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Naturopathic Opposition to Immunization

Kimball C. Atwood IV, M.D.
Stephen Barrett, M.D.

One reason naturopaths (NDs) are held in low regard is their historical opposition to immunization. Some naturopaths now claim that this opposition "does not reflect the current view of NDs trained in accredited schools." [1] However, a close look indicates that opposition is still widespread.

Background History

Naturopathy attributes illness to the violation of "natural laws" and claims that standard medical practices merely suppress symptoms. Benedict Lust, who brought naturopathy to the United States and was its most influential advocate during the first half of the 20th century, was strongly opposed to vaccination. His Universal Directory of Naturopathy, published in 1918, states:

The contemporary fashion of healing disease is that of serums, inoculations and vaccines, which, instead of being an improvement on the fake medicines of former ages are of no value in the cure of disease, but on the contrary introduce lesions into the human body of the most distressing and deadly import. . . .

To understand how revolting these products are, let us just refer to the vaccine matter which is supposed to be an efficient preventive of smallpox. Who would be fool enough to swallow the putrid pus and corruption scraped from the foulest sores of smallpox that has been implanted in the body of a calf? Even if any one would be fool enough to drink so atrocious a substance, its danger might be neutralized by the digestive juices of the intestinal tract. But it is a far greater danger to the organism when inoculated into the blood and tissues direct, where no digestive substances can possibly neutralize its poison [2].

Lust's rant against vaccination was part of his more general disbelief that microorganisms cause disease, a fact that had been discovered by 19th century innovators such as Pasteur, Koch, and Lister. This germ theory -- perhaps the most important medical discovery every made ­- became the cornerstone of medical and public health efforts that ultimately saved billions of lives. However, it refuted the naturopathic view that individuals brought disease upon themselves through their own bad behavior, which naturopaths refer to as the "real cause of the ailment." It would be interesting to know how Lust would regard the fact that vaccination has eradicated smallpox worldwide.

Lust's views were not just an anomaly of his time. In 1968, the National Association of Naturopathic Physicians presented materials to the U.S. Public Health Service during an unsuccessful an attempt to gain inclusion under Medicare. Cited in those materials was a 1948 textbook, Basic Naturopathy, which stated:

A good case of smallpox may rid the system of more scrofulous, tubercular, syphilitic and other poisons than could otherwise be eliminated in a lifetime. Therefore, smallpox is certainly to be preferred to vaccination. The one means elimination of chronic disease, the other the making of it. . . .

Naturopaths do not believe in artificial immunization [3].

About 20 years ago, a study of naturopaths in Washington found that "many were opposed to routine immunization because they felt the procedure was unnatural, unnecessary and elitist." [4]

More Recent Views

The 1991 American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) Position Paper on childhood vaccinations, which is still in force, exaggerates the risks and says nothing about the benefits [5]. Its overall message suggests that vaccinations are dangerous and unnecessary and that parents should be encouraged to avoid them:

WHEREAS the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is a strong proponent of preventive medicine and of the protection of children and adults from the serious consequences of infectious disease;

WHEREAS naturopathic physicians, as primary care providers, are morally obliged and legally mandated to uphold and carry out the public health laws and should be authorized to administer vaccinations in all jurisdictions where naturopathic licensure is available;

WHEREAS all physicians are ethically obliged to give parents accurate and current information on both the benefits and risks of childhood vaccinations, i.e., parental "informed consent," such as required by the public health clinics of the United States Public Health Service; and,

WHEREAS it is well documented that some of the current childhood vaccinations have been associated with significant morbidity and are of variable efficacy and necessity.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that it is the position of the AANP that. . . .

IV. All physicians should respect that the parents or guardian have both the responsibility and freedom to decide within the range of options provided for by state law whether or not their children should receive vaccinations [5].

Naturopathic Medicine: Treating the Whole Person, written by Roger Newman Turner, N.D., D.O., M.R.D., B.Ac., a prominent British naturopath, states that "the principle of vaccination, according to the naturopathic principle of unity of disease, evades the primary factors responsible, which are usually environmental and nutritional" and that "while anxiety [about vaccination] has been centered around the the more immediate hazards . . . here is a concern that the long term effects on overall immune reserves may be undesirable." [6]

In 1992, consumer health activist Kurt Butler reported the following:

Some naturopaths espouse an "immunization kit" containing homeopathic solutions and pills that supposedly protect against polio, measles, pertussis, tetanus, and other lethal diseases. The Academic Dean of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Jared Zeff, N.D., said, in reference to such products, that some naturopaths give conventional vaccines and some give homeopathic pills that "stimulate the immune system." [7]

The first edition of the Textbook of Natural Medicine, a 2-volume looseleaf set issued inj1985 and updated periodically until 1996, contained a chapter called "Vaccinations and Immune Malfunction," written by Harold E. Buttram, M.D., author of a book by the same name [8]. We do not have this chapter available, but in other writings he blames immunizations for autism, Crohn's disease, ADHD, and many other health problems. He denies that immunizations have been effective, other than for polio and smallpox. He also warns against water fluoridation, argues that "food allergies" are the cause of numerous physical and behavioral problems, and claims that "toxins are everywhere."

