A psoriasis story

I used to like to tell the story of why I entered naturopathic medicine. It was my war story: how I battled allopathic medicine with natural medicine and won!

The tale begins when I was diagnosed with psoriasis as a teenager. Notable characters include the evil dermatologist who pushed steroids on me as my only treatment, my Mom who suffers from severe chronic psoriasis, and a scared but tenacious teenage Britt. The story has a happy ending: I refused long-term steroid treatment and experienced a miraculous remission of disease with diet changes and supplements.

I used this story to explain why I wanted to practice naturopathy for naturopathic medical school applications in 2007. I used it again in 2013 to market a detoxification package I designed to sell in private practice. It is a very convenient and valuable story. For many, including myself, it proved that naturopathic medicine works. Look at my skin–no psoriasis! I cured myself naturally! Praise the healing power of nature!

There are many variables that likely contributed to my disease remission. In the months and years after my psoriasis diagnosis, I ate less refined and processed foods, lost weight, and exercised regularly. While there is no recommended diet for psoriasis, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is always helpful for managing any chronic disease. I noticed that when I ate poorly, my psoriasis worsened. Eliminating refined and packaged foods is commonsensical and something any good doctor would suggest. I just happened to see a doctor who probably settled far into his practice and had no patience for explaining the importance of a healthy diet to crying teenage girls. I also observed a correlation between my stress level and disease severity. As my stress levels rose, my psoriasis worsened, so I worked on managing my stress.

I basically began to live a healthier lifestyle. I saw the progression of my mom’s disease as a possible outcome for myself, and I was scared and motivated. I found obscure natural healing books using the card catalog. Yes, this was before our library had the internet or computers. I followed the advice I found and got comfort in using alternatives to how my dermatologist wanted to treat me.

Looking back at my story, it is also important to note I had a tonsillectomy at age 20. I have recently learned that research now suggests that a tonsillectomy may provide long-term remission of psoriasis in patients with an early onset of disease and in those who experienced exacerbations associated with strep throat infections. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I had at least one streptococcal throat infection each year and a case of Scarlet fever as a child. What I thought could only be explained by my stubborn pursuit of natural therapies, may just as easily, and more likely, be explained by medical intervention, science, and the waxing and waning of chronic disease.

My psoriasis story contains the necessary ingredients to reinforce misconceptions and myths about medicine and an attraction to alternatives. First, it paints allopathic medicine as cold and indifferent. The doctor in my story was unmoved by my grief over my diagnosis of psoriasis. He seemed like he was in a hurry. He offered me no sympathies. In my naturopathic bias, he did not care about the patient. He did the most terrible thing ever: he offered me a prescription drug and no other treatment options. (I even asked about other choices.) Lastly, he only treated my psoriasis, not me, the person. I remember that he did not ask about my family history, lifestyle, eating habits, or my spirituality. He stood in the doorway and only treated my disease.

These are classic arguments made by naturopaths to defend their medicine and demonize allopathic medicine. Naturopaths claim to treat the whole person, while medical doctors treat disease. Naturopaths claim to use the least force necessary, while medical doctors push pills. Naturopaths claim to have time for their patients, spending anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes with a patient, while medical doctors spend a mere 60 seconds with a patient. Lucky me, my doctor set me up for a powerful story to validate the use of naturopathic medicine!

In reality, I just got a grouchy doctor. One dermatologist clearly does not represent the entire field of dermatology, and truthfully, I have had many wonderful and warm dermatologists since this experience. But this one psoriasis story cemented my faith in naturopathic medicine, and I used it to convince others of the the miracles of naturopathy.

The important issue in my story is my dissatisfaction with my medical care. The dermatologist was not a bad doctor. He diagnosed me correctly and adhered to the standard of care for treatment. He did his job. The problem was that I was dissatisfied with the way he delivered his care. If he had spent 15 minutes with me, offered solace, suggested I get my Vitamin D levels tested, explained the disease, or told me to eat more omega-3 fatty acids, would I have been happy with my care? Who knows, but maybe?

