Swans Commentary » swans.com July 29, 2013  



Alternative Medicine? Lobbying For Nonsense
(Part II of III)


by Michael Barker



(Swans - July 29, 2013)   Although they don't do much useful, alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy have three attributes that appear to make them irresistible to the rich and powerful. First, there is the simple-minded fact that the rich often have a soft spot for magical thinking; second up, members of the ruling class understand that giving costly placebo-like treatments to the rest of us can always be supplemented by conventional medical interventions (which are equally profitable). And finally, such treatments have a lot in common with the ruling class themselves, as most alternative therapies do not do anything of any use. So in Britain we have useless individuals like the Prince of Wales, who stands in firm opposition to modernity and its health-sustaining offspring, modern scientifically-validated medicine. Indeed our zealous royal Traditionalist is ever keen to promote alternative therapies as the pure and organic remedy for society's industrial ills; and has even founded his own organization -- the now defunct Foundation for Integrated Health -- to promote this troublesome cause (see "Royal Alternative Medicine"). (1)

In the United States, similar elite lobbying efforts to institutionalise nonsense were firmly launched in 1991 (a couple of years before the Prince formed the Foundation for Integrated Health) when the Senate Appropriations Committee -- which is responsible for funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- set in motion a chain of events that led to the formation of the Office of Alternative Medicine. The "prime mover" behind this momentous turn of events was Appropriations Committee chair, Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, who "had been urged to take this legislative step by two constituents, Berkley Bedell and Frank Wiewel." All three men having personally witnessed the alleged curative power of alternative medicine, and were therefore keen to use their political clout to advance their wacky personal beliefs. (2)

So it was that a Congressional mandate forced mysticism upon the very heart of the medical establishment, with initial members of the Office of Alternative Medicine's advisory panel including best-selling New Age authors Deepak Chopra and Bernie Siegel, not to mention Bedell and Wiewel. Unfortunately the Office of Alternative Medicine has gone from strength-to-strength, and in 1999 was re-established as a full NIH center known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). This is not, however, to say that they have done anything useful (yet), other than prove that the utility of alternative therapies have no material basis. On this matter a recent study actually demonstrated that after distributing some $2 billion of funding the Center had made "no discoveries in alternative medicine that would justify the current annual expenditure of $134 million" to maintain its existence. (3)

With so much at stake and so much to prove, alternative medicine activists have not rested on their unproven laurels. So in 1998 Berkley Bedell and his wife Elinor founded the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine -- to fund studies to examine the miracles undertaken by what they saw to be marginalised alternative practitioners. Current board members of this Foundation include George Zabrecky, a chiropractor who purports to treat cancer (who is also a scientific advisor for a philanthropy run by the notorious right-wing founder of Home Depot Inc., Bernie Marcus), liberal populist, Bob Edgar, who is the president of the "grassroots" lobbying group Common Cause, and Berkley Bedell's son Ken Bedell, who is a senior advisor to the Secretary of Education in the US Department of Education's Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Washington DC. (4)

Finally, another long-time promoter of complementary and alternative medicine who is counted as a board member of the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine is Phil Holstein, who until recently was the lead investor in Alternative Medicine magazine (now Natural Solutions magazine). The magazine is now owned by InnoVision Health Media, which is headed up by naturopathic health czar, Dr. Joe Pizzorno, Jr., who is most famous for being the founding president of Bastyr University -- a university which calls itself "America's largest and most successful accredited institution of natural medicine." (Not coincidentally two members of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's advisory board are based at Bastyr University; while in 1994, Bastyr was awarded a grant by the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine, becoming the first natural medicine institution to receive an NIH grant.)

Dr Lise Alschuler, who received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University, is just one of many magical healers who has written for Alternative Medicine magazine. After completing her so-called PhD in 1994 Alschuler later went on to become the head of naturopathic medicine at Midwestern Regional Medical Center -- which is part of the for-profit enterprise known as the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (which counts Dr. Joe Pizzorno, Jr. as one of their scientific counselors). This dubious cancer care center was founded and is headed by conservative businessman Richard Stephenson, who as it turns out "was an early supporter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the conservative lobbying group founded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch in 1984 that split into FreedomWorks [of which Stephenson is a board member] and Americans for Prosperity 20 years later." (5) (For more on the Koch brothers profiteering from alternative "natural" remedies see "The Omega-3 Fish Oil Industry.")

