The Woo Blog: An Oily Adjustment

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Happy week after Thanksgiving, #sciencebabeshills! I trust everyone had a wonderful holiday, everyone’s family got along perfectly, nobody was nagged about when they’re having children, nobody heard any bullshit about gluten from their aunt who read it “somewhere on the internet,” and nobody had to do something as inane as cook a meal in a separate pot because they were hosting such a strict organic vegan that they couldn’t get the essence of… whatever… on their cookwear or other such stories that I may or may not have heard.

*Ahem*

#ScienceDog and I had a great holiday with friends and we’re back home to write a short weekly woo now. Buddy has owned me as his human for two months. He and #ShillCat, i.e. Lexi, are finally getting along. It took work, consulting with experts and seeing a dog trainer. It’s very strange to see Lexi, who literally (correct use of literally) used to piss herself in fear of the dog, now curled up in my lap, purring, and get kisses from the dog. So in that spirit, this weekly woo on the rule of bullshit detection…

“If they can’t describe what it cures and how in one sentence (and they’re selling it), it’s probably bullshit.”

So much bullshit falls under this. A ton of autism miracle cures,  chiropractic “medicine,” and one of my personal favorites, essential oils! They cure everything! Headaches, anxiety, athlete’s foot… and maybe even a cure for cats and dogs fighting, of course! Sometimes you can find all of these in one office. Nobody can ever define how it works, and somebody is always selling it (while telling you not to give your money to big pharma, of course).

Essential oils have become hot recently, and not just because they’re sitting on a lamp diffuser. Companies like Young Living and DoTerra are fighting for supremacy of a one billion dollar industry. For all their sales pitches attacking evil Big Pharma for selling their evil chemicals and drugs (which have a huge burden of proof for safety and efficacy), you’d think they’d be a little less transparent about how driven they are to find new sales people for their multi-level marketing sales industry. And make no mistake, they are an unregulated industry. And yes, oils are chemicals.

But they don’t fix a damn thing. Doctors go to four years of medical school plus residency and internship, they give up a social life and invest a ton of money to learn how to prescribe real medicine and help people. They can cure quite a bit and there’s a myriad of published research to back this up. Conversely, what do you need to sell essential oils? It varies by company, but to sell things that “treat” a variety of ailments, it includes spending $500 on a kit and then saying things like this:

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Prey on the sick vulnerable with claims that are, at best, a correlation to why you got better, and can show zero explanation for why you are feeling better. And of course you’re making a profit on this. But you don’t do it for a profit, you’re just doing this out of the goodness of your heart. I’m sure.

Do you think this is real medicine? Hint: when was the last time you bought ciproflaxin for a UTI at a party, barefoot, while eating hummus and pita chips with your girlfriends while gossiping about whether bangs are in this season?

(They’re not).

But I’m not the only one who thinks that the essential oil bullshit peddlers are, well… bullshit peddlers. Enter the FDA.

When their advertising claimed, with zero reputable studies as backup, that their essential oils could inhibit a laundry list of things, the FDA grabbed my rule of “citation or GTFO.” Their list included “Herpes simplex virus, Influenza, Measles, Neuralgia, Neuritis, Pneumonia, respiratory viruses, rhinitis, shingles, sinusitis and tuberculosis, canker sores, chicken pox, cold sore, colds, flu, fungal infections, MRSA, shingles, warts and viral infections, MNV (non-enveloped murine norovirus), athlete’s foot, candida, canker sores, Ebola virus, intestinal parasites, ringworm, staph infection, and whooping cough.”

Ebola. Wow.

Here’s the problem, you get a study like this, that says that clove oil may be “antiviral” and it doesn’t say to what degree, the dosage, if it was tested in humans (it wasn’t, because of course it wasn’t), if it can kill certain viruses or is just adjunctive therapy, and if you don’t ask questions? A woo peddler can and will use a published study like that to say “this is antiviral” and allow a consumer to think that an essential oil, which should be used for nothing more than making your room not smell like you were just smoking something even more herbal, into thinking that it will stop you from bleeding from the eyes.

Which it fucking won’t.