In that appointment, part of the treatment I needed was sympathy, not just prescription drugs. I sought other, alternative treatments solely to find that emotional angle. How do I know? Because I used the steroid cream the dermatologist prescribed, three times a day, every day, until the lesions went away. But, you know, the cod liver oil may have helped too.

  • D.E.

    Britt, I really admire what you are saying here. I am a soon to be former ND, which is how I found your blog. Also, we know each other, but I would rather not post my name here. I would be happy to talk to you more about it if you want to email me.

    • Mike

      Best wishes on your transition, D.E.

    • Beccy

      D.E. — this is a long shot, but I may know of you in a very roundabout way. If your then girlfriend lived in Humboldt County in the early 1990s, and you met her when she was your patient at the clinic of the ND school in Portland . . . I knew her briefly, and she introduced me to naturopathic medicine by talking about you. I was at the time absolutely thrilled with the concept, and only narrowly escaped going down the road Britt has traveled (the cost of the education was unreachable for me). One doesn’t forget when someone is called D.E!

      If you are the person I am thinking of, you’re very brave — to leave a profession after more than 20 years is a big deal. And if you’re not — enjoy leaving anyway, and I wish you well!

  • Sam

    You have written, “my naturopathic bias”. As you cannot speak for the profession and you are one single entity in the profession, I believe the phrase you are looking for is “my bias”. Because painting the naturopathic community in a way you are, is simply false advertising. If you speak to many of the Naturopathic Doctors/physicians in the community, they have the utmost respect for allopathic medical doctors. It seems that your bias is your own, so again, painting the whole profession to be something it is not out of your own frustrations and disillusions, is just spiteful and petty.

    • Lawrence

      “Allopathic” isn’t a real term used by anyone outside of the quack-space.

      I would recommend against using it, as it means nothing (it was merely a way for homeopaths to differentiate what they do vs. real doctors).

    • Nathaniel

      That doesn’t even make remote sense. At best, I can piece together defensive, self-awareness in your incoherent ramblings.

      • Ian

        you are incoherent as well, see i used your own argument. stop being shallow 🙂

  • todd

    it seems like the problem begins and ends with you. You judged a whole field because of one experience with a dermatologist you didn’t care for, now you condemn the whole field of Naturopathy based on “your” personal experience with it again… that crying teenager thing strikes again.

    • Ray

      What’s your point todd? The only “evidence” the field of Naturopathy has is based on personal experience (anecdote). While you are happy to be dismissive Britt has gone beyond that and done some real investigation.

    • capnkrunch

      Nah. That’s a very fair judgment of the field. I’d recommend reading David Gorski’s post at SBM titled “What naturopaths say to each other when they think no one’s listening” and Scott Gavura’s excellent series Naturopathy vs. Science.

    • Mark

      Todd, you have managed to miss the *entire* point of the blog. Britt completed an ND degree and practiced for several years. Thus, this is NOT just “one experience with a dermatologist” but her deeply considered conclusion after spending years exploring Naturopathy.

      You say that she judged a “whole field” but Naturopathy isn’t a “field” at all. It is a collection of anti-science cranks who think that magic is real and medicine is fake. They do not have to document actual therapeutic results in credible journals or do anything other than to master a canon rife with pseudoscience and mythology.

  • http://motherfigure.com Meredith

    I never went to school for ND “medicine”, although contemplated it for a while, but a mysterious skin condition also sent me down a “natural healing” path for a while. Fortunately/unfortunately in my case my skin cleared not as a result of anything I did, but most likely because I moved across the country. I still don’t know why. But, like you, I had an encounter with a grouchy dermatologist, which led me to believe I could find better answers. I tried all sorts of nonsense and I’m just thankful my skin didn’t accidentally get better as I was trying that stuff, or I might have credited it. My skepticism with the non-scientific, such as homeopathy, developed slowly after I had kids. I interacted with a lot of moms who put amber teething necklaces on their babies or raved about the magic of such and such homeopathic treatment for colic or teething, etc.. Kids are so mercurial, I wondered how they could credit what doesn’t even make physiologic sense. Anyway, happy to see you started the blog.