Dr. Alschuler is the co-author with Karolyn Gazella of Alternative Medicine Magazine's Definitive Guide to Cancer: An Integrated Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing (Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide) (Celestial Arts, 2007). Here one might observe that her coauthor, Gazella, is the publisher of the Natural Medicine Journal -- a body whose editorial board includes pharmaceutical lobbyist Douglas MacKay, who is a vice president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (whose corporate members include the likes of Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer, Herbalife, and Procter & Gamble). A more alternative editorial board member of the Natural Medicine Journal is Mark Hyman, a family physician and a four-time New York Times bestselling author, who serves on the advisory board of Dr. Memhet Oz's quackish, obesity-obsessed, HealthCorps, and is the chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine. (6)

The vice chair of the Institute for Functional Medicine is the well-connected Dr. Joe Pizzorno, Jr. and the Institute itself was founded by Jeffrey Bland, who is the president of the nutritional supplement manufacturer Metagenics (and advisor to Dr. Oz's HealthCorps). Metagenics, like other pharmaceutical companies, doesn't leave their financial fate to vagaries of the magical free-market, and they boost their bulging profits by employing skilled lobbyists to peddle their latest placebo treatments. So although...

The rapidly growing $4-billion-a-year supplement industry [which includes Metagenics] has cast itself in the role of an 'alternative' to the conventional health-care and food industries. Its marketing relies heavily on rhetoric and imagery that evokes a back-to-nature, anti-commercial, rebellious spirit of do-it-yourself healing in defiance of corporate power and government bureaucracies. In reality, however, the supplement industry has more in common with its mainstream counterparts than either would care to admit. (7)

One such lobbying outfit fronting for companies like Metagenics and Bristol-Myers Squibb is Walker Martin & Hatch, whose most significant founder and political operative is Scott Hatch, the son of Senator Orrin Hatch. That is, the son of the legislator who along with Tom Harkin has been credited with having "the greatest responsibility for the growth" of the Office of Alternative Medicine "and for the overall nurturing of alternative medicine with the vast medical-government complex...".

Harkin himself likewise maintains direct and seriously intimate connections to the nutritional establishment as he is the indomitable patron of the global nutrition company Herbalife -- a company that with no sense of irony counts the former president of Coca-Cola North America as one of their health-conscious board members. (8) Herbalife's chief scientific officer and resident "voice of science" is Steve Henig, a former senior executive at ConAgra, and a man who to this day is proud to boast of having "consulted with a number of leading companies including POM Wonderful." In a similar vein, medical Nobel laureate Dr. Louis Ignarro, who presently works for Herbalife, has also rendered consulting services for the not-so wonderful pomegranate juice purveyor POM Wonderful. Not-so wonderful because last year the lucrative juicers were ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to stop advertising their ludicrously expensive refreshments as being capable of preventing heart disease and cancer. This hefty smackdown came despite the best efforts of a bevy of alternative health practitioners who relished the opportunity to testify on behalf of a fellow snake-oil salesmen, one of these witnesses being Dr Dean Ornish, a celebrity alternative health expert who had previously undertaken a poorly conducted experiment for POM Wonderful that was used to support their highly misleading advertising campaign. Funding for Dr. Ornish's useful study came courtesy of POM Wonderful's anti-oxidizing owners Linda and Stewart Resnick -- the controversial duo who run the eco-imperialist bottled water empire known as Fiji Water, and dedicate their spare time to representing the eco-capitalist outfit Conservation International. Here Linda's other philanthropic connections bring us neatly back to our oily friend David Koch, who sits with her on the board room of the Prostate Cancer Foundation: an organization that is run by none other than former junk bond king Michael Milken, who, as it turns out, is not entirely sold on science and has sworn by Deepak Chopra's abilities to cure cancer -- albeit Milken's own cancer -- via magic! It seems that the murky world of alternative medicine is far from alternative after all.