Want more proof that it’s bullshit? Natural News endorses it. (They were kind enough to give me that lovely shout-out though, thanks! #provaxmafia4lyfe!)

Now, onto the people who sell essential oils and other cures for autism and vaccine alternatives, chiropractors! Earlier this week, I received this email:

steve

Naturally, the email was from a chiropractor at Horicon Family Chiropractic. For the record, I do not own stock in Pfizer and I have never dated a chiropractor.

I don’t date fake doctors.

I also clearly science harder than him as, you can see herehere,  and here, I back  up my claims with peer reviewed studies. I science hard, brah.

Let’s be clear, chiropractors are not just a fancy back massage. Some chiros solely adjust your back and so I keep hearing “this chiro helped me with back pain.” Those chiros are few and far between. Horicon adjusts babies.

chiropractic

To quote my friend Penn Jillette, “those baby twisting mother fuckers.”

Allow me to remind the chiropractic field that we also don’t perform colonoscopies until people are fifty. Please, when gluten-free stops being trendy, don’t make infant colon hydro-therapy into a… Thing. Please just stop at this level of moral bankruptcy.

I would say that this is a new trend in chiropractic, but chiropractic itself? It’s only about a hundred years old and the entire premise makes it clear that the field is blatantly bullshit. A magnetic healer adjusted someone’s spine and he allegedly regained his hearing, and thus chiropractic bullshit was born. There are no nerves in the spine that can cause deafness or cause you to regain hearing. Tattoo that backwards on your ass, chiropractically adjust something and stare at the mirror for a while until it sinks in that the profession is founded on a stinking pile.

Ask someone to explain chiropractic in one sentence? You get a lot of Bullshit (at about the 6 minute mark, and it gets really good at about 7:30).

A lot of chiropractors have gotten deep into the woo business of attempting to cure autism, selling homeopathic remedies (and we know my opinions on that), selling alternative vaccines, and telling parents not to vaccinate in general. Well, modern medicine hasn’t answered every question yet. Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean the medical field has failed, it means we haven’t found a treatment for you yet, and as for autism? The “autism miracle cure industry” is not going to cure your child’s autism. All it’s going to do is lighten your wallet, possibly further injure your autistic child, and buy the chiropractor a Porsche.

As phrased here in an interview with several doctors and a few chiros, “Just because some planes crash doesn’t mean you should start using flying carpets.”

I’m an analytical chemist. What do I do? I make new methods for GC analysis of formulations and technical standards of my company’s products. See? One sentence, and what I do every day is fairly complicated. If somebody can’t summarize what they do in one sentence and they’re trying to get you to part with your money, it’s almost definitely bullshit. Don’t give your money to someone for a miracle treatment if science can’t explain it, and worse, if they can’t explain it. The only thing it will treat is their need for more money. Just remember, the carpet will never fly, and no amount of snake oil is going to make the cat and dog get along.

Well, maybe a quick adjustment will help:

-Science Babe

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39 Comments

  1. I can only agree with you going against bullshitters trying to sell us fake medicine. However, going against ALL essential oils as potential remedies for SOME issues is a little unfair. For example, there is quite a lot of evidence about the properties of tea tree oil for treating skin conditions (see Pazyar et al. 2013 – International Journal of Dermatology. Volume 52, Issue 7, July 2013, Pages 784-790). Yes, that’s a review because I’m lazy. But, of course, oily bullshitters (he he) will tell you that it cures acne or herpes. It doesn’t, but it sure helps given the right doses which only a real doctor can help you decipher. In my very personal case, I can’t afford a dermatologist for my vanity so I wash my face in essential tea tree oil and let the odds play! 😉

    • Quite a lot = one six page study. 😉 (just poking a bit). I prefer proactiv myself, but some people have found it works for acne.

      I omitted tea tree oil because one essential oil does NOT the entire field of essential oils make. I’m going after the people who claim it cures EVERYTHING. That’s just dangerous and nowhere near close to accurate.

