In previous blogs I have written about several treatments avidly publicized within the autism community (see http://bit.ly/1v84aGM and also http://bit.ly/1rKgjfS ). These treatments promote fraudulent interventions with little in terms of medical evidence to support their safety and/or efficacy. People promoting these treatments are often charlatans without medical education. These charlatans prey on desperate parents who are willing to do anything in order to help their children. Unfortunately these charlatans have found a burgeoning market in autism. According to the database of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore the average parent of an autistic child uses five simultaneous treatments and spends approximately $500 per month in them (http://bit.ly/1HOYGpC).
Quack treatments are misrepresentations of the ability of a device, substance or service to treat a disease. These promotions, of unproven scientific value, are meant to trick you out of your money regardless of the suffering they may cause while doing so. In some cases the least that will happen is that you will loose money. In other cases it may detract you from obtaining proper therapy or may even imperil your health. One prominent example is Dr. Mark Grier (part of a father and son duo in this venture) who lost his medical license by promoting the use of Leuprolide (Lupron) followed by chelation as a putative treatment of autism. Instead of safeguarding the health of autistic children by following the different stepwise phases of clinical trials he proceeded aggressively by promoting an intervention with potentially grievous side effects. Indeed, Leuprolide is an inhibitor of a pituitary hormone often used as a castrating agent. Although many young children undertook part in the hormone regimen by the Griers the ultimate story on possible side effects may take many years to unfold.
It should be stated that although the intervention by Dr. Grier was ill-considered, he and others, like Andrew Wakefield, are not charlatans. By definition a charlatan is a person who lacks the necessary background to promote his/hers special brand of pseudoscience. Both Grier and Wakefield have a medical background and should have know better. Instead, at some point in their career they transformed themselves into salesmen cloaking themselves under the aura of medical legitimacy while renouncing the inductive reasoning of the scientific method. Curiously the only thing these men did not forget was the possibility of making money out of desperate parents.
How do you avoid quack treatments? The FDA has some guidelines that you can read at: http://1.usa.gov/1uZkvbY. I would also like to provide a streamlined version of my way of thinking in regards to quack therapies. Think of quack therapy if you ever hear the claim that it cures it all, not only autism but almost any other condition including cancer and even hair loss. Is it too good to be true? Do they promise a quick and easy cure? Especially for serious diseases this may separate the person from useful medical treatments (read about Steve McQueen trip to Mexico to pursue Laetril treatment for cancer only to die shortly after receiving the same http://bit.ly/1mSgYIo). Do they contain a secret ingredient that your doctor doesn’t want you to know about? Unfortunately such statements actually end by separating the patient from his/her doctor. Do they use impressive terminology that ends up being non-sensical? Many charlatans use medical verbiage taking advantage of your lack of medical or