By Dr. Nada Mangialetti, Jack Raso
Posted: Wednesday, December 1, 1999
Publication Date: December 1, 1999
It baffles me that physicians rarely even mention to their patients any of the dozens of drugless, nonsurgical alternative treatments that are not merely safe and successful—indeed, brilliant—but are affordable as well. Aloe vera, for example, heals ulcers so effectively that even the scars disappear. Chronic ulcers are curable without drugs within 15 days. Other such treatments include a miraculous plant preparation that cures arthritis within 14 days and makes drugs unnecessary; an ancient cure that dissolves pain on contact; an astounding treatment for Alzheimer's disease that purges from the body the elements that hypothetically cause the disease; a natural, nonprescription miracle that ends irritable-bowel pain for good; a topical cream that reverses osteoporosis; and foods that reverse hearing loss. Furthermore, asthma is erasable within four days.
Do you believe me—a doctoral-degreed, practicing psychologist and card-carrying skeptic? If you're a longtime peruser of this magazine, you probably—and hopefully—do not.
|Whitaker has declared that the human body is a perfect self-healing machine, that illness is not natural, and that bacteria do not develop a resistance to 'God's antibiotics.' |
At least one physician has made the above claims and similar assertions: author Julian M. Whitaker, M.D., licensed to practice in California. Whitaker is the director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, in Newport Beach, California, and the editor of its monthly "advisory letter," Health & Healing, which he says is "the most widely read health newsletter in the world," with more than a half-million subscribers.
Whitaker has declared that the human body is a perfect self-healing machine, that illness is not natural, and that bacteria do not develop a resistance to "God's antibiotics." He recommends "treatments organ-ized medicine doesn't want you to know about," "miracles of healing censored by the medical establishment," and "cures that greedy drug companies and FDA bureaucrats don't want you to have." He claims that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is secretly working to outlaw "nutritional healing." According to him, consumers need protection not only from that agency, but also from the American Dietetic Association, HMOs, 1 insurance companies, The National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the medicopharmaceutical establishment.
Trust Me—I'm a Doctor
If Julian Whitaker is—as Healing Miracles, his tabloidlike teaser publication, states—"America's Favorite Family Doctor . . . Trusted By Over a Half-Million People," it behooves us to learn about the development of his career, his credentials, and the health claims he disseminates.
|Among the various substances Whitaker recommends for 'stopping the clock' is human growth hormone (HGH). |
Whitaker was born in 1944. He obtained a bachelor's (A.B.) degree from Dartmouth College in 1966 and an M.D. degree from Emory University Medical School in 1970. He became an orthopedic surgical resident 2 at a hospital affiliated with the University of California at San Francisco, but he did not finish the program. Whitaker states that his meeting with a healthy-looking 34-year-old woman who came to the emergency room where he worked as a resident started him on the path of "natural therapies." The patient was a distributor of dietary supplements marketed by the Shaklee Corporation. She evidently so impressed Whitaker that he began to take vitamin supplements and to "investigate the 'hinterlands'" of his profession. Whitaker says that what he found during this investigation astonished him—for example, "natural supplements that clear out clogged arteries the way Liquid Plumber [sic] cleans out a stuffed-up sink drain" and "cancer therapies" that made potato-sized tumors "disappear completely, without chemo or radiation!"
Whitaker states that he is "board certified in anti-aging medicine" and that he practices preventive medicine—but he has never been conventionally certified in any specialty acknowledged by the official source of such certification, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), or by the American Medical Association (AMA). "Anti-aging medicine" is not a specialty thus acknowledged. Whitaker further describes himself as a longtime practitioner of alternative medicine and says that "orthomolecular medicine" is the "label" that "comes closest to describing what I have be-lieved and practiced for the last 25 years." Alternative medicine and orthomolecular medicine are likewise not specialties acknowledged by either the ABMS or the AMA.
