I recently had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Brian Goldman of CBC’s White Coat Black Art to explore the growing presence of naturopathy in Canada. In an effort to provide balance to the criticism surrounding the oft uncritical, nonsensical, and expensive health advice naturopaths provide to patients, Dr. Goldman was fair to interview Canadian naturopath Dugald Seely—the director of the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre and also the executive director of research at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM).
After I listened to the episode, I was disappointed that Seely did not use this podium to raise awareness of real problems within the naturopathic profession. As a prominent and self-proclaimed evidence-based naturopath, Seely had the perfect opportunity to say, at the very least, that homeopathy is ineffective and the profession should jettison it.
Seely says to Dr. Goldman that he practices naturopathy using therapies that are based in evidence. During the interview his responses hovered around the theme that he shuns the non-evidence-based practices.
But when Dr. Goldman asked him whether he uses homeopathy, Seely squirmed. When pushed, Seely eventually returned with, “I don’t practice homeopathy. I find that there are a lot of other tools that I have, that I learned, that I feel comfortable using.”
If Seely is going to take a public stance and say naturopathy can be evidence-based, why didn’t he cut down the low-hanging fruit and denounce homeopathy for the quackery that it is? Instead, Seely skirted Dr. Goldman’s questions with weasel words.
Seely could be hesitant to trash homeopathy because he is employed at CCNM, an “accredited” naturopathic institution, where students take almost three times as many credits in homeopathy than in pharmacology (13 hours in homeopathy vs. 5 in pharmacology).
CCNM even funded a clinical trial that Sealy ran at his private practice (OICC) investigating the use of homeopathy in a cancer patient with fatigue. Yes, just one patient. At least, the trial was registered and named appropriately: “An N-of-1 Study of Homeopathic Treatment of Fatigue in Patients Receiving Chemotherapy.”
It “assessed” the effectiveness of homeopathy in preventing chemotherapy-induced fatigue in one patient by randomly selecting either homeopathic treatment, which included lengthy counseling or a sugar pill during courses of chemotherapy. Since homeopathic substances are placebos and no different than sugar pills, in essence, the trial is testing the effectiveness of talk therapy against placebo with a research design that is even more fatally flawed: a lack of control group, no blinding (because there cannot be), and glaring conflicts of interest.
Yet, in a poster presentation for the study by Seely and David Brulé, that was published in the Journal of Homeopathy in 2014, they conclude that homeopathy “may be an effective treatment for fatigue with minimal potential to interact with chemotherapy and affect anti-cancer activity and potential for cure.”
For someone who is the executive director of research at one of the leading naturopathic programs in North America, it is illuminating of the naturopathic profession that Seely does not reflect upon the overwhelmingly vast body of scientific literature that indicates homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo sold for profit—health fraud. In other words, it can only empty patients’ wallets.
When asked by Dr. Goldman to respond to a remark from the outspoken naturopathy critic Timothy Caulfield that naturopathy is a pseudoscience, Seely responds, “I can only speak to what we are doing at the OICC and [we] certainly have a focus on a more evidence-based practice.”
No, Mr. Seely. I think you are fooling yourself.
Image by André Koehn, some rights reserved.