  • Thomas

    I am a practicing ND. I can’t and won’t argue about the basic premises asserted here. I actually agree with much of it. I will say that suggesting a medical doctor would by default mention lifestyle, diet and omega 3s and vit d for psoriasis is idealistic and a bit naive; It rarely happens and frankly it’s the way a sensible naturopath ought to practice not an MD. It’s a shame that she was unable to reconcile her faith with the opportunity she had as an ND to just simply practice sensible medicine. There are plenty of unscrupulous and intellectually vapid ND’s in the world but statistically speaking the numbers pale in comparison to the numbers of conventional practitioners for whom the same can be said. I love what I do for a living and I love medicine and research – all of it. Lucky me for being a naturopath and having the freedom to utilize all of it. Perhaps if MD’s were allowed the freedoms of creativity, inspiration and time they would not become jaded by their grinding dehumanizing medical system. Bless their hearts, they started off much like her with such passion and faith. It’s also ironic how the greatest and wealthiest of alternative medicine quacks are always MD’s. How the pendulum swings.

    • NewcoasterMD

      I’m a practising MD (aka a real doctor). Your comments are actually naive and uninformed. Real doctors absolutely talk about diet and lifestyle. We ask about smoking and drinking, and whether there is any stress in our patients lives as we know that those can all have an effect on disease.

      If you love medicine and research, then perhaps you are aware that research shows that outside of common sense diet and lifestyle advice, which is NOT unique to naturopathy, no matter what your ideology preaches, nothing else in the naturopaths bag of tricks has any effects.

      “sensible naturopathy” is an oxymoron, as there is nothing “sensible” in the entirety of the field.

      • T. S.

        Hmm, maybe in theory, doc; but I am betting that if you were to randomly ask patients of GP’s across the country you’d see that rarely come up, except in some specialty practices where it might be exceptionally relevant, such as diet as it relates to gastro or paeds. If you’re lucky you get asked on a paper questionnaire in a waiting room (when you first see a physician) how much smoking or drinking you do. If it’s deemed to be a passable amount (say, 3-5 social drinks/week and a non-smoker) it will never be brought up again.

        • Windriven

          Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.

      • Ian

        Ok there “real doc”. You are aware of studies showing that many of your drugs are also ineffective? Patients would not be looking for CAMs if your tools actually worked. Stop being blinded by those who gave you a degree and actually start helping people. Oh but yeah you only have suppressive medicine, poor you and everyone who relies on your 7 minute visits, lol what a joke.

        • JGC

          “Patients would not be looking for CAMs if your tools actually worked.”

          Clearly that isn’t true, given that patients routinely seek out CAM treatments for illnesses for which effective science based medical therapies exist. Consider the tragic case of 11 year old Makayla Sault, who suffered from a curable pediatric leukemia and whose parents elected to pursue alternative treatments (at Brian Clement’s Hippocrates Health Institute rather than the standard of care chemotherapy that generates 5-year survival rates of 70%. (See http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2014/11/17/an-ontario-court-dooms-a-first-nations-girl-with-cancer/)

          • Ian

            And this proves what exactly? It only proves that the parents should have done more research and considered all options and/or tried to use both conventional and CAM.

            • JGC

              I thought my post was clear-that it isn’t a failure on the part of science based medicine that causes people to seek out unproven alternative treatment modalities, since people seek out CAM even when science based medicine does offer ‘tools that work’.

              As for using both conventional and CAM treatment, as Mark Crislip puts it “If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse.”

              • Beth

                The CAM-seekers are of two kinds.
                There are those who use both mainstream and alt-med. They tend not to have had negative experiences with mainstream med.
                There are also those who use only alt-med. Those people do tend to have had a negative experience with mainstream med – including problems that weren’t helped.
                The second group is whence the horror stories come, and they are more noticeable than the many people who use an unproven remedy.

              • Ian

                There are rare cases that conventional medicine, which is not necessarily science-based (lets face it, science does not back many uses and off-label uses of many meds), is very effective.

                In these rare cases yes you should definitely pay attention to all remedies that work. However, most people seek CAMs based on little or no solution presented to them by their conventional healthcare provider. For these folks, CAM seems to work either alone or in conjunction with failed conventional remedies.