Megavitamin-therapy proponent Linus Pauling, Ph.D. coined the word "orthomolecular" for a theory according to which physical and mental disorders are curable by optimizing bodily concentrations of substances normally present in the body, such as amino acids, essential minerals, and vitamins. The primary principle of orthomolecular medicine—which encompasses hair analysis, 3 orthomolecular nutrition (a form of megavitamin therapy), and orthomolecular psychiatry—is that nutrition is the foremost consideration in diagnosis and treatment. In the 1970s Whitaker hooked up with Pauling and with low-fat-diet proponent Nathan Pritikin (1915- 1985).4 In 1974 he cofounded the California Orthomolecular Medical Society. (The International Society for Orthomolec-ular Medicine held its inaugural meeting in 1994, has about 50 members, and is open to nonprofessionals.)
In 1979 Whitaker founded the Whitaker Wellness Institute Medical Clinic; in the early 1980s he was Director of the California Heart Medical Clinic, Inc.; and in 1992 he cofounded the American Preventive Medical Association (APMA), an alternative-medicine advocacy group that claims about 500 members. Membership in the APMA is open not only to practicing M.D.s, osteopaths, and dentists but also to acupuncturists, chiropractors, "nutritionists," other "allied health care professionals," and nonprofessionals.
In 1981, in periodic segments of the syndicated television series "PM Magazine," Whitaker (assisted by a "Captain Carrot") presented his "lose weight, live longer diet plan." The "PM Magazine Diet," as this diet-and-exercise plan was also called, was largely reasonable, suggestive of the Pritikin Program. On "PM Magazine" Whitaker principally advised increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and decreasing consumption of high-fat dairy products, eggs, red meat, organ meats, margarine, and table sugar. He did not portray any food, nutrient, or dietary supplement as a miracle cure on "PM Magazine." In a 1981 letter to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), William T. Jarvis, Ph.D., then Associate Professor of Health Education at Loma Linda University, said of the PM Magazine Diet: ". . . [O]verall it's not worth getting too excited about. . . . [T]here doesn't seem to be any impressive potential for harm . . . ."
|Amid the exaggerations and misstatements in Healing Miracles are legitimate complaints about managed care and about vitamin-supplement mislabeling. |
Recently, Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., ACSH's Director of Nutrition, reviewed transcripts of Whitaker's "PM Magazine" presentations and concluded: "On the whole, the diet plan is not awful, but some of the statements he made are misleading, incorrect, or ridiculous." Kava cites Whitaker's assertion that butter, margarine, mayonnaise, eggs, oil, milk, and red meats "will cut off your oxygen supply," and his declaration that eggs "could possibly be one of the most dangerous foods you've ever eaten."
That Was Then—This Is Now
"Thank God for Dr. Whitaker!!" is the headline-like quotation (of unnamed origin) on the front page of a "premiere edition" of Healing Miracles, a nondated, full-color, infomercial-like publication "from the Whitaker Wellness Institute." Healing Miracles has a magazine format, appears available by subscription, and markets Health & Healing. Several editions and variations of Healing Miracles, whose cover price is $5.00, have been issued by Phillips Publish-ing, one of the largest newsletter publishers in the United States.
Healing Miracles teems with promises (see the box on your right), some of which—those below, for example (italics added)—include qualifiers.
- "Become Almost Immune To Breast Cancer!"
- "Become Almost Invulnerable To Disease & Aging!"
- "Diabetes Breakthrough! Studies have shown how this common trace mineral may cure diabetes."
- "Magnify Your Immunity! Become almost invulnerable to disease. Miracle nutrient reduces risk for ALL disease 36%"
- "[Selenium] Could Help You Stay Cancer-Free For Life . . ."
- "This Mighty Nutrient [co-enzyme Q10] May Someday Make High Blood Pressure & Heart Disease Extinct."
- "You'll discover how arthritis can be cured in as little as three days . . . ."
Radio commentator Ronald B. Keys, J.D., Ph.D., a non-mainstream medical consultant who practices in New York City, states:
While I strongly disagree with the sweeping generalizations noted in these titles (they are ridiculous), perhaps the salesmanship is the problem. In any event, I believe that on balance Julian Whitaker, M.D., has done more good than harm and would not point my cannons at him. I work with people absolutely being killed or seriously impaired with medication side effects from conventional medicine. I am in the middle of all of this. The real enemy is ignorance on both sides. Most of the titles [above and in the box below] are so sweeping that they invite attack and skepticism, but on the other hand, how do you get people to read your stuff? . . . Do you say [that] aloe vera may act on the gut lumen to heal lesions that may develop, as one of several ulcer lesion treatment options, with all kinds of caveats and exceptions noted? How do you draw attention to it and get people to read your stuff?? I don't know. I don't have an answer.
