Naturopathy and “biomedical” treatments for autism

For the past several months I’ve been contrasting the advice from naturopaths against the scientific evidence, in a series I’ve been calling “naturopathy versus science”.  In past posts I’ve looked at the naturopathic perspectives on fake diseases, infertility, prenatal vitamins, vaccinations, allergies and even scientific facts themselves. From a blogging perspective, naturopathy is a fascinating subject to scrutinize, as there is seemingly no end of conditions for which naturopaths offer advice that is at odds with the scientific evidence. As a health professional,  I want to encourage the best use of health resources, and support patient autonomy and decision-making by providing credible, evidence-based information. Given repeated calls for naturopathy to be “integrated” with conventional medicine, I’ve spent a lot of time reading what naturopaths have to say about different medical conditions. What I’ve found is concerning. Naturopaths describe themselves a health professionals capable of providing primary care, just like medical doctors. And they’re increasingly seeking (and obtaining) physician-like privileges from governments.  Yet there is a lack of evidence to show that naturopathy offers anything distinctly useful or incrementally superior to science-based medicine.

Defining the scope of “naturopathic” treatment is difficult. Naturopaths offer an array of disparate health practices like homeopathy, acupuncture and herbalism that are only linked by the (now discarded) belief in vitalism – the idea we have a “life force”. From this philosophy can sometimes emerge reasonable health advice, but that has little to do with the science or the evidence. As long as it’s congruent with the naturopathic belief system, it’s acceptably “naturopathic”. One of the signs that naturopathy isn’t medicine is that it needs a prefix. Notice how there isn’t a “pharmacy medicine” or “nursing medicine” that’s distinct from science-based medicine. It’s just “medicine” – health professionals base their practices on scientific evidence and principles that reach across professions. Naturopathy doesn’t share the same evidence base as medicine, and in some cases, disagrees with its basic scientific principles. It needs to be qualified as distinct, and hence: “naturopathic medicine”. Notice how Rexall makes it easier to find the non-evidence-based products:

naturopathic and homeopathic

This week an advertisement was passed to me that promoted naturopathy at a Toronto public school: Continue reading

No, autism doesn’t justify murdering your child

The title of this post may suggest I’m making a point that’s beyond obvious. But sometimes the obvious needs to be stated, especially when it comes to the anti-vaccine movement. I was appalled after watching this clip from CBS news about Alex Spourdalakis, a 14-year old boy with severe autism who was brutally murdered by his mother and caregiver. The clip involves CBS journalist Sharyl Attkisson who is demonstrably anti-vaccine. So what does a well-known anti-vaccine journalist have to do with the brutal filicide of a 14-year old autistic boy? Continue reading

After Wakefield: Undoing a decade of damaging debate

from flickr user debsilver

It's said you can't unring a bell

This article was co-written with Kim Hebert, Occupational Therapist.

Immunization has transformed our lives. This single invention has prevented more Canadian deaths in the past 50 years than any other health intervention. Our parents and grandparents accepted illness and death from diseases like smallpox, diptheria, and polio as a fact of life. Mass vaccination completely eradicated smallpox, which had been killing one in seven children. Public health campaigns have also eliminated diptheria, and reduced the incidence of pertussis, tetanus, measles, rubella and mumps to near zero.

The sickest and most vulnerable in society rely on the immunization of others to protect them from vaccine-preventable disease. When immunization rates are high, it’s much less likely a virus or bacterium will be carried and transmitted from person to person. But when vaccination rates drop, diseases can reemerge in the population again. Measles is currently endemic in the United Kingdom, after vaccination rates dropped below 80%. When diptheria immunization dropped in Russia and Ukraine in the early 1990’s, there were over 100,000 cases with 1,200 deaths. In Nigeria in 2001, unfounded fears of the polio vaccine led to a drop in vaccinations, an re-emergence of infection, and the spread of polio to ten other countries. Continue reading

More evidence that mercury in vaccines doesn’t cause autism

A comprehensive study published today has failed to find any relationship between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the administration of vaccines that contain thimerosal. This lack of association even extends to prenatal exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines. Will this study finally put an end to the manufactroversy about vaccines, thimerosal, and autism? Continue reading

Autism Quackfest Hits the Media

It was bound to happen. And I’m glad to have done my part. I’ve been blogging since August about the questionable judgment of the SickKids Foundation for their support of rank pseudoscience at the upcoming AutismOne Conference, Changing the Course of Autism.

It’s now a national story in Canada. Tom Blackmore, of the National Post, weighs in today: Controversial autism conference got funds from Sick Kids

A branch of Toronto’s renowned Hospital for Sick Children is being criticized for funding an autism conference whose organizers champion the discredited belief that childhood immunization causes the neurological disorder.

The event – to start on Saturday at the University of Toronto medical sciences building – also includes presentations that some experts are calling unproven science, promoting such alternative treatments for autism as homeopathy and hyperbaric oxygen chambers.

Organized by the American group AutismOne and Austism Canada, the meeting has received $5,000 in funding from SickKids Foundation, the hospital’s fundraising wing.

Blogs designed to expose practitioners of dubious science have railed against the event for the past two months, questioning why a respected health-care institution would offer its support to a group that considers vaccination of children a health risk.

“The name of Sick Kids is worth more to them than the money: it is a stamp of legitimacy”

“Sick Kids hospital has some of the world’s most renowned autism researchers. I suspect most of them would not be thrilled by the fact that SickKids Foundation is supporting this conference.”

The full story is here.

As I blogged about this last week over at the Skeptic North blog, with content this dubious,  you’d expect science-based organizations to stay far, far away. Sadly, the SickKids Foundation, with their “neutral stance” towards pseudoscience, is a confirmed sponsor. And now they’re facing well-deserved scrutiny.

The Post also has a nice piece on the role that bloggers played: Blogs raise the alarm on autism conference. Skeptic North, Respectful Insolence, and Sandwalk are all mentioned. Science-Based Pharmacy isn’t mentioned…but that’s OK. I’m happy to see some well-deserved publicity for Skeptic North and its team of writers.  (The Post says I run the Skeptic North blog – that’s incorrect. To be clear, Steve Thoms is Skeptic North’s editor).

I’m pleased to see the media questioning the propagation and sponsorship of pseudoscience. As I blogged about earlier this week, the antivaccination rhetoric is peaking, with the arrival of the H1N1 vaccine. Why the SickKids Foundation would support anti-vaccination organizations, that will only lead to more sick kids, continues to escape me.

When universities sell their name and let the pseudoscience in

One step forward…

Well it seems our feedback to the University of Toronto about the upcoming Autism One conference has had an effect. As I noted earlier, Autism One is hosting a conference on autism in Toronto in October. The original brochure listed boldly that the conference was being presented with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Understandably concerned, I, along with many of you, contacted the university to register our concerns. Why would a school of public health support a program that touts dubious biomedical treatments for autism, and the ultimate quackery, homeopathy? Continue reading

The University of Toronto Embraces Autism Quackery

U of T

Well, it seems that quackademic medicine is being embraced by my alma mater, the University of Toronto. Yesterday someone tipped me off to a program hosted by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and sponsored by the SickKids Foundation of the Hospital for Sick Children.

The program is the AutismOne/Autism Canada Conference, “Changing the Course of Autism In Canada” [PDF], October 31/November 1, 2009.  As detailed by blogger Orac at the Respectful Insolence Blog: Continue reading