                Beth: I would submit that there are more horror stories from medicine and surgery than there are from CAMs. Lets also not forget that what we term CAM may be considered conventional in other parts of the world with thousands of years of history to back them up.

                • Windriven

                  You are correct that not all medicine that MDs offer is science based. But ALL medicine that works IS science based. That pretty much eliminates every instance of CAM save chiropractic for the single indication of LBP where it does slightly better than placebo and no better than physical therapy.

        • Windriven

          How about putting your health where your mouth is, Ian. Eschew the care of medical doctors. When you develop appendicitis, pancreatitis, hemorrhoids, liver cancer, a-fib, or a broken leg, just go see you happy local quackeropath.

      • Beth

        I’m a practising MD (aka a real doctor). … Real doctors absolutely talk about diet and lifestyle. We ask about smoking and drinking, and whether there is any stress in our patients lives as we know that those can all have an effect on disease.

        I wonder how often mainstream MD’s able to get people to change their diet / lifestyle for the better; and whether naturopaths are any better at that.

      • Beth

        research shows that outside of common sense diet and lifestyle advice, … nothing else in the naturopaths bag of tricks has any effects.

        A sweeping claim, what’s your evidence for it?

        • Windriven

          Spend some time at sciencebasedmedicine.org where the multiple inanities that comprise naturopathic ‘practice’ are illuminated and supported by dozens of studies from peer reviewed journals.

          Or you could simply look back over the many medical advancements of the last hundred years or so and ask yourself how many of these transformative diagnostics and treatments were developed by naturopaths, homeopaths, and so forth.

    • bhilleli

      There are plenty of unscrupulous and intellectually vapid ND’s in the world but statistically speaking the numbers pale in comparison to the numbers of conventional practitioners for whom the same can be said.

      Do you have any evidence to back up this claim?
      Knowing what I do about the 2 disciplines, I would find that hard to believe.
      MDs ‘peer-review’ (a form of ‘self policing’) and when one presents a claim that is not rigorously backed by science (as in the scientific method, preferably repeated placebo controlled double blinds’), the community will be unreceptive to it, often ‘vocally non-receptive’… (ask Andrew Wakefield)

      Now even of the peer-review process fails, you have the medical boards (out here: ‘the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’), and if those fail you have the regulators… In other words, there’s a pretty great system of checks and balances for catching, identifying and usually (save perhaps in Texas and Florida!) stopping “crappy MDs” (excuse the technical terminology :))

      i.e. There’s really NOTHING stopping an unscrupulous ND from pushing, selling or even manufacturing some hocus-pocus remedy they know has no plausible mechanism… So long as ND’s claims are vague enough, they can have it on natural store shelves, and advertise in “Natural Healing” magazines in a heartbeat…
      Such is not the case for drugs, or actual medical procedures – one CANNOT legally put a drug on the market without first passing a series of checks and balances (there’s that term again) that forces the maker to first prove safety, and then to prove efficacy (beyond of ‘greater than’ placebo…in other words, simple having a few people saying they ‘feel better’ is NOT sufficient!)
      And after said drug comes to market, they need to convince MDs to prescribe it.

      With such a marked difference of checks/balances to regulate and keep the field honest, I find your claim implausible.

      Perhaps if MD’s were allowed the freedoms of creativity, inspiration and time they would not become jaded by their grinding dehumanizing medical system.

      Care to explain? What freedoms of creativity and inspiration are being suppressed and how?

      • erin

        bhilleli – in Ontario, NDs are currently regulated by the BDDT-N, and will soon be proclaimed under the RHPA and regulated by the College of Naturopaths of Ontario where they will also be subject to peer review and other quality assurance measures.

        As for “NOTHING stopping an unscrupulous ND from pushing, selling or even manufacturing some hocus-pocus remedy” – it’s actually stated in the current regulations that NDs cannot endorse specific products whether safe and effective or completely bogus, and I would encourage you to contact the BDDT-N/CONO with a formal complaint so that it can be investigated and stopped.

    • Windriven

      “It rarely happens…”

      Hogwash. I have had two PCPs over the last 30 years. Both discussed lifestyle choices and diet regularly despite my being healthy and with weight proportional to height.