The naturopathy textbook is significant because it was the most prominent naturopathic textbook (and perhaps the only one) during the decade in which it was in print and its co-editor, Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., is considered naturopathy's most prominent educator and spokesperson. The textbook's second (1999) edition lacks Buttram's chapter but still includes the negative comments by Benedict Lust mentioned in the beginning of this article [2]. Moreover, Pizzorno's 1996 book Total Wellness contains a 3-page attack on immunization that he says is mainly condensed from Buttram's chapter. This section states:

The 1994 issue of the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine contains five papers that regard vaccinations negatively.

Linda Rector Page, N.D., whose book Linda Page's Healthy Healing is now in its eleventh edition, provides this answer to the question, "Should you vaccinate your child?"

It depends on the vaccination -- some have serious side effects for sensitive individuals. . . . Medical literature from the last 70 years shows a high incidence of vaccination-related injuries and deaths. . . . My own sense is that most vaccines unnaturally stimulate and imbalance the immune system, eventually allowing many more immunological disorders like M.S., lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, candida and herpes infections [16]

No studies have investigated the effect of naturopathic attitudes on the actual incidence of non-adherence to rational immunization regimens. However, a recent survey of Massachusetts naturopaths found that only 20% (3 out of 15) would recommend childhood immunizations to parents [17].

Political Strategy

The field of naturopathy has demonstrated a continuous pattern of opposition to immunizations. Some naturopaths who write about the subject are completely negative. Those who present both positive and negative ideas invariably emphasize the negative. Its leaders realize that opposition to immunization could damage their credibility when they lobby for passage of licensing laws or other legislative recognition [14]. Those who say they advocate "parental choice" fail to mention the extent to which they and their colleagues portray immunization as unnecessary and dangerous.

To be credible, any assertion that naturopaths favor immunization would require a formal change in the AANP position paper and a dramatic shift in the literature emanating from the field. Unless that happens, any such assertion should be considered a dishonest attempt to curry favor with legislators.

References

  1. Silbert B. Naturopathy: Recommended for Licensure in Massachusetts. Presented to the Massachusetts Special Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medical Practitioners. April 17, 2001, p 117
  2. Lust B. The principles, aim and program of the nature cure system. Reprinted in Cody G. History of Naturopathic Medicine. In Pizzorno JE and Murray MT, editors. Textbook of Natural Medicine. London: Churchill Livingstone, 1999, pp 17-40.
  3. Harry Riley Spitler. Basic Naturopathy: a textbook (n.p.: American Naturopathic Association, Inc., 1948). pp. 214,271. Quoted in HEW Report on Naturopathy (1968).
  4. Naturopaths and childhood immunizations: Heterodoxy among the unorthodox. Pediatrics 68:407-410, 1981.
  5. American Association of Naturopathic Physicians' position on childhood immunizations. Resolution, AANP House of Delegates, Nov 1989.
  6. Turner RN. Naturopathic Medicine: Treating the Whole Person. Wellingborough, England: Thorsons Publishers Limited, 1990.
  7. Butler K. A Consumer's Guide to Alternative Medicine. Buffalo, NY. Prometheus Books, 1992, p 139
  8. Buttram HE. Vaccinations and immune malfunction. In Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, editors. A Textbook of Natural Medicine. Seattle: John Bastyr College Publications, 1985-1986.
  9. Buttram HE, Piccola R. Current childhood vaccination programs: Do they cause more disease than they prevent? in Buttram HE, Piccola R. Who Is Looking After Our Kid's?
  10. Pizzorno J. Total Wellness: Improve Your Health by Understanding the Body's Healing Systems. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, pp 55-57.
  11. D'Adamo PJ. The vaccination conundrum. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 5(1):4, 1994.
  12. Wilde, G. Vaccine production and contamination as contributing etiologic factors in neoplastic disease. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 5(1):6-16 1994.
  13. Miller NZ. Vaccines and natural health. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 5(1):32-39, 1994.
  14. Milliman, WB. Childhood immunity. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 5(1):44-49, 1994.
  15. Traub M. Homeopathic prophylaxis. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 5(1):50-60 ,1994.
  16. Barrett S. Homeopathy: The ultimate fake. Quackwatch, updated Aug 26, 2001.
  17. Page LR. Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone. Traditional Wisdom, March 2000, p 255.
  18. L Lee CCL, Kemper K. Homeopathy and naturopathy: Practice characteristics and pediatric care. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 154:75-80, 2000.

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Dr. Atwood, who practices in Newton, Massachusetts, is board certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine. He is also his state medical society's representative on the Massachusetts Special Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medical Practitioners, an ad hoc group whose purpose is to inform state legislators about naturopathy.

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This article was posted on December 29, 2001.