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D.— editor of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, a co-founder of the NCAHF, and a medical professor at Stanford University—says of the same statements: "Don't the quotes sort of speak for themselves? I found myself chuckling out loud and I got louder as I neared the end. Not a true statement in the lot . . . ."
The "evidence" Healing Miracles presents affirmative of such claims as those listed above consists of apparent anecdotes, testimonials from individuals, allusions to studies, and oversimple, noncontextualized exaggerations of handpicked findings from scientific research. For example, in one "premiere edition," Whitaker describes the diary of the wife of one of his patients, in which she rated her once severely impotent spouse "a sexual 11" on a scale of 1 to 10, as "indisputable proof" that after "a few simple treatments" his patient was "more 'functional' than ever."
Some of the Dubious Promises in Healing Miracles
- "Conquer Your Diabetes! Reduce or even eliminate insulin dependence [with five dietary supplements]."
- "Melt Away Extra Pounds Like Snow in Summer! No diet or exercise."
- "Osteoporosis Can Be Reversed With This Topical Cream."
- "The 7-Penny Heart Protector [a "natural supplement"]: Reduces Heart Attack Risk 75%—Even If You Have heart Disease."
- "A Single Teaspoon [of a "High-Speed Herbal Extract"] Lowers Cholesterol 30 Points! New discovery."
- "Take This Vitamin Every Day And Live 8 Years Longer."
The titles of the "reports" that Whitaker's promotional publications have offered as bonuses to prospective subscribers include such expressions as "amazing antidotes to aging," "heart-healing miracles," "secrets to miraculous self-healing," and "stopping the clock." Except for a particular weight-loss system, Healing Miracles refers neither to possible adverse side effects of the "alternatives" (and the alleged answers to prayers) that Whitaker recommends, nor to contraindications for these "treatments." Regarding the weight-loss system, Whitaker warns: "There's only one problem with my No-Willpower Weight-Loss System. You must be careful not to become too thin!"
Among the various substances Whitaker recommends for "stopping the clock" is human growth hormone (HGH). The FDA has not approved anti-aging use of HGH, and the U.S. manufacturers of HGH (recombinant somatotropin)—Eli Lilly & Co. and Genentech Inc.—do not promote it for stopping or slowing aging (which is unstoppable). The January 10, 1996, edition of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) quoted a Genentech representative: "At the dosage levels you have to go to [to] get helpful anti-aging effects, [HGH] runs amok on side effects." According to the paper, both companies have "imposed unusual restrictions on the drug" and, in the U.S., supply it only to pediatric endo-crinologists.
But Whitaker and more than a few other American doctors obtain HGH through the El Dorado Rejuvenation & Longevity Institute, in Houston, Texas. This "institute" imports the hormone from Mexico. (The WSJ described its founder, Howard Turney, as a medically untrained high-school dropout.)
Amid the exaggerations and misstatements in Healing Miracles are legitimate complaints about managed-care problems and vitamin-supplement mislabeling. Dr. Jarvis, Executive Director of the NCAHF, stated in a 1995 NCAHF advisory: "Although Dr. Whitaker's magazines may have some useful advice, NCAHF still cannot recommend them. It takes an expert to sort out the wheat from the chaff. NCAHF recommends that people interested in health promotion and preventive medicine locate a physician who is board certified in preventive medicine."
Alas, board certification may not be much of a draw, while antiestablishment rhetoric that emphasizes self-healing is often extremely attractive. Whitaker asserts, or at least im-plies, that there are effective drugless, nonsurgical, self-help options for virtually all afflictions and that there are hundreds of "alternatives" safer, gentler, and much less expensive than drugs or surgery. But author and NCAHF member David W. Ramey, D.V.M., observes: "No one has a cure for many of the conditions described. Anyone who did would make Bill Gates look like a pauper."
