible indeed. What the NDs at Inner Source Health are trying to describe here is the field of epigenetics, which is the study of changes in gene expression without changes to the underlying genetic code. The field is young. We know that certain events, like methylation or changes made to a protein called histone, can alter gene regulation and expression. But we are a long ways away from understanding how the foods we eat, let alone medicines, induce, or dampen, these changes. And we are light years away from being able to translate any of this science into valuable clinical information.
These prevention parties are nothing more than a marketing scheme. Naturopathic students were taught to use such strategies in a popular naturopathic business course called Health for Business Business for Health. I took one of the four-part series courses as a student hoping I would gain insight into how to run a successful practice. Instead, I was taught how to bait and hook patients with parties such as these.
The scam goes like this: Ask a patient to host a causal party at his or her home where you can come and provide a short, free lecture to the patient’s friends and family members. The intimate setting will make it easier for you to connect with people in the room. In your lecture, provide packaged tidbits of information about your topic. End your lecture by offering a new patient discount to those who are interested in “learning more.” It works like a charm.
New York state of mind
Bongiorno and his colleagues are polished. They know how to describe themselves to sound like competent providers and experts in their field. They have been on the Dr. Oz show and appear frequently on local news stations. This is a huge asset for the state association and will only become more important as lobbying for licensure drags on. It would be great for MDs, DOs, PAs, APRNs, RNs, medical scientists, patients, and all skeptics to speak out against naturopaths. You can start with this naturopathic fact sheet for guidance.
For more information about state legislation and who to contact in the Senate and House, visit my page on Naturopathic Medicine in New York.