Prevention’s “Ask the Naturopath”

A review of Prevention’s “Ask the Naturopath” column.

Grade F

“Ask the Naturopath” is a question-and-answer format column in Prevention magazine. Answers are supplied by one of at least two naturopaths. In the case of the one psoriasis question I’ve seen there, it was answered by Michael T. Murray, ND (doctor of naturopathy).

I have yet to find out where Murray obtained his ND degree, and this is a real concern in naturopathy, as “diploma mills” and unaccredited schools are quite common in that field (seeQuackwatch for more details). In the “Ask the Naturopath” answer Murray gives, he does not do anything to make naturopathy seem more rational, with his shotgun approach to treating the disease with diet, relaxation, supplements, medications, and homeopathy. Murray has also been involved in the dubious field ofjuicing.

Murray begins by oversimplifying the disease. He claims that psoriasis is “caused by a pileup of skin cells that have replicated too rapidly.” While this is the cause of the most-obvious symptom, it is obviously not the cause of the disease. He neglects to mention the inflammation, the different types of psoriasis, and the probable genetic basis for the disease.

In much of his answer, Murray gives little backup for his opinions, offering vague and difficult-to-disprove information. It’s difficult to disprove simply because he doesn’t actually claim much. Statements such as “A number of dietary factors appear to play a role in psoriasis, including incomplete protein digestion, alcohol consumption and excessive consumption of animal fats” say very little. We can’t know what he means by “incomplete protein digestion,” or why he believes that it contributes to psoriasis (I certainly can’t see a reason for it to have any effect).

Murray minimally describes the “best diet to help control psoriasis,” which seems to be basically a vegetarian diet with the exception that he recommends regular consumption of cold-water fish. Other diets suggested for psoriasis certainly contradict his advice, as vague as it is (he gives no details, so the patient is left to figure out how to acheive good nutrition without meat or dairy products for himself).

Murray then suggests identifying food allergies or sensitivities, and points out some “common allergens,” but neglects to describe how a person should identify these things. Should we assume we’re allergic to tomatoes (for example), simply because it’s common to be so? He also suggests cutting back or eliminating alcohol, caffeine and sugar. There are plenty of psoriatics who find that the level of consumption of these things make little difference (and eliminating sugar is, of course, impossible, as simple and complex sugars are required for human life). His last dietary advice, drinking at least 48 ounces of water per day, is 16 ounces shy of the current, usual advice (64 ounces per day).

Discussing stress, Murray is once again vague, and offers a one-size-fits-all suggestion that it doesn’t matter what kind of stress-reduction technique you use, “as long as you practice your chosen technique for 10 to 15 minutes each day.” Are all drugless relaxation regimens equally effective, as this would imply?

Murray then suggests some nutritional supplements, neglecting the fact that psoriasis has never been shown to be a deficiency in any vitamin or mineral. In fairness, he does only say they “may … be beneficial,” but he then goes on to describe “typical dosages” for vitamins C, E, and also zinc. How any of these would truly help is unclear. Murray also mentions flaxseed oil, but only that it “also appears to be helpful.”

Murray suggests applying Simicort, which is supposedly a “natural alternative” to steroids (please follow the link for more information). The bias here is obvious, as Murray was, and may still be, Director of Research and Product Development for Enzymatic Therapy, the company which makes Simicort. I found this information at the National Council Against Health Fraud’s site.

Lastly, Murray suggests Pancreatin in a homeopathic preparation. Pancreatin is a mixture of pancreatic enzymes (usually from pigs or cows). If taken “straight,” the enzymes would be broken down into their constituent parts during digestion. In a homeopathic tincture, well, it’s probably medically worthless.

In conclusion, Murray’s advice is vague, unscientific, and probably a waste of time and money for psoriatics looking for treatments. The implication (through omission of any discussion about differences between people and types of psoriasis) that these suggestions should be good enough for anyone makes it seem to me that he’s taken any anecdotal evidence of effects of the different therapies, and thrown them all together with an “appears to be beneficial” refrain. This is shotgun medicine, and, in my opinion, bad advice.