Wrestling with Slander
You may have noticed in 1 or more recent online articles that an effort seems to be in play to categorically discredit licensed naturopathic doctors. The public detractors are a tiny group of zealots who promote “science-based medicine” with a kind of religious fervor. The central attack against naturopathic doctors (NDs) is that they are not “scientific” enough. From there, these critics conclude that NDs are a hazard to public health and patient finances.
Science, as a reliable method of understanding our reality, must be unbiased. That is not the case in today’s biomedicine. Biomedical research is driven by an economic agenda aimed at selling pharmaceutical products. Esteemed medical journal editors report only a 50% chance of any newly-published result being reliable.1,2 It is magical thinking to believe that data and its analysis can be manipulated to produce a desired outcome on paper, and that reality will then conform to the fabrication.
The general medicine education received at naturopathic medical schools includes the same subjects from the same textbooks used by conventional medical students, with classes frequently taught by MDs and PhDs.3 Naturopathic medical schools provide many, many clinical hours of patient care in an ambulatory setting and receive full accreditation by the US Department of Education.4
What Sets Naturopathic Doctors Apart
What sets ND practice apart is the prime directive to dig into the how and why of each person’s health in order to identify and help modify root causes whenever possible. This takes time, patience, and problem-solving skills originating in everything that can be reasonably known about the patient and the medical sciences learned in the naturopathic professional education.
Another practice that sets NDs apart from the mainstream of their MD colleagues is that they regularly place biochemistry ahead of pharmacology. This means NDs use nutrients first, pharmaceuticals later, in the therapeutic order. Before patented pharmaceutical drugs existed, there were herbal medicines. Plants and other natural materials continue to be the source and inspiration for patented pharmaceutical drugs.5 Naturopathic doctors are the modern experts in the traditional uses of herbal medicines. In Oregon and other states, naturopathic doctors also prescribe pharmaceutical drugs. However, they prescribe far fewer of these medications than do their MD colleagues.
Hardly a Hazard
Americans die at the rate of 126 000 per year6 from using pharmaceuticals, prescribed by their doctor according to the supporting science, and used as directed. This number makes the use of prescription drugs in medicine the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. This disturbing number is not far behind the more shocking number of medical mistakes in hospitals – the 3rd major cause of death.7,8 These 2 pieces of evidence point to the allopathic practice of medicine as one of the greatest health hazards of modern life.
Here are the top 12 causes of death in the United States, in rank order from largest to smallest:
- Heart disease (614 348)9
- Cancer (591 699)9
- Medical mistakes in hospitals (200 000+)7,8
- Lung disease (147 101)9
- Accidents (136 053)3
- Cerebrovascular disease (133 103)9
- Prescription drugs used as medicine (126 000)3
- Alzheimer’s dementia (93 541)9
- Diabetes (76 488)9
- Pneumonia (55 227)9
- Kidney disease (48 146)9
- Suicide (42 773)9
Note that naturopathic doctors, their methods, and non-drug prescriptions are not on that list. In fact, NDs are not on any list of leading causes of death. In the state of Oregon, NDs have been licensed since 1927, yet there has been just 1 death reported within the past 60 years attributable to a treatment administered by a licensed naturopathic doctor.10
Regarding the harm to people’s finances, major medical expenses remain the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States.11 Pharmaceutical companies hijack patient finances with high drug prices. Even the prices of generic drugs, long off patent, are routinely increased to outrageous prices.12 The most notorious recent example was brought to attention by the “Pharma Bro.”13
Whatever the motivations of these detractors of naturopathic medicine, the facts do not even begin to support the claim that their efforts are needed to protect the public from naturopathic doctors and their practice of medicine. The evidence is clear.
On a regular basis, patients under the care of naturopathic doctors experience relief from chronic health complaints that have plagued them for years. These and other positive outcomes are only possible with a sound knowledge of medicine and a firm dedication to naturopathic principles including Primum Non Nocere, ie, First, Do No Harm.
Jeff Clark, ND, is a naturopathic physician in private practice; he is also a co-owner of True Health Medicine, PC, in Tualatin, OR. A 2007 graduate of NCNM, Dr Clark had a previous career in Oregon high-tech engineering, and is a named inventor on 5 US patents. He is currently a board director for the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians, where he is Chair of the legislative committee. Dr Clark currently serves as the first naturopathic physician on the Oregon Health Policy Board’s Health Care Workforce Committee.
- Thomas C. NEJM Editor: “No Longer Possible to Believe Much of Clinical Research Published.” November 9, 2009. The Ethical Nag. Available at: https://ethicalnag.org/2009/11/09/nejm-editor/. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Light DW, Lexchin J, Darrow JJ. Institutional Corruption of Pharmaceuticals and the Myth of Safe and Effective Drugs. J Law Med Ethics. 2013;14(3): 590-610.
- Comparing the ND & MD Curricula. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. AANMC Web site. https://aanmc.org/resources/comparing-nd-md-curricula/. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Naturopathic Medical Education Comparative Curricula. Table excerpted from: Fall 2010: Enhanced Primary Care in BC. Improvements to Primary Care, Patient Choice & Access to Preventative Care. Your Health, News from the British Columbia Naturopathic Association. Summer 2010. NUNM Web site. http://ncnm.edu/images/Factbook/Nat-Med-Ed-Comp-Curricula.pdf. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Veeresham C. Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2012;3(4):200-201. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560124/. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Light DW. New Prescription Drugs: A Major Health Risk With Few Offsetting Advantages. June 27, 2014. Edmond J Safra, Center for Ethics. Harvard University Web site. http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/new-prescription-drugs-major-health-risk-few-offsetting-advantages. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Makary MA, Daniel M. Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US. BMJ. 2016;353:i2139. Available at: http://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Hospital Safety Score. Hospital Errors Are the Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S., and New Hospital Safety Scores Show Improvements Are Too Slow. Updated April 29, 2015. Available at: http://www.hospitalsafetyscore.org/newsroom/display/hospitalerrors-thirdleading-causeofdeathinus-improvementstooslow. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading Causes of Death. Last updated April 27, 2016. CDC Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Pitkin J. Natural Disaster. Updated May 29, 2007. Willamette Week. Available at: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-7093-natural-disaster.html. Accessed June 11, 2016.
- Khazan O. Why Americans Are Drowning in Medical Debt. October 8, 2014. The Atlantic. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt/381163/. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Rosenthal E. Rapid Price Increases for Some Generic Drugs Catch Users by Surprise. July 8, 2014. The New York Times. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/health/some-generic-drug-prices-are-soaring.html?_r=0. Accessed June 10, 2016.
- Young J, Ferro S. Pharma Bro Emails Reveal Just How Greedy Drug Companies Can Be. February 2, 2016. Huffington Post Web site. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/martin-shkreli-pharma-bro-drug-prices_us_56b0fac5e4b0655877f75453. Accessed June 10, 2016.