Junkfood Science: Healing touch that doesn’t heal or touch

December 28, 2008

Healing touch that doesn’t heal or touch

An article taking a critical look at the rise of alternative modalities in our healthcare system appeared in the Arts & Entertainment section of the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps its placement is why many healthcare professionals and health policy analysts may have missed it.

Mr. Steve Salerno, author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, began with an introduction to a foundation that offers alternative healing modalities:

Feeling a tad listless? Perhaps your DNA is insufficiently activated. You may want to consult the healers at Oughten House Foundation, specializing in "tools and techniques for self-empowerment through DNA Activations." Oughten House recommends regular therapy as part of its DNA Activation Healing Project, at $125 per hour-long session.

The foundation isn't as far from the mainstream as you might think. A survey of 32,000 Americans by the National Center for Health Statistics, released earlier this month, suggests that 38% of adults use some form of "complementary and alternative medicine," or CAM…

The Oughten House Foundation is headed by Dr. Robert V. Gerard, Ph.D. — whose doctorate is in metaphysical psychology — and Zeljka Roksandic — who is described as a “clairvoyant, psychotherapist, lecturer, artist, and healer.” It offers programs of their own creation, such as ZeRo Point healing, and Icon Code therapy, along with remote healing, angelic communications, advanced Reiki and life coaching. Icon Code Therapy, according to its website, reduces your “negative force fields” and “increases energy, rejuvenates cellular life, improves the immune system, quickly detoxified the body, and improves the circulation.”

Are these the sorts of CAM modalities that most Americans are really buying — as the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) survey seemed to suggest — or just what we’re being sold?

It’s the latter, trying to sell us on the popularity of CAM by hoping we’ll fall for the Ad Populum fallacy of logic. As it turns out, most Americans have not fallen for these types of CAM or those being taught at hundreds of nontraditional colleges across the country, such as as the Global College of Natural Medicine. There, Mr. Salerno wrote, “a 60% grade on an admission exam puts you on the path to becoming a nutritional consultant, master herbalist or holistic chef for animals.”

Based on the college’s curriculum and recent newsletters, students learn raw food preparation, how optimal health can be obtained by drinking more water, how lack of enzymes in processed foods cause degenerative diseases and chemical sensitivities, the prevention of seizures in epilepsy with “shoe smell therapy,” colon detox for kids, achieving positive vibrations with Bach flower essences, how to drain toxins from the body with cupping (placing a glass cup on the skin), acupuncture, homeopathy, healing with whole foods, dietary wellness with phytochemicals and antioxidants, and more.

In fact, if I wanted, I could beef up my resume, and add a few more letters after my name, with an inexpensive Masters of Science degree… in Holistic Health. Advanced degree students are also taught how to protect themselves with disclaimers.

The most offbeat and potentially harmful modalities, however, aren’t coming out of alternative institutions. They’re being taught at some 40 major academic medical schools across the country, funded by Bravewell Collaborative and NCCAM at the National Institute of Health, as covered here. It’s all part of today’s popular preventive health and wellness movement which, as Mr. Salerno reveals, is really one big, money-making con job:

This should be a laughing matter, but it isn't -- not with the Obama administration about to confront the snarling colossus of health-care reform. Today's ubiquitous celebration of "empowerment," combined with disenchantment over the cost, bureaucracy and possible side effects of conventional care, has spurred an exodus from medical orthodoxy. As a result, what was once a ragtag assortment of New Age nostrums has metastasized into a multibillion-dollar industry championed by dozens of lobbyists and their congressional sympathizers….

[A]t least 40 states have begun licensing CAM practitioners. Major hospital systems, notably Baltimore's Johns Hopkins and New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, incorporate CAM-based programs like aromatherapy and therapeutic touch, often bracketed as "integrative medicine." Indeed, one of the great ironies of modern health care is that many of the august medical centers that once went to great lengths to vilify nontraditional methods as quackery now have brought those regimens in-house. "We're all channeling East Indian healers along with doing gall-bladder removal," says Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. Mr. Caplan harbors no illusions about what's behind the trend: "It's not as noble as, 'I want to be respectful to Chinese healing arts.' It's more, 'People are spending a fortune on this stuff! We could do this plus our regular stuff and bill 'em for all of it!'"

Fees for CAM services are increasingly passed on to insurance through a creative — some might say fraudulent — interpretation of the Current Procedural Terminology codes that govern reimbursement for authorized services. Such creativity may soon be unnecessary if the alternative medicine proponents have their way. For example, ABC Coding Solutions, a medical-software company, has been promulgating a set of 4,000 treatment codes that cover "nearly every healing modality practiced by alternative healthcare providers," to quote one report. If such codes are fully absorbed by the health-care industry, CAM will have been mainstreamed — while bypassing all the customary peer review, controlled studies and other hallmarks of sound medicine.

How many consumers realize that these centers are laughing all the way to the bank? Thanks to well-funded lobbying efforts, CAM has received funding and political support from both State and Federal government agencies. As the website of that Global College of Natural Medicine, based in Santa Cruz, California, happily reported: “On September 24th, 2002, California Governor Gray Davis signed into law the most important Health Freedom bill in world history - California SB 577. The bill makes health care ‘wide open.’ Doctors of Holistic Health, Holistic Health Practitioners, Homeopaths, Naturopaths, Herbalists, Nutritionists, etc., are now free to offer services without harassment.” It says that California leads the nation in the percentage of healthcare dollars spent on alternative medicine and that it’s expected to increase.

CAM has been able to secure a place at the National Institutes of Health at NCCAM, but, Mr. Salerno writes, despite spending $1 billion in the past fifteen years, “the center has failed to affirm a single therapy that can withstand the rigors of science.”

Even the center's own fact sheets unfold as unintentionally comical. After noting that echinacea is "traditionally used to treat or prevent colds, the flu and other infections," the center concedes that "most studies to date indicate that echinacea does not appear to prevent colds or other infections." St. John's Wort as a natural antidepressant? "Two large studies, one sponsored by NCCAM, showed that the herb was no more effective than placebo in treating major depression." Evening primrose for hot flashes? "Does not appear to affect menopausal symptoms." And so forth. "It is the only entity in the NIH devoted to an ideological approach to health," writes Dr. Sampson, who has called for the center to be defunded.

As Mr. Salerno said, “it’s not like we’ve got billions to waste.”

In contrast to the placement of this article, the Wall Street Journal published an article in the Health section today promoting employee wellness programs offered by integrated health services of major insurance companies. The preventive health and wellness programs include “healthy” eating and weight loss plans, like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, yoga, and even spa visits. The article claimed that these wellness programs make workers more productive and save employers money in health care costs. Diets, yoga and other wellness modalities are among those listed at the NCCAM as unproven CAM. If the WSJ article had, instead, critically examined these modalities, perhaps it would have been placed in the Travel section.

Thank you, Mark!

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