Read intelligently because the next crank you read may be your last

A reader of ours ran into a questionable book ad, and being a good citizen, sent it on to me. I glanced at it, and it seemed to be the usual silly book purporting to cure all that ails, but on deeper inspection, it was much uglier.

The book says that it "renders insulin and related medicines unnecessary within four days...". This is a bit scary, not because this would be a bad thing, but because many diabetics are completely dependent on insulin to live. But, hey, maybe this is a good diet plan for type II diabetics and will at least help them reduce their need for meds. I mean, it could be, right? A quick trip to google disabused me of any thoughts of intellectual generosity.

The Crank
Dr. Gabriel Cousens is the writer who promises to get you off insulin. While I applaud the idea of healing people, his claims are obviously suspicious. I mean, why are the rest of us so ignorant that we are blindly keeping diabetics on all these evil medicines?

Cousens runs an outfit called Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center, but based on reports, it sounds like a waiting room for the morgue. Cousens claims to be an M.D., and an "M.D. (H)", which the State of Arizona's way of letting quacks practice medicine. The "Dr." in question lost his license to practice in two other states before he was forced to look to the Arizona Board.

The Phoenix News-Times did a nice job with this issue, and with this quack in particular. I encourage you to go read the entire piece. According to their report:

Cousens told him [a deceased patient whose family is suing him] that injections of cow adrenaline and/or sheep DNA could energize his body. Levy agreed to five injections, which aren't a homeopathic treatment but are allowed by Arizona's homeopathic board.

Unfortunately, the injection site -- on Levy's right buttock -- grew infected, so he went to see Cousens about it. Cousens didn't recommend an antibiotic. Instead, he treated the growing abscess with acupuncture and massage.

The infected area became green and black. It spread down Levy's thigh, and on March 1, 1998, Levy did not wake up in his dorm room at the Tree of Life Spa. Cousens found Levy unconscious and attempted CPR, with no success.

Cousens did not call 911. Instead, he called an air ambulance, and arranged for a helicopter pickup on the football field of a nearby high school.

Wow. Why didn't he just shoot the guy in the head? It would have had the same effect and taken a lot less time and money.

But wait, there's more:

Santa Cruz County Medical Examiner Dr. Cynthia Porterfield...examined Levy's body and ruled that the injection and subsequent infection killed him. Specifically, she found that Levy died from Clostridium perfringens...The osteopathic medical board also examined the autopsy and ruled that the medical examiner was right to name the injection and infection as the causes of death....But when Cousens' dead patient came up before the homeopathic board in 2001, the board dismissed the complaint -- despite the medical examiner's findings.

The board ruled that, though a patient did die, the doctor did not violate any laws of homeopathic medicine.

So basically, the Arizona board is allowed to give out "00" status---"licensed to kill".

And who stands behind this killer? Waddya know! It's Mike Adams, of the newly-christened "Natural News", the home of quackery on the web. Adams's interview of Cousens is basically a listing of anti-scientific ideas, such as raw-foodism. Among the more humorous claims is that being "holistic" allows him to "do it all", including medicine, psychiatry, and family counseling.

But back to basics.

Orac, in a moment of inebriation clarity, stumbled upon the idea of "scientific-medicine denialism". It connects the patterns of typical denialism to alternative medicine. We need ways to systematically study these phenomena, and this is a step in the right direction. To someone like me, trained in the field, and experienced at sniffing out quackery, the original book advertisement that started this post is clearly suspicious, and led me to find the newspaper reports detailing the carnage this guy is leaving in his wake. But to the untrained, perhaps a diabetic, an ad like this will seem tempting. They may pick up the book and find it to be of no use. Sure, they ended up lining the quack's pockets, but no direct harm came to them. But maybe an insulin-dependent diabetic will read this book, follow the advice, and die. Perhaps some day, someone with a good grant will start to formally study medical crankism and quackery. Until then, be very, very careful.

