Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reinventing Naturopathy

Naturopaths are fond of presenting a veneer of science: they like quoting scientific studies that support their particular views and which, especially, support the use of the products they sell. When studies come along that contradict their worldview, or present evidence that doesn't meet with their expectations, that thin veneer is quickly lost.

New Scientist recently published an article discussing the evidence for the use of antioxidants (subscription required, but large quotes can be found at Later On). Reported in the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement for 12th September 2006:

The controversial article penned by Lisa Melton, from the London-based Novartis Foundation, looked at disagreement between the vast body of epidemiological studies and randomised clinical trials for the prevention of diseases by anti-oxidants. It concluded that while the epidemiological (or population-based) evidence linking dietary anti-oxidant intake and the reduced incidence of a range of diseases is strong, when such anti-oxidants have been extracted, purified or synthesised and put into supplements, the results, according to the randomised clinical trials (RCTs) do not produce the same benefits and may even be harmful.


One of these studies was performed in EoR's home state by Dr Ian Puddey at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. It found that a trial of vitamin C and grapeseed extract on 69 patients with medically treated hypertension resulted in a significant increase in blood pressure.

Now, of course the beauty of science is that results are published so that others can confirm them, replicate them or dispute them. Naturopaths take it a step further: in their version of science, the results are already known, and any studies or suggestion that these results may not exist cause naturopaths to run around like headless chickens.

The Mind&Body supplement quotes from NutraIngredients.com in order to "present the other side of the story". New Scientist slams antioxidant supplement benefits as 'myth' and Antioxidant supplements - myth or misunderstood?. The naturopaths are seeming to argue for a homeopathic-type effect for their "scientific" products (of course, the two arguments are mutually exclusive):

Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA from NOW Foods, said: "It is telling that much of the criticism of antioxidants comes from science that is testing single nutrients, using a drug model. But knowledgeable antioxidant researchers are aware that this is a 'family' of nutrients that can synergistically 'recharge' each other, making single nutrient studies fairly irrelevant as to the holistic interaction of these substances in vivo."


The following manufacturer of these products seems to be arguing both for their ineffectiveness, and that they should never be taken with real medicines:

Jerry Hall from Balanced LifeStyles agreed: "The supplements formulation, binders, whole food extracts, etc, would all play in the efficacy, the absorption of the nutrient. Secondly, as mentioned, the population used in the study surely would result in a negative result. And third, when vitamins are combined with drugs, both the drugs and the vitamins efficacy can be compromised."


Meanwhile, Henry Osiecki ("leading Australian naturopath and biochemist") is interviewed by the West Australian:

He said the dose of anti-oxidants required varied with each individual and medical trials gave everyone the same dose. Many people buying anti-oxidants over the counter could be doing themselves little benefit and it was best to seek advice from a qualified naturopath or a doctor specialising in nutrition, he said.


So it seems naturopathy, like homeopathy, cannot be tested because the same disease requires different treatments (just like homeopathy and - of course - it could still be tested even under such conditions), and it uses some magic energy or a "synergistic recharge" (just like homeopathy is claimed to work via magic potentisations). EoR also awards points for managing to get in the usual naturopath claim that store purchased products are worthless, but the expensive naturopath provided substances are really really real (just like homeopathy - sugar pills with no active substance bought at a store will not work but sugar pills with no active substance bought from a homeopath will). He also awards points for at least mentioning doctors at the very end (but don't naturopaths discourage doctors since they only ever do three hours of nutrition studies and what would they know anyway?).

Another argument being used against the article is that the studies haven't looked at the effect of antioxidants in a healthy population (note, in passing, yet another commercially vested interest). Which is not the point of the argument. If these naturopaths and supplement companies are so sure of the benefits of their products (EoR means the benefits to the consumers, not the benefits to the stockholders) they might like to fund some research and then discuss those results.

If you're really desperate, you could just claim to have a detailed rebuttal due any day now, and in the meantime make various ad hominen attacks: the author once claimed antibiotics were "the great warriors of modern medicine" (the point being?)and previously published an article where she considered the "possibility of 'antioxidant pills' being used to counter free radicals which trigger sleep apnea" - actually, this site then makes itself look really "amusing/interesting/embarrassing" (in their own words) when they quote the article to show that Ms Melton was reporting another person's speculations.

Or are the naturopaths just worried that the best way to get antioxidants, it seems, is through eating a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables? Isn't that the sort of non-drug, holistic view they should be supporting? The sort of view they always claimt to support? But which seems to be instantly forgotten when their cashflows are threatened.

1 comment:

  1. Has anyone actually followed up where the "special" Naturopathic potions come from? Are they so different to those marketed under Big Altie in stores? I would imagine they'd just be bulk buys from the same sources. In fact they could be even more dubious - the sweepings, the remainders etc.

    But in the end, who cares? It is simply a diversion. There's always another excuse when science topples that one.

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