      What you see as freedom and creativity might more accurately be described as complacent ignorance and a frightening misunderstanding of science.

      • https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com Britt Hermes

        Welcome, Windriven!

      • Cactus

        If these commenters who claim that MDs spend no time discussing diet spent any of their time on fat acceptance blogs, they’d see how absolutely myopic those claims were.

  • Donald Scott

    I remember a similar article written by a disillusioned homeopath who became aware of her own personal reservations on the perceived shortcomings of homeopathy. We all own some level of bias. Some seem to think it a form of weakness to change their mind. I can’t say I do, rather quite the opposite.

    When it comes to healthcare we humans are affected more by our personal belief systems than we are able to recognise and express. Good on you for recognising your own personal truth. Maybe you’ll come to recognise some of the insights (both positive and negative) that being at John Bastyr taught you later on.

    I am an osteopath and graduated in 1981. At one stage I was keen to study at your old college but for various reasons did not. Our educational institution is only a start in the learning process and our patients teach us everything that ultimately mean anything significant. I suspect that reality applies to both mainstream doctors as well as alternative practitioners.

    Blessings on your journey, Britt.

  • http://deeper-thought.net/ Carl

    Thanks for sharing your journey. I think it’s good to see someone who has been full circle and seen both sides of the coin and I hope that more people follow your footsteps (without the costs). Having an open mind and learning is not a bad thing, even if the journey cost more and was longer. There are good things you have learnt from the whole experience so it’s not all bad and hopefully your experience will be passed on to others saving them the length and cost of it.

    There are elements of natropathy that do work (e.g. Some herbal medicines) and there are some that clearly don’t (Homeopathy). I only have an issue with the parts that don’t work, but the problem is that it’s all wrapped up into the one wrapper of natropathy meaning people dismiss or take up the practice as a whole when really we should be looking at the elements that do work and embracing them in to the main medical fields. I’m aware that often the successful herbs were derived into medicines, but if they still work as herbs then they should be offered as alternatives to ‘drugs’.

    Patient care and well being is done much more effectively in alternate medicines and this is something that really should be embraced by mainstream medicine as much as possible as well as the holistic approach meaning not just diagnosing a disease, but aiding treatment by improving lifestyle and diet etc. This better patient care is often a key reason people turn to the alternatives, and even if the cures don’t work, there is the possibility that the placebo effect has some weight to curing minor ailments when things like homeopathy are concerned.

    Humans also like rituals and miss the cues of cause and effect, like taking homeopathic cold cures a few days in to a cold and it then clearing up – this is seen as the cure working when really it’s just the body and time winning over a cold. The hands on approach of the alternative doctor and the ‘cure’ happening only help to perpetuate the myth that it works as apposed to regular doctors just saying “it’s a cold, it’ll clear up in a few days. Take some paracetamol” which just makes medicine seem cold and uncaring. People need attention and care.

    What I’m saying is we need to get the public educated to things like cause and effect at the same time as making ‘regular’ doctors more hands on, by letting them have the time to care and talks with their patients.

  • -RDL-

    I’ve been raised in a family consisting of roughly 65% professional medical personnel- be it doctors, nurses, surgeons, you name it, we got it. It was only natural for me to accept the scientific way as the only way to treat illnesses, and dismiss any “alternative” method as a pure quackery.

    Then my mum, who happened to be a pediatric nurse, got cancer. It was diagnosed too late to be treated effectively, and chemo could only have prolonged her life. Long story short, she started with all these “alternative treatments”, and we started foraging the forests for these “medical herbs”, et cetera. I could only watch helplessly as my mother got into more and more pain, bedridden and ultimately deceased, utterly rejecting any conventional treatment.

    It is at times like these I really appreciate the idea of raising awareness on this matter. It might be true that the “real” doctors came to be from historical apothecaries, witchdoctors, alchemists and whatnot, but it is also true that modern medicine of the XXI century is a science, implementing the scientific principle in it’s entirety.

    I am pleasantly surprised to see a “different” kind of a blog online, one that discuorages naturopathics rather than encourage it. You go girl!

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