White Coat, Black Art

The ND trying to take pseudo-science out of naturopathy

Dugald Seely is the director of the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre. You'll hear him in this week's program. He's a naturopathic doctor who makes scientific evidence a priority. He talks to Brian about his approach, and he answers the critics who call a lot of what naturopaths do pseudo-science.
ND Duglad Seely is the director of the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre. ((Twitter) )
Listen12:09

Dugald Seely, ND, is trying to take the pseudo-science out of naturopathy.

The naturopathic doctor says a scientific, evidence-based approach is essential at the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre, (OICC) of which he is the director. 

"We are...very much committed to using an evidence-based approach to our care, and there are a lot of therapies to use in that context. So, we're not really limited. We certainly need more evidence, that's important," he told White Coat, Black Art host Dr. Brian Goldman. 

Seely is featured in this week's episode of White, Coat, Black Art -  Naturopathy goes mainstream: What's the Harm? 

When asked about some of the more "fringe" elements of the services provided by some naturopaths at other clinics, such as chelation therapy, reiki and homeopathy, Seely says complementary and alternative medicine is "extremely broad" with some therapies having more evidence than others. 

He believes most naturopathic doctors do rely on science, as do the schools where they train. 

But when asked if some of those fringe therapies should be "jettisoned" he said,  "I would say within the realm of complementary medicine I would say there there are certain therapies, yeah,  I wouldn't use, I wouldn't take on."  

He personally does not practice homeopathic medicine, and admitted to being uncomfortable with some of the things his colleagues do.  

​"I am uncomfortable about claims that are made that are exaggerated, I am uncomfortable about a lack of good informed consent for the patients, I'm uncomfortable with things that are mis-characterized." 

But Seely also said that the scientific bar for some therapies can be lowered.

"We're talking about therapies that are used in complementary medicine that have very low toxicity, low potential for harm. In that context when there is something that can be used that may provide some benefit, and there's no other options, then the bar for evidence, if there's no harm, can be lower." 

The Ottawa ND also addressed the issue of naturopaths who sell remedies as part of their business - and whether that's a conflict. 

"It's a good question and I think there is the potential for conflict of interest. I can see that. However having a dispensary does allow for the assurance of quality and potency, and also it does allow for certain remedies not available in a retail setting."

He says the OICC has a strict no-conflict-of-interest policy at their dispensary.

Dr. Goldman asked him if there's a sense that naturopathy is on trial in Canada right now.

"Debate and polarization creates an audience so there is some interest in this take against complementary naturopathic medicine," he said, but added that criticism is also valuable. 

He addressed the case of Ezekiel Stephan. The Alberta toddler died of bacterial meningitis after his parents treated him with a remedy they bought from a local naturopath who did not examine the child. They were found guilty of failing to provide the child the necessaries of life - a conviction they are appealing. The naturopath is being investigated by the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta. 

 "I think the way way it's been trial-ed in the media and the public is not a positive thing....I don't know really the detail about what happened in terms of the contribution or not of the naturopathic doctor involved." 

"It's a single, isolated case which is terribly tragic but to point the finger at complementary medicine is not fair nor is it or helpful."

He said there are much larger problems in public health, than the risks of naturopathy. 

"If we're to believe the recent publication in the British Medical Journal where iatrogenic error (hospital induced death) is perhaps the third-leading cause of death in the States, and perhaps in  North America that's where we should be putting out attention to.

"This is where public health policy should be at, and not where there is you know really, very, very low risk of public harm."