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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1.  The Prince sells his own snake-oil products, one of which is Duchy Herbals' Detox Tincture that costs £10 for a 50 ml bottle. Unfortunately, in 2004 while speaking at a healthcare conference the Prince of Wales noted that Gerson therapy could cure patients suffering from terminal cancer. Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial (Corgi, 2009), p.294.  (back)

2.  James Harvey Young, "The Development of the Office of Alternative Medicine in the National Institutes of Health, 1991-1996," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 72 (2), 1998, pp.280. For example: "On Capitol Hill, Bedell introduced the senator to Royden Brown of Arizona, promoter of High Desert bee pollen capsules. Harkin suffered from allergies; persuaded by Brown to take 250 bee pollen capsules within five days, he rejoiced that his allergies had disappeared. The senator did not know at the time that Brown had recently paid a $200,000 settlement under a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, promising to cease disguising television infomercials as objective information programs and to stop including in his scripts dozens of false therapeutic claims for his capsules. These promotions also averred that 'the risen Jesus Christ, when he came back to Earth,' had consumed bee pollen; a more recent customer, Brown's infomercial declared, was Ronald Reagan." (p.281)  (back)

3.  Young, "The Development of the Office of Alternative Medicine in the National Institutes of Health, 1991-1996," p.282. Another founding member of the panel, Barrie Cassileth, was highly critical of the Office, saying: "The degree to which nonsense has trickled down to every aspect of this office is astonishing... It's the only place where opinions are counted as equal to data."

Eugenie Mielczarek and Brian Engler, "Measuring Mythology: Startling Concepts in NCCAM Grants," Skeptical Inquirer, 36 (1), January/February 2012, pp.35-43. For an abridged version of this study see "Culling non-science from scarce medical resources." (pdf)  (back)

4.  Ken Bedell is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, as is Bob Edgar, who prior to joining Common Cause served as general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, 2000-2007. One might add that Dr. Daniel Church, who has served as president of the naturpathic Bastyr University since 2005, is the General Secretary of the General Council on Ministries of the United Methodist Church.  (back)

5.  Amy Gardner, "FreedomWorks tea party group nearly falls apart in fight between old and new guard," Washington Post, December 25, 2012.  (back)

6.  Another editorial board member is Mary Jo Kreitzer, who is the founder and director of Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. One particularly notable senior fellow at the mumbo-jumbo center is the famed anthroposophist Eric Utne (of Utne Reader fame): he like Mary was one of the seven people who came together as signatories of the whimsical Green Tea Party Manifesto (signed in April 2010, with one of the better known signatories being Paul Hawken), which aims to help people "more fully explore the possibilities for collective wisdom." Kreitzer is one of the many New Age practitioners to obtain support from NCCAM, obtaining a massive $1.6 million grant no less.

The director of content for the Natural Medicine Journal is Deirdre Shevlin Bell, the former managing editor of Alternative Medicine magazine, and current managing editor of Wellness Times -- a magazine funded by Vitacost, the leading online retailer of health and wellness products. Edwin Kozlowski, who between 1978 and 2000 had worked for General Nutrition Companies (most recently spending ten years as their chief financial officer), serves on the board of directors of Vitacost.

For a refreshing alternative to the fat obsessed literature, see Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health (Gotham, 2004).  (back)

7.  Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "Swallowing anything: The hype behind alternative remedies," PR Watch, 4 (3), 1997. One notable board member of Metagenics is Deanna Minich, who is a former senior nutrition scientist at General Mills.  (back)

8.  Robert Johnson, The Politics of Healing: Histories of Alternative Medicine in Twentieth-Century North America (Routledge, 2004), pp.3-4. A relative newcomer on the alternative medicine scene is Congressman Jason Chaffetz (Republican-Utah). "Mr. Chaffetz, a former executive at a Utah company that sells anti-aging and skin care products, is also an industry ally." Eric Lipton, "Support is mutual for Senator and Utah industry," The New York Times, June 20, 2011.

David Gorski, "Congress will soon lose its foremost supporter of quackery, but will it matter?," Science-Based Medicine, January 28, 2013. Since 2003 Herbalife's CEO has been Michael Johnson, who prior to coming to this position had been the president of Disney International. Other interesting board members include Leroy Barnes, Jr. (who is the retired vice president and treasurer of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and board member of the McClatchy Newspapers Company), Carole Black (a board member of Time Warner Cable), Jeff Dunn (the former president of Coca-Cola North America), and Michael Levitt (a former managing director with Morgan Stanley).  (back)


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Published July 29, 2013