"Free Home Diagnosis"
The Whitaker Wellness Institute Medical Clinic offers "2-day medical evaluations" and the "One-Week Back to Health Program." Ac-cording to its website, all of its doctors are M.D.s who "specialize in alternative medicine." But the website states that Whitaker himself sees clinic patients neither regularly nor in a medical capacity, and that his schedule "prohibits him from taking on new patients at this time." Images in Healing Miracles of Whitaker apparently giving a physical or consulting with a patient suggest something otherwise. More than half the pages in each edition include at least one image of Whitaker wearing a lab coat,5 and in most of these pictures he is apparently wearing, holding, or using a stethoscope.
|Whitaker asserts, or at least implies, that there are effective drugless, nonsurgical, self-help options for virtually all afflictions . . . . |
Whitaker may not be accepting individuals as new private patients, but he does offer "free home diagnosis" to persons who subscribe to Healing Miracles and/or Health & Healing for at least one year. "Just tell him about your problem," states the promotional publication, "and he'll send you a complete Report filled with his proven healing advice"—a "prescription for your personal health problem." Whitaker explains in Healing Miracles:
After you return your No-Risk Trial Certificate, I'll send you a special patient request card. You can use this card to tell me about your most urgent health problem—whether it's prostate problems, high blood pressure, hormone replacement therapy . . . whatever. . . . The moment I receive [the card], I'll examine your profile and send you a specially-prepared report dedicated to your personal problem.
|Whitaker may not be accepting individuals as new private patients, but he does offer 'free home diagnosis' to persons who subscribe to Healing Miracles and/or Health & Healing for at least one year. |
"This offer is grossly mercantile and potentially dangerous," says Gilbert Ross, M.D., ACSH's Medical Director. "For one thing, it could delay a sick person's seeking bona fide medical attention. And there can't be much that is personal—or medically useful—about sending a report to someone about whom you know little more than what he or she has jotted concerning just one health problem."
Whitaker evidently differs. In Healing Miracles he states:
I'm especially proud of the remarkable personal relationship I have with my readers.
. . . I write each monthly [newsletter] as if I were writing to one person. YOU.
How is this possible? For one thing, I make a special point to listen to your concerns. I read your letters as if they were from my family. I correspond with many of my readers regularly. And I'm a practicing physician . . . .
Reliable Information Sources
- To learn whether a physician is "board certified," contact the American Board of Medical Specialties
- To learn about specific treatments and alleged preventives that are non-mainstream, contact Healthcare Reality Check
(http://www.hcrc.org/); Health Frontiers Center for Quackery Control, Inc.
(http://www.netasia.net/users/truehealth/); The National Council Against Health Fraud
(http://www.quackwatch.com); and the American Council on Science and Health at
- To learn whether any complaints have been lodged against a business, contact the Council of Better Business Bureaus
- To learn about a foundation, contact The Foundation Center, in New York City
Yet <drwhitaker.com > states that it is "virtually impossible for him to speak with you personally or to respond to a letter personally." Heading cruises and tours, lecturing to paying admirers, overseeing his clinic and all its programs, writing extensively, and running a mail-order and website business (which sells herbal and other dietary supplements, books, and health-related gadgets) apparently leave Whitaker with little time for hands-on doctoring.
Whatever the case may be, says biochemist and im-munologist Saul Green, Ph.D., who for 23 years was a cancer researcher at what is now the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, "Patients who need nonpartisan advice should not expect to get it from Whitaker." He adds: "Whitaker is smart. He knows what the public wants. He knows what scared patients want. With catchphrases and antiestablishment rhetoric, he tells the public what it wants to hear about health, aging, and cures."
Nada Mangialetti holds a Ph.D. degree in psychology. She is a freelance science writer and former educational vice president of the New York Area Skeptics (NYASk).
Linus Carl Pauling, Ph.D. (1901-1994) won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1954, for his research on the nature of chemical bonds, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. Books he authored or coauthored include Vitamin C and the Common Cold (1970), Vitamin C and Cancer (1979), and How to Live Longer and Feel Better (1986). Pauling, who reportedly ingested well over ten grams of vitamin C daily, claimed that massive intakes of the nutrient could prevent the common cold and contribute to the prevention and/or treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, schizophrenia, and other disorders. Research findings have contradicted these notions. In Vitamin C and the Common Cold Pauling attacked the health food industry for misleading consumers with jargon. But, evidently because those who criticized that industry criticized him as well, he became a standard-bearer of the health food movement.
In Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics (1995), Ted Goertzel and Ben Goertzel state:
It may be . . . that [the] decrease in cold symptoms [that in Vitamin C and the Common Cold, Pauling claimed he and spouse had experienced] was not as striking as Pauling implied. In a letter to his son Peter on January 9, 1969, Pauling wrote, "Both mama and I have suffered from colds during the last few weeks, never very bad but dragging on. I don't think that we had the flu, because at no time did we have a fever." . . . In interviews, he admitted to having "allergies". . . .
Indeed, in the May 1985 issue of Nutrition Forum, James Lowell, Ph.D., stated:
[Arthur B. Robinson, Ph.D., former president and director of the Linus Pauling Institute] told me that Pauling was fond of saying that he and his wife never got colds because they were taking 10 grams of vitamin C a day, but that Pauling actually had colds "frequently." During the mid-1970s Pauling's wife [having ingested vitamin C in large amounts for years] contracted stomach cancer . . . . Pauling claimed she had stopped taking vitamin C by that time, but Robinson, who was a frequent visitor at the Pauling ranch, said the couple regularly put teaspoons of vitamin C into their orange juice.
The biography Linus Pauling states: "In one [Linus Pauling Institute] experiment, Robinson found that mice given the human equivalent of 10 grams of vitamin C per day while eating a conventional diet actually had more lesions than the untreated controls. This is the dosage that Pauling recommended for most adults, and that he and [his spouse] routinely took."
Both Pauling and his spouse died of cancer.
LACK OF REGULATIONS
Americans spend billions of dollars a year on herbal supplements, other dietary supplements, and "natural" (e.g., homeopathic) purported remedies. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not empowered to treat lawfully formulated, labeled, and marketed "dietary supplements" and "homeopathic" preparations as drugs in the sense of the word applied, for example, to prescription pharmaceuticals. Thus, the agency does not hold the manufacturers of such over-the-counter products to any safety, effectiveness, or purity standards. Indeed, there is no governmental or quasigovernmental agency in the United States whose charge is to oversee the manufacture of such products.
Nevertheless, one might suppose—with the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Postal Service, and each state's attorney general charged with safeguarding consumers against health rip-offs—that if a health-related advertising claim is an error, a misleading exaggeration, or an untruth, eventually it will be compulsorily retracted or modified or will go underground. Regrettably, there is no good basis for expecting this. According to Morse Mehrban, J.D., a member of Quackwatch's Legal Advisory Board, government agencies direct their manpower largely against big-business offenders, not against small enterprises that huckster alleged miracle cures.
A cease-and-desist order is a governmental order to terminate practices that are illegal and/or that have been officially judged fallacious, unsafe, or unfair. For example, when the FTC makes such an order in response to fallacious advertising claims, the transgressor must sign an agreement whereby such practices are discontinued. Sometimes, however, such signers continue to use the same claims promotionally; few customers sue; refunds are made inconspicuously to customers who have complained about the product in question; and the case is dropped.
It is not unlawful for anyone to sell dietary supplements or allowed medicinal herbs, and state medical licensing boards rarely act against doctors who do so. Reliable nongovernmental pro-consumer organizations—the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), the Council of Better Business Bureaus, The National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), and Quackwatch, for example—are primarily interpreters of information and suppliers of interpretations that are intelligible to nonprofessionals. Such groups tend to have little clout with respect to public policies and law enforcement.
1An HMO is one of a class of organizations that separately provide prepaying individuals and groups with comprehensive healthcare services in localities, largely through physicians (and/or clinics) affiliated with the organization. 2A medical residency is a period during which a physician undergoes specialized clinical training. 3Hair analysis is an ostensibly diagnostic technique that involves laboratory analysis of a sample of hair. 4Pritikin, a coauthor of Live Longer Now: The First One Hundred Years of Your Life, committed suicide during a hospital stay for leukemia treatment. 5or a white garment that seems to be a lab coat
Priorities Volume 11 Number 4 1999