Acne Drug Linked to Deaths… but, it’s the naturopaths you gotta watch

Nettle tea: a botanical with the potential to treat acne... and not cause sudden death. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.
Nettle tea: a botanical with the potential to treat acne… and not cause sudden death. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

How does naturopathic medicine treat acne? Well, it’s quite simple, really. We turn our focus to the root cause of disease. Is there a hormonal component? Is lack of hygiene an issue? Are food sensitivities at play? Is an increased toxic load on the body resulting in an elevated burden on the skin to detoxify? Is there a mental-emotional cause or result of this acne?

After identifying one or more of these issues as the culprit, we treat the cause of disease, using non-invasive therapies. We might recommend a change in diet, perhaps supplements, or maybe journalling and stress relief. As treatment is highly individualized, it really depends on the patient. Pharmaceutical studies may be done on hundreds to thousands of people but, if you want your health issues resolved, the only person who should be “studied” is yourself.

The Toronto Star on Monday, December 16, 2013 posted this op-ed piece by lawyer Tim Caulfield criticizing the rise of naturopathic medicine in Canada. He paid some lip service to the reason behind this rise, mainly the dissatisfaction with mainstream medicine to treat chronic, non-emergent diseases, but mostly threw a flaming blanket of statements over the entire profession, grouping us in with ionic foot baths and Albertan mothers who choose to ignore the standard of care for streptococcal infections (and who never consulted a naturopathic doctor, which makes that point moot). The worst part of the opinion piece, however, is the fear-mongering. Caulfield implies that patients who seek treatment from a naturopathic doctor are putting their health at risk.

Caulfield’s stance is ridiculous, of course. Firstly, he starts his article with the statement, “Ontario naturopaths are pushing hard to become a self-regulating profession…” Well, pushing hard may be right, especially when you consider the fact that the Naturopathy Act was passed in 2007, making us a regulated profession. So, Caulfield’s opinion comes a little late.

Secondly, regulating a profession means that professionals become accountable. There is a standard of care, and the public is protected knowing that, if they decide to get treatment from a naturopathic doctor, they are seeing a professional with 8 years of post-secondary education, 4 of those years being from an accredited, rigorous 4-year program at a naturopathic college, like CCNM. Regulations make people accountable; and accountability increases the public’s safety.

Juxtapose Monday’s opinion piece with Tuesday, December 17th’s front page story in the same paper, about a family whose daughter died from a complication of the birth control pill, prescribed as an off-label acne drug, Diane-35. Along with the rare, but fatal risk of pulmonary embolism are the following side effects: headaches, tender breasts, menstrual pain, swelling and a lowered sex drive. All this from an acne drug that has not undergone the rigorous testing needed to prove that it is safe and effective for the treatment of acne.

Getting to the root cause of symptoms and complying with natural therapies may be hard and time-consuming, but it certainly doesn’t come with side effects and health risks like that.

Despite these risks, Diane-35 continues to be prescribed. A November 9, 2013 article by The Star stated that, if a drug manufacturer doesn’t decide to recall a drug, then Health Canada has no power to do so either, even if the drug is shown to be unsafe. And yet, Mr. Caulfield chooses to warn the public about naturopathic doctors. I know that many people will swear, “It’s the quiet ones you gotta watch.” But, in the words of my hero, the late George Carlin, “I will bet you anything that while you’re watching the quiet one, the noisy one will F-ing kill you!” This appears to be accurate when it comes to healthcare.

Naturopathic medicine has an impeccable safety profile. We are taught to recognize and act quickly when faced with red flag medical emergencies (a pulmonary embolism, for instance), and we are taught the standard of care for these emergencies. We are taught to be aware of safety risks with more potent therapies, such as potentially toxic botanical remedies. We are taught caution in acupuncture and other physical modalities and know how to perform them safely. We know when to refer and re-evaluate a case if a patient is not responding to treatment. We look up drug-herb interactions. And, if we fail to do all of this and more, we are held accountable by our regulatory board and the law. Apparently, that is more than can be said for the drug companies.

My cystic acne was treated successfully with naturopathic medicine. The only “side effects” I experienced were healthy weight loss, increased energy and mood and improved sleep. I didn’t use an off-label drug that had the potential to kill me, and neither should you. My experience, after all, is just “anecdotal” evidence; however, as any good conversationalist will assert: there really is nothing like a good anecdote to get the party started.

