So last week I noticed, with more than a little consternation, that the Vancouver Sun has begun publishing a feature it calls Empower Health:
Better health is not a destination. Your health is a journey of small steps, things you can do to improve your mental and physical well-being.
Empowered Health is a new locally produced television program that shows you the path to better health with weekly tips on eating better, improving your fitness and navigating the minefield of the health care system and the dozens of complementary and alternative therapies and practices.
Those of you who don’t know much about Vancouver aside from the excellent work that the Vancouver Skeptics do here may be unaware that it is a city full of woo-woo nonsense. One can’t walk a city block without stumbling over a reflexologist or a chiropractor or some other snake-oil peddler trying to separate fools from their money. Because Vancouver has a large population of young, well-educated and upwardly mobile people, it has succumbed to the stereotypical west-coast syndrome of buying wholesale into “alternative” practices. Add to that a large immigrant population bringing practices from their countries of origin and a well-developed sense of fascination with anything “exotic”, and you have a perfect recipe for this kind of hucksterism.
Now, ordinarily the only thing I read the Sun for is local news and Canucks coverage, but I figured I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a local skeptic if I didn’t take a swing at the glass jaw they’re dangling out there. So I will try, every week, to digest the claims made in these articles.
Even if you live an active lifestyle and maintain a balanced diet, you may be missing key ingredients that keep your body healthy and prevent long-term illnesses. It’s becoming easier and easier to fill those gaps with natural health food products, or supplements.
Okay first off I have to admit that I have a strong anti-supplement bias. I’m not sure what it is about them that irk me as much as they do, but I’ve always been quite opposed to the idea of introducing food supplements as part of a regular diet. If you cannot access a variety of healthful foods, or you have some kind of medical indication that requires more than a healthy diet can provide (e.g., osteoporosis, pregnancy, menopause, anemia), then by all means use supplements.
My objection comes when people advocate the use of supplements as simply “part of a healthy lifestyle”. I think of them like I think of any other medication – you should only take it if it is needed, and you should do whatever you can to reduce your need for it as quickly as possible. This article is vague enough that it doesn’t make any specific health claims (except for plant sterols, which seems to be supported by some evidence), so it escapes the skeptical lash.
Overall rating: 3/5 - would have liked to see some discussion of how you would determine whether or not you need supplements aside from “talk to your doctor”.
Q: What are the educational and training requirements to qualify to practice? Please see this site for information regarding accreditation.
A: Chiropractic profession is only one that established international education standards which allows portability of licensure and practice.
Q: Who certifies and regulates chiropractors? Private body, provincial of federal government?
A: Regulation of health care is the exclusive authority of each provincial government. In B.C. this is done by the Ministry of Health through the Health Professions Act. For chiropractic doctors, this is known as the College of Chiropractors of BC.
So there’s only one question I care about here, and it doesn’t get asked until last:
Q: What does the scientific literature say about the effectiveness of this practice?
Of course I already know the answer – chiropractic is a system based on ridiculous and faulty premises that have been refined to the point of self-abnegation, and aside from treatment of back soreness doesn’t deliver on the vast majority of its promises. The scientific evidence is anything but encouraging about the validity of chiropractic. Let’s see what the Sun says:
A: In B.C. chiropractic was established and regulated by the B.C. government in 1934; WCB legislation, 1950; ICBC legislation, 1972; Medical Services Plan, 1965.
Now I’m sure that’s an answer to some question, but it’s certainly not an answer to this one. Any time someone ducks the ‘scientific evidence’ question like this, offering testimonials or accreditation or mechanism instead of peer-reviewed science, your skeptical hackles should be raised, and follow-up questions should be dripping from your tongue.
Overall rating: 1/5 - there was only one relevant question, and they didn’t answer it.
See her today and you’d never guess 56-year old Kathy McLaughlin ever struggled to be healthy. She eats well, hikes regularly and plays tennis two or three times a week. And yet today McLaughlin is thankful to be alive. Just after her 40th birthday, McLaughlin was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She began a treatment that included chemotherapy. Over the next couple of months she beat back the cancer.
Okay so I was prepared to hate this article and spit blue blazes about how reckless and irresponsible it is to hold up one anecdote as “health advice”. But I read this piece and there’s really not that much to object to. It’s the story of a woman who followed her doctor’s advice for the cancer, and then relied on diet and exercise to manage the side-effects of her illness and treatment:
Gunn helped McLaughlin establish an integrated health care plan designed to minimize the strain on her liver. The plan combined a gentler form of chemotherapy, vitamin D supplements, meditation, yoga, and an overhaul of her already-healthy diet.
As much as I hate the word “integrated”, which usually signifies that evidence-based medicine is being “integrated” with predatory nonsense, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. She looks as though she got sound advice about taking care of herself through lifestyle factors. The “gentler form of chemotherapy” may not have required the intervention of the “integrated medicine” specialist – chemotherapy doses are often adjusted by the prescribing oncologist if the adverse events are severe enough.
Overall rating: 4.5/5 - stays away from woo, and while it doesn’t specifically denounce woo-peddlers (and someone could misunderstand what the word “integrated” means), that is not really a reasonable criticism of an anecdote like this.
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