This post was meant to be about possible explanations from the New Physics on how homeopathy manages to work for so many people. Then the March, 2018 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) arrived yesterday with a front-page headline on the dangers of natural medicine. The article itself was mostly about the different types of medical practitioners one might see. The concluding practitioner section described the dangers of using naturopaths.
CR, while doing a decent job of reviewing appliances, automobiles and other consumer products wandered into the dangerous ground of medicine. In doing so this issue seems to have followed the deplorable scare practices of the popular press, grabbing on to a catchy headline phrase, hopefully alarming, that may generate readers. Often writers of this type of article do not bother to check their facts. In at least one instance in CR’s coverage of naturopathy, this was the case.
In denigrating the profession of Naturopathy with over simplified statements and in one case outright omission of material fact I believe CR does a disservice to a lot of people. To CR’s credit they did draw a distinction between those whom they labeled Naturopaths and N.D.s. In most states anyone can call themselves a Naturopath, while a doctorate in Naturopathy is only granted after the requisite four years of training including clinical experience beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Nevertheless, in the end the tenor of the article is to brand both unlicensed and licensed with the same stigma. Beyond this, in what seemed like an attempt to make their warnings more serious, they report on a case from the Food and Drug Administration. The CR article claimed that a 30–year–old woman died “after receiving an intravenous infusion of curcumin (an ingredient in the spice tumeric) from a Naturopathy practitioner to treat eczema.”
Being naturally curious I looked up this case on fda.gov. I found the report actually said that the woman received an infusion of curcumin, which was compounded, i.e., mixed with “polyethylene glycol (PEG) 40 castor oil.” Instead of CRs text, putting the blame solely on curcumin, the FDA report identified three risks: 1) the absence of a label warning about hypersensitivity reactions associated with the PEG 40 castor oil; 2) the use of an ungraded inactive ingredient, i.e., PEG 40 castor oil, that is not suitable for human consumption or therapeutic use and may contain impurities such as DEG; and 3) the IV administration of curcumin, despite the fact that its safety profile by this route of administration has not been established, nor has its effectiveness in treating eczema or thrombocytopenia.
This puts a bit of a different face on what CR wrote. Unlike the simple statement in CR’s report, it is not possible to tell from the FDA report what actually caused the death. This blog would never suggest using unlicensed practitioners who say they are naturopaths. It is difficult to believe an N.D. would make this error. Moreover, there are clear reports of curcumin usefulness as an anti-inflammatory (mentioned later in this post). With regard to FDA statement #3 above, we should remember it took the FDA around 20 years or so to admit that fish oil supplements with Omega-s’s could benefit the heart. Finally, note that the FDA report included only one additional hypersensitive reaction to this particular mixture. Compare this to thousands of patients who were harmed after taking MD prescribed medicines which big Pharma labeled as safe.
Not content to rest with this scary evidence CRs article proceeded to add that curcumin “was deemed ineffective by a comprehensive 2017 scientific review” as a treatment for eczema. Like most of the national media CR didn’t feel it necessary to provide citations to either the FDA report or the “scientific review.” By some simple searching it appears that the source may have been an Indian website saying that “a scientific review study shows curcumin in turmeric has no medicinal properties.”
It’s not certain, but this may have come from a very lengthy report published in an American Chemical Society journal titled “The essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin,” which looked at the various uses of curcumin and did raise some questions about the usefulness of curcumin. It seemed clear that part of the problem in studying this topic was the bioavailability of curcumin depending on the source and the very complicated nature of the substance itself. Beyond this, further searching on pubmed.gov reveals articles based on double-blind, clinical studies documenting the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin.
Given clear instances of tragic effects of some prescription drugs like the $2 billion penalty against one pharmaceutical company for the thousands of people harmed, it is interesting that as far as I know Consumer Reports has never denigrated the entire field of allopathic medicine based primarily on the single report of a death, as tragic as it was.
Consumer Reports, stick to reviewing home products for consumers and leave medicine to the experts. And be more careful about publishing information that omits material facts.