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How to Recognize a Quack

For a long time there has been a website that labels as a “quack” any practitioner who dares to venture from the outdated pharmaceutical-backed cookbook used by establishment medicine. They target what others call “alternative medicine”.

It doesn’t impress the self-appointed quack hunters that the denounced professionals often do wonderful work and actually cure a higher percentage of patients than the mainstream approach. Even more amazingly, they often save those patients after conventional medicine has given up on them. I almost consider it a recommendation to be singled out as a quack. (I was flattered when I was once called a “quack” by the chief quack buster for the crime of helping write educational manuals for natural food stores!) Perhaps it is the same folks (or drug companies) who give bad ratings to the websites representing those fine health professionals. That’s why I’ve lost faith in one such website rating service (Web of Trust.

The alternative-blasting people may not have evil intent but they are still dangerous as zealous defenders of the old school of thinking in medicine. In a big picture view, there is (1) medicine proven to work, (2) medicine proven to not work, and (3) that for which there is yet insufficient data which is usually anything to do with natural remedies. Those pioneers (you can spot them because of the flaming arrows in their backs) are typically practicing a mix of #1 and #2. It is very difficult for methods and substances to graduate from #3 (investigative) to #1 (proven). That is because there is an institutional bias against them (foster in large part by the pharmaceutical industry) and because there is scant funding for exhaustive research of substances that cannot be patented.

However, many naturopathic practices are historically validated, logical, non-invasive, safe and less expensive. Sometimes the resistance to new ideas is just dogmatic adherence to the old ones. Diabetes care is a good example. “For decades alternative practitioners have been reversing the disease by reducing consumption of refined carbohydrates and using nutrients to improve insulin sensitivity. Meanwhile, mainstream medicine and the organizations (they are backed by giant food processors and drug companies) continued to manage the disease with high carbs and medication. Another good example of this is the now acknowledged fact that the intestinal membrane barrier can become too permeable (leaky) and cause systemic health problems. For decades practitioners who saw the evidence and helped people by repairing the gut lining were vilified.

If truly concerned about public welfare, “Quack-busters” should take off the blinders and own up to the fact that mainstream medicine is itself the number one cause of premature death in the US (Death by Medicine article). They would then promptly fill in the gaps in their knowledge by studying at a good naturopathic medical school like Bastyr University which is fully-accredited just like a state university medical school.

I believe that a health professional who:

  • does not put the wellbeing of the patient ahead of profits, fame and/or personal comfort is a quack.
  • does not consider the patient a partner in the healing process may be a quack.
  • does not welcome questions and alternate views from patients may be a quack. (Docs can learn a lot from patients.)
  • thinks that having written a prescription alone is providing medical care may be a quack.
  • does not do a comprehensive history and physical may be a quack. (Relying on tests and reports from previous doctors can be quite misleading.)
  • blindly follows all the pronouncements of his or her trade association (such as the American Medical Association) without incorporating common sense, clinical experience, historical context and studies on nutrition and natural approaches may be a quack. (Mainstream medical groups seem to be controlled to a great degree by pharmaceutical interests.)
  • condemns a supplement just because he or she is unfamiliar with it may be a quack.
  • uses a cookie cutter approach-i.e. treats all patients as though they are the same may be a quack. (Even factoring in averages for size, age and gender is not good enough. A famous nutrition scientist, Roger Williams, PhD who served the University of Texas at Austin, said “Nutrition is for real people. Statistical humans are of little interest.”)
  • refuses to believe that adverse health effects being experienced by the patient could possibly be related to the treatment being given may be a quack.
  • is afraid (even in a non-emergency situation) to try a new remedy that, while perhaps not “proven”, is non-toxic, non-invasive and shows promise may be a quack.
  • thinks the average 6-minute office visit (partly filled with interruptions and computer work) is enough time to determine the patient’s real issues and to counsel diet and lifestyle changes that might be sufficient to reverse the trend may be a quack.
  • believes that no one but a person with his or her same credentials can facilitate healing may be a quack.
  • works under the influence of alcohol, drugs or extreme fatigue is a quack.
  • molests patients is a quack (and a criminal).
  • suffers dementia and continues to practice may be a quack.

The following traits, if not combined with the characteristics above, do NOT make a health professional a quack:

  • Using unconventional treatments which include but are not limited to nutritional supplements, acupuncture, chelation, neurofeedback, prolotherapy, herbs, hydrotherapy, microcurrents, chiropractic, massage, neuromuscular integration, homeopathy, detoxification, psychoneuroimmunology, etc.
  • Working to restore subtle imbalances in the body which are not commonly understood to be tied to current disease symptoms.
  • Using unconventional testing such as nutritional tests, computer frequency testing, thermography, hair mineral analysis and kneisiology.
  • Paying attention to well-controlled studies conducted in foreign countries.

Often doctors with unconventional practices are turned into medical boards by other doctors who are upset that the targeted doc dares to heal patients using methods that the complainant is unfamiliar with. It is about competition. (E.g. why so far naturopathic physicians can only obtain a license to practice in 17 states.) The medical boards typically cannot find patients who were harmed, so after a witch hunt through the medical office censure the doc based on some record keeping violation. I contend that there is probably not a single physician of any stripe who does not have a record keeping oops somewhere in the files.

Learn more about the so-called “Quack-busters”

Copyright 2014 by Martie Whittekin, CCN

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