      • Uuhh, I can’t afford Proactive. I’m a PhD student and that would affect my wine & coffee budget! 😀

        I do know you’re after people who claim oils cure everything. I guess that from the readers perspective (me, in this case) it sounds like you’re against all use of essential oils. (Which I know you’re not…I mean, massages, hiding nasty smells…)

        I guess the main point is: If it’s a complex and serious illness, essential oils don’t work. If it’s something silly like acne or athlete foot, research the literature and perhaps try it. At least is not life threatening to try in those cases.

  2. What are your thoughts on “The Joint” chiropractic chain? They don’t sell any products other than a good old fashioned back and neck cracking.

    • Seem to be less woo-ey than others and more based on “we’ll un-fuck-up-your-back.” I still say to see a physiatrist first, but they’re not peddling autism miracle cures. Some of them can do good things for relieving back pain.

  3. “What are your thoughts on “The Joint” chiropractic chain?”

    I’m not sure how much clearer SciBabe or other skeptics can be: Chiropractic is founded on bullshit, continues to spew bullshit and is . . . bullshit. It matters not that some of them “only” crack your back. They are still selling themselves as “doctors” and, I guaran-damn-tee, are selling herbal supplements as a sideline.

    If you want a good back cracking, go see a masseuse or, for more serious stuff, a physical therapist.

    • @ jim fisher.

      I have been referred to Chiropractors by real doctors. They can be very efficient at relieving back and joint pain.

      The issue is that the main article grouped a few items that do have positive results onto a mountain of bull shit. Now you have a bunch of all natural hippies scouring that mountain and they are coming up with a few exceptions.

      It is important to note sci-babe’s main article is still correct. Help with acne and someone adjusting your spine is a far cry from curing cancer…

    • Hi Jim,
      Sorry but I had to do this. If you want your back ‘cracked, do not go to an RMT. That is beyond our scope of practice and any RMT worth their salt will gently but firmly refuse to do that. Our working realm is muscles, tendons, fascia and other types of connective tissue, and ligaments. We do not adjust bones. Chiropractors study the nervous system more extensively than we do and, while we do learn all the body systems and how they are affected by massage, are able to diagnose spinal issues and order x-rays but RMTs cannot.
      A good test of a chiro is whether they will refer you out and be honest when there is something they cannot do. I work with a chiro, and if someone comes in with something he can’t treat or a suspected serious neck injury, he refers them first for an xray (we both live and work in Canada so it doesn’t cost the person anything) and if it is beyond his ability (something is broken, joints are fused etc.) he is honest with them about what he can and cannot do and refers them to an orthopedic doctor. Claiming anything can cure everything is a problem but people that are well educated can tell you more about their field and give you a realistic view of their ability. I am planning on taking an aromatherapy course and I have already gotten by book to prestudy. It profiles 400 EO and has another chapter on carriers. The chemicals that do the active working in each oil are gone over so there is science behind it, but I get very nervous about the YL DT mlm companies that are selling oils in the market to people who don’t know how to use them safely and properly.

    • Hi,3 bulging discs, unable to fully WB on R) leg 1 chiropractor (does not sell any woo – herbal or otherwise & is anti neck cracking & back cracking for people with bulging discs & encouraged me to take anti-flam & analgesics) 1 masseur = me better within 2 months (6 sessions). He’s the only chiro I’ve come across that is not a nut job & who recognises that many of them are.

  4. I completely agree with Science Babe on essential oils. The industry is touting miracle cures for everything. There is a phrase I like, I can’t remember where I read it (no citation sorry!) but is goes something like “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and the evidence is simply not there. That being said, I personally like and use essential oils pretty much every single day. Hear me out. I add orange oil to my mop water. I burn lavender oil in the bedroom. I like to use vinegar/water spray with a few drops of rosemary oil in the kitchen. I also really like experimenting with making my own face potions, not because I’m afraid of buying face potions or I think they’ll give me cancer, but because I think it’s fun and that chamomile and ylang ylang oil I add makes my face smell pretty and feel soft. There is nothing wrong with casually using essential oils around the house, and even on your skin at appropriate dilutions. The woo surrounding essential oils has gotten out of hand. My sister recently recommended some bs essential oil for my unspecified infertility. No honey. But, I bet it would smell nice in my oil burner.

