A sad story showing how alternative medicine can cause harm

This morning, there were several Tweets about a very sad story. Here is the first one:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.18.17 AM

But soon many others followed. It was a very tragic story.

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In short, a 19 month old Alberta boy died of meningitis. Read more articles here and here. According to the story, his parents were running an alternative medicine website called TrueHope Nutritional Support Inc., a Canadian online story selling vitamin and mineral supplements.  The couple tried to treat their son, who was getting sicker and sicker, with all kinds of supplements but he did not get better, and eventually passed away.

TrueHope, the company run by the parents of the boy (according to one of the news sites above) claims that their supplements will cure a wide variety of behavioral conditions such as autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and depression. Their main product is EMPowerplus, a multivitamin product. Here is one of their claims (highlighting mine):Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.31.33 AM

In a related story, a British Columbia man with schizophrenia who had been taking EMPowerplus and had stopped taking his prescription drugs, killed his father.

Truehope lists a collection of “clinical studies” on their website, but most of these are by the same 2 authors, and unblinded, not-placebo controlled studies, where people with mental illness were given pills, and asked if they felt better after a while. Read a critical analysis about their research here.

Natasha Tracy, a mental health writer, wrote some critical blogs about EmPowerPlus. She actually bought the product, but received a lot of pushy telephone calls afterwards, asking her to do additional tests. Tracy wrote a post about her experience called What I Know about EMPowerplus by Truehope that You Don’t. TrueHope of course was not amused, and threatened her with a lawsuit. But she did not remove her posts – and has not been sued so far. More about the lawsuit and Tracy’s story here.

The question remains why such a product can be advertised to treat diseases, and sold in Canada without the need for a prescription. Today we learned how dangerous and tragic selling dietary supplements with vague health claims can be.


One thought on “A sad story showing how alternative medicine can cause harm

  1. The title of this article is a bit below the belt and makes it seem like “natural” medicine is a bad thing. This is in fact not the case. Just like everything else “natural medicine” can be good or bad depending on how it is used. Just like “medicine” or “mainstream medicine” can be good or bad depending on if it is employed correctly. This case is just but one case that show a mistake of a family in how they had their son treated, but it does not denounce the field of natural medicine as a whole. If it did, then the literally hundreds of thousands of deaths a year attributed to medical mistakes and the medical industry as a whole are each, “A very sad story showing how medicine can cause harm.”

    I’d like to see a real, statistically significant properly done study compare how many people are helped and how many are hurt each year by natural medicine and mainstream medicine respectively. We can look at both absolute numbers and at percentages of users of each type of medicine.

    One thing I would point out is that natural medicine has for centuries connected most of humanities ailments back to the gut. Interestingly enough, the increasing study of the microbiome is also suggesting that a lot of humanities common medical conditions in the present originate in the gut. This actually backs up the premise of natural medicine. Of course medicine is figuring out a way to make pills that help with your microbiome, but surely the best way to stabalize your microbiome is to eat foods and herbs which promote a healthy microbiome. I’m not against pro-biotic pills with “healthy” bacteria in them by any means, in fact I take some from time to time, but nutrition is the first line against any of this.

    As for me, I stay much healthier than 90% of my pears around me by utilizing echinachiea, and things like emergen-C and other alternative medicines. My whole family will get sick and I’ll be the only one who doesn’t. That said, if I get really sick, I’m going to the doctor. I try to balance the two and feel there is a place for both.

    I’ll add that menengitis is nasty and going to the doctor is no guarantee of survival.

    Best regards,
    Josh Franken


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