More like this


By Anonymous (not verified) on 14 Apr 2008 #permalink

This book damn near killed my mother.

She's had rheumatoid arthritis since her 30s. This book convinced her to stop both her pain meds and anti-inflammatories so that the purported "cure" could work. From the pain and immobility which resulted, she dropped over 1/3 of her body weight and suffered a lot of muscle loss; she was too stubborn to go back onto a conventional medical regimen until she was too ill to protest and we hospitalised her.

The scary part is, this isn't even the worst that's out there, in terms of "treating arthritis."

Pain can kill. The problem is when evidence-based medicine isn't able to offer a complete cure, or even complete palliative treatment; people, in understandable desperation, become willing to try *anything*, no matter how badly that ends up hurting them. Unlike the honest doctors, who will tell someone, "this is what we can do, and this is what we can't do, and this is what you will simply have to live with because we do not have an effective treatment", the altie types are happy to promise miracles and 100% success. When someone is desperate, who do you think they want to listen to?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 16 Apr 2008 #permalink

Right, obviously when you think clinically about it, if anyone had a legitimate way to "cure" diabetes in under 2 weeks, clinical trials would seem pretty easy to design, document, and disseminate. Someone who disseminates his so-called earth-shattering results in a public, mass market paperback book rather than medical resources would seem less than credible. To someone burdened by medical care, overwhelmed with medical misery, and grasping for anything that promises better health, it's going to look awfully good no matter how ridiculous the premise or the credentials. The problem is that as you say in this case we're dealing not with a promise to generally healthy people of subjectively better health, but with a promise of a cure to people whose lives depend on appropriate, effective medical intervention.

I noticed this quote from Paula Aboud, a member of the AZ Senate Health Committee, just after the part stating that she has "sought treatment from homeopaths" in the Phoenix article:

"If you're doing classical homeopathy, which is merely a spiritual practice of working on the level of the spirit or the body, there are not too many ways a person can be harmed."

So, apparently, she doesn't even know what homeopathy is, and seems to confuse it with holistic medicine. Though the article claims her committee is trying to tighten up loopholes in licensing practices, how can it be effective when committee members don't know what the licensing board is licensing?

This is even more frightening coming from AZ, where thousands of our senior citizens retire each year, bringing their health problems, their mostly limited incomes, and their trust for individuals with MD after their names with them.

Incidents like the one reported above, happen EVERY day in hospitals throughout the U.S.., Where is your outrage and articles on these? You have chosen to focus on one doctor, with one complaint, who was cleared. SAD and SLANTED. A definitive review and close reading of medical peer-review journals, and government health statistics shows that American medicine frequently causes more harm than good. The number of people having in-hospital, adverse drug reactions (ADR) to prescribed medicine is 2.2 million. (1) Dr. Richard Besser, of the CDC , in 1995, said the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections was 20 million. Dr. Besser, in 2003, now refers to tens of millions of unnecessary antibiotics. (2, 2a)

The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed annually is 7.5 million. (3) The number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million. (4) THE TOTAL NUMBER OF IATROGENIC [induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures] DEATHS IS ALMOST 800,000. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! The real problem with medicine is not Dr. Cousens.

Hmm. Those are some interesting numbers, NatvKate. Any citations to go with those, or are they from the SGIMIAB journal? Because I just ain't buying those. There is a huge difference between inadvertent injury and deliberate malpractice... treating an infection with acupuncture and massage is just insanity.

By LanceR, JSG (not verified) on 13 Jan 2009 #permalink

Dr. Cousens CLEARLY states in his free lectures that there is a cure "in some cases" when raw foodism and exercise are integrated into the patient's lifestyle. I think some people DO NOT read clearly.

The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed annually is 7.5 million. (3) The number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million. (4) THE TOTAL NUMBER OF IATROGENIC [induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures] DEATHS IS ALMOST 800,000. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! The real problem with medicine is not Dr. Cousens.