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Why Doctors Hate Naturopaths (and Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

by Dr.Sal MD on author

naturopathy pestle

To say that doctors hate naturopaths just because we don't see eye-to-eye on everything is a bit of theatrical exaggeration. And it's not just for naturopaths. Doctors have a (mini) hate-on for reflexologists, aromatherapists, Ayurvedics, herbalists, spiritual healers, homeopathists, and most all non-traditional forms of medicine. Why the antipathy?

Broadly speaking, doctors see naturopaths and complementary medicine purveyors as snake oil salesmen and they in turn see us as stuck-up snobs. Being from the doctor's camp I'm biased, but I'll try in this article to be impartial and explain our grievances with our colleagues who also wear white coats (sometimes).

Our first contention is that it is often not clear to us or the public what or how much training is required to hang up a naturopath shingle, or any other allied health field for that matter, and start treating patients. Medical schools by contrast have a very rigorous accreditation and training process that is well publicized. In other words, you often don't know just what you're getting when you step into a complementary medicine office without any formalized rubric to measure performance or training competency.

The second bone we pick is that modern medicine continually gravitates towards what we call 'evidence-based medicine'. That means the interventions we perform and recommend are based on clinical trials and studies whenever possible. We continually update and expand our knowledge while discarding old convictions proven wrong with the passage of time. Again, this rigor appears to be lacking in complementary fields where too often anecdotes, 'expert' opinion, 'ancient wisdom', flawed studies and sample sizes of one are taken as objective proof of concept.

Perhaps my own cautionary tale might be illuminating. Before entering medicine I was seeking an answer as to why I had a tendency to daydream so much so that people called me 'the absent-minded professor'. I sought the assistance of complementary medicine and was fleeced three times by shams. My first experience was with a practitioner who claimed to be able to determine the malady someone suffered with by examining their blood film. I remember the person I saw taking a drop of my blood and blowing up the image onto a huge screen. He then pointed out various little specks and claimed that I had various toxins in my body and numerous other gibberish. Later as a doctor having looked at multiple slides of blood myself I now recognize this man was a charlatan. My second experience was seeing a herbalist which was a very under-whelming experience. He had no scientific equipment whatsoever and basically listened to my story then looked up my symptoms in a big naturopath bible, then provided me a prescription of various concoctions that he conveniently sold from his practice - needless to say they turned out useless. My third experience was with a practitioner from China which turned out to be a much better show. He operated from a room that looked very clinical. He wore a white lab coat and at least he had his diploma framed like a physician up on the wall - though I could not read it as it was in Mandarin. He at least performed a physical examination looking at my eyes and tongue checking my pulse Etc. He then explained I had some imbalance and provided me a brown paper bag with some powder mixture and advised me to consume it and it would rebalance my chi. I later realized this was a ruse when my mother and father visited the same man at different times with different symptoms seeking help and arrived home with the same brown paper bag with bitter powder in it. Years later, through traditional bona fide medicine, I got my answer. I had been suffering simply with attention deficit disorder for which I was prescribed medicines that did work and continue to work, reproducibly, year after year since.

That being said, traditional medicine is not perfect either. For example, I have had skin allergy testing performed three times by three different allergist doctors and when I compared the results there was some overlap but far too much discrepancies to call this practice a science. The real difference between traditional and complementary medicine is that we traditional practitioners make an ongoing attempt to continually improve our craft and discard practices that we discover are futile or ineffective. And we never provide false hope.

But it must be remembered that early doctors and 'witch doctors' were almost indistinguishable from the Dark Ages back. It was only after whistleblowers like the preeminent physician Gerolamo Cardano who published a treatise that embarrassed the medical establishment of his day by pointing out how shaky their tenants and erroneous practices were, that any real headway was made in separating science from pseudoscience and superstition. It is not surprising that Cardano emerged as one of the seminal thinkers that shaped the modern practice of medicine considering that he is also the father of modern probability theory which he devised from observations of his pastime of gambling. He then in a stroke of genius applied what he learned about chance and randomness from his puerile pastime to the application of sound logic to medical practice and called for a general tightening of our tenets based on proof.

My belief is that in the future, if naturopaths and complementary medical disciplines take these criticisms to heart, and follow the reforms advocated by Cardano centuries ago, these allied fields will one day be as credible and respectable as traditional medicine. I will then write an article entitled: "Why Doctors Love Naturopaths" (and complementary, and alternative medicine).


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