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26 thoughts on “Acne Drug Linked to Deaths… but, it’s the naturopaths you gotta watch

  1. That’s awesome Talia. Thank you for sharing. Have you thought about sending this to the Star? They often publish counter articles that have gotten a lot of traffic. It would be well worth the effort.

  2. I suffered from skin problems for years, and visited many doctors in several different coutntries to try to find a solution. The skin on my arms and legs was extremely itchy after any exposure to water, to the point that I hated bathing and that I would sometimes scratch my skin until I bled, and I would often just break down and cry and yell with frustration. This went on for years. I was prescribed pills and creams which were partially effective, but the root of the problem was never delt with. My husband suffers from IBS and we decided to eliminate wheat and dairy from our diets for a few weeks to see if this would help him, I also stopped taking birth control and we followed a “liver cleanse”. 3 days into the cleanse my itchy skin was totally gone. Of course I was extremely happy, but I was also angry to think how many doctors I had visited without finding any solution. This is just another anecdote, and it doesn’t mean I don’t believe in conventional medicine, but I think a combination of naturopathic and conventional medicine would be a great benefit.

    1. That’s great to hear, Anna. Good for you for finding the solution to your problem on your own. Unfortunately, fear-mongering from the medical community as they claim their turf for diseases they don’t even really want to treat (really, acne? do you guys really get good results with that by messing with hormones?), prevents patients from seeking care that could help them. I hope that naturopathic medicine continues to grow because there are always people who we can help and many come to us when all hope is lost and, if anything, just need an ear to listen to them and hear all that they’ve been through. So, if that’s considered “dangerous” or “unscientific” then I don’t know what to say….

  3. As a first year student at CCNM, this warms mg heart. It’s easy to become discouraged and doubt yourself when so many people are against you, thanks for this amazing article and support !

  4. Very well-written – and I really hope they print your rebuttal! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been handed a prescription and chosen to go to the naturopath instead – finding relief in simple AND EASY fixes!! Need another anecdotal? psoriasis patch on the palm of my hand and the bottoms of both feet…tried every OTC and passed on a $100 prescription cream and invested the money in “my” naturopath FINALLY. It’s amazing the affects of something as simple as fish oil. One month later (after suffering seven months), and my sores have healed and the skin is pink and perfect!

    1. That’s great! Thanks for the support and the anecdote! Funny thing about anecdotes: you get enough of them together and then it becomes… my-oh-my… evidence based medicine! Glad to add your encouraging one to the ever-growing file!

  5. Great article Talia! I have been suffering from cystic acne for about 4 years, since coming off birth control. In fact I had been on Diane 35 for the last 5 years of my 15 year relationship with birth control pills. I am working with a naturopath now, but have yet to find the results I’m looking for, so if you can please share on how you were able to overcome this incredibly irritating ailment, I will be forever grateful!

    1. Hi, Lindsy. Thanks for commenting. Unfortunately, I can’t really give you advice over the internet, without assessing your case. However, I can say that it can take time to rebalance hormones and have some faith and stick with it. I’m glad you’ve decided to try naturopathic medicine! I hope you find the results you’re looking for. I believe that there is an answer for everyone, it’s just a matter of finding it and sticking to it.

  6. Great response to another idiotic mainstream press article. Maybe the paper was afraid he’d sue them if they checked his sources and edited his piece…he is a lawyer after all.

    I’ve been reading Stephen Bruhner’s book Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. I seriously believe it should be in everyone’s library. It is sooo scary to think what the medical and pharmaceutical communities are doing to increase the odds of a society wide epidemic. Forget World War Z. It’s not the zombies you should be afraid of rather The Rise of the Superbugs. It’s not a movie, although it would make for a great script, it’s happening right now and the only thing that has a chance of saving us is plant based medicine. I’ve learned so much about herbal medicine from reading this book. In fact, because of it we are going to launch a comprehensive section on herbal medicines on our magazine website in January. It’ll include clinical research, an herbal and related condition database, how to create your own herbal medicine cabinet by growing herbs in your back yard or on your patio and where to buy efficacious commercial versions if you don’t have the time or space to grow your own. Be warned…reading the aforementioned book might cause you to break into a sweat and lose a lot of sleep.

    1. Thanks, John! I have lost many a nights of sleep over the evils of Big Business, Big Pharma included, none the less from this Diane 35 debacle and many others… seeing the article in the paper after the Caulfield opinion piece gave me the idea for this post. I am interested in reading the piece you’re about to publish. Would you mind sending me the link when it comes out?

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