  5. I was raised on woo. My family mistrusted science unless it supported their beliefs. I distanced myself from it, slowly.
    Unfortunately, I started having symptoms of major depression at age 22, and dysthymia in between major episodes. Many who subscribe to new age woo either dismiss mental illness as something a person can control with positivity, or whatever supplements/crystal/bullshit.
    So, first I was in denial, and too ashamed to seek help. When I finally got help, it was the wrong kind for me. To her credit, the naturopath gave great lifestyle guidance, but dysthymia has a way of making any demand overwhelming.
    Finally, after 3 1/2 years, I sought a counsellor and then a doctor. A real doctor. I started Sertraline less than two months ago and I feel like I have come back to life. As far as I’m concerned, Big Pharma has earned my money. I cannot fathom the amount of meticulous hard work that went into this medication that has helped me and so many others.

  6. Some essential oils are quite effective bug repellants, So they can for exampel be used to protect your attic storage of clothes from creapy crawlies that wants to eat your prom dress.

      • I make no claims on this myself (as I was just interested in looking into this comment), but it seems that there is a notable amount of research into potentially using various essential oils for either repellent or larvicidal uses. Simply searching papers for “insect/mosquito repellent” returns quite a few studies on the effects of various plant oils, such as (doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2007.04.066; doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2009.07.048). It would seem that one main concern, in comparison with synthetic repellents, is whether or not the active compounds in the oils which are found to be potentially effective can be made to be long-lasting.

        For that matter, the active ingredient in some insect repellents, PMD (p-menthane-3,8-diol), is refined from lemon eucalyptus oil. The CDC is also on record as recommending repellents which contain these (http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/faq/repellent.html).

        That said, this is not a topic with which I am familiar, and I just wanted to look into it for fun. I didn’t actually realize that people used most essential oils for much more than burning or adding to potpourri until recently.

        • ” the active ingredient in some insect repellents, PMD (p-menthane-3,8-diol), is refined from lemon eucalyptus oil.”

          Thats the BS that the manufacturers peddle – ita not true.

          It is produced by reacting citronellal (which may or may not be obtained from “lemon eucalyptus oil” ) with sulphuric acid , followed by fractional distillation.

          The manufacturers like to pretend it occurs naturally in an essential oil

      • Ah come on. Maybe he’s used it and it works. Science is great like, but hasn’t gotten round to publishing studies on everything. For example, I came across this article the other day:

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/5994583/Dogs-as-intelligent-as-two-year-old-children.html

        From which the moral was: dogs are smart, yo. They understand humans better than most other animals, and they even understand some words, and they know how to manipulate us to get food. To which my response was:”A scientific study was needed to tell us this??” What’s next: “Kids like sugar, studies find” or “Scientists have discovered that couches are comfy.” Jesus!

    • I find it funny that you will allow your friends to sell you cheap crap like bags and home décor but they try to help you enhance your health and it’s a no go. I don’t try to shill anything to my friends. When my friends are ill or have issues I have taken a diffuser to their home and let them try it out for themselves. and generally they decide for themselves that they were beneficial and they decide to purchase oils. I only became a distributor because so many people had so many questions and there was so much bad information out there like this article.

  7. The worst part about essential oil sellers is they prey on friendships to shill this stuff. As soon as a new friend starts Facebooking about her essential oil collection, my heart sinks. Now every interaction will stink of salesmanship. They won’t make money. They’ll alienate their friends. And they’ll waste their own money on unproven remedies. Friends who try and sell me cheap jewelry or bags are fine (I don’t mind cheap jewelry and bags), but the ones that head over to oil land just make me sad and mad.

    • Meredith, you are so right! I have a friend that got into this a few months back. She tried diligently to get me to go to a party, and was put out by my lack of interest. Unfortunately, our friendship is much more distant now. She is a very smart person too, so I have a lot of trouble excepting this level of gullibility.

  8. I am in 96% agreement with ScienceBabe here. The 4% remainder derives from the apparent success of treating certain diseases with some oils. the primary counterexample is Lorenzo’s Oil, which has a complicated history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorenzo%27s_oil

    I certainly don’t want to add fuel to the fire, considering that the vast majority of essential oil hype is BS, as SB says. Yet there have been some rare examples where treatment using certain fatty acids and similar compounds have positive effects in vitro and in vivo.

    It’s indeed possible that some essential oils may have positive effects if administered in certain ways. The key factor is actually demonstrating those effects with real evidence and developing those findings into real therapy. That’s called medicine, which requires real discipline, and which most essential oil “therapists” don’t practice.

  9. also, western medicine does not cure anything, it band-aids symptoms. herbs and oils help the body to heal itself to work again properly. There are myriads of studies that show this.

    • Citation?

      Oils do nothing. We had herbs and oils back when the average lifespan was 30. We live a longer life now than ever in history. But good luck claiming that it’s your fucking oils.

    • I love how people keep claiming this. As if vaccines don’t prevent disease, as if antibiotics were never a thing, as if healthy people don’t get over most URIs without intervention at all.

      Also, bandaids are useful, bro. There’s a reason people use them.

      Meanwhile, buy my $upplement! You’ll have to take it forever, but it’s “curing” you, I promise!

  10. Wow, I must be one of the few people who have gone to a non-woo Chiro. Mine doesn’t sell anything in his office but his services. He doesn’t do X-rays. He doesn’t sell you a treatment package. And when I ask why he is doing what he is doing, he has very reasonable explanations. He also is willing to tell me if he thinks I need to move on to other treatment.

  11. I have one of those no whoo-whoo chiropractors too. The only thing she sells is pillows. She does do Xrays – once – before she ever touches you. That makes sense to me.

    I screw my back/neck up about every 6 months. Three visits fixes most of it. Far more cost effective than PT.

  12. Wow, one bad ad from one chiropractor and this means they are all bad? Mine sells nothing and wouldn’t touch me without an ok from my GP after an exray. One bad apple DOES NOT spoil the whole bunch.

    • It’s not one bad apple. Chirporactic as a whole is the issue. Look at the American Chiropractic Association’s goals. They’re anti-vax and think they can replace the work of doctors.

  13. “and nobody had to do something as inane as cook a meal in a separate pot because they were hosting such a strict organic vegan that they couldn’t get the essence of… whatever… on their cookwear”

    Bring your own food, plates, utensils, etc….

    • I think it’s respectful to cater for people you’ve invited to your home. Not hard to cut up tomato, cucumber & lettuce for someone. ☺

  14. I put chiropractors in the same category as crack dealers. They may relieve pain temporarily, but they only treat the symptom, not the cause. It takes PT to effect the CAUSE of the spine (or whatever) to be out of whack. Treat THAT. Don’t just ‘adjust’ it, only to have it move back again, unless your goal is to keep people hooked, so they have to keep coming back and paying you.

  15. Hi SciBabe,
    Thanks for another wonderful article! I wanted to comment at the absurdity of the original post you shared about how the woman suffering the disease did not want to hear her physician tell her, “I don’t know”.

    Truth be told, science doesn’t know everything and for her doctor to admit that should be seen as a sign of good medical care. Medical care isn’t a perfect science, so funny how folks expect total miracle and at the same breath, “Western medicine knows nothing”.

    And then here comes the scam artists, the ones who know, the homeopathists, the aromatherapists, the Reiki folks- THEY all have the answer……….

    What this should tell anyone with half a brain is that no, we don’t have all the answers, but saying that we do does indeed help others feel better.

    Sad, sad state of affairs. But there it is.

  16. I’m a nurse. I see a chiropractor, but I use the adjustments as an adjunct to massage and any treatment recommended by my medical doctor. I was able to stop seeing s pain management doctor for injections and I prefer this approach. This took a lot of work and has to be maintained over years. I told my chiropractor years ago I am here for adjunct therapy – not supplements. She is amenable. I see her a few times a year for adjustments.

    As far as oils – the hard sell pisses me off. I can find some peer review research that says oils may be helpful, but not specific oils for specific conditions. My thought is – if it smells good and makes me happy, okay. If there are also therapeutic benefits – that is a bonus.

    I think these things have their place – but miracle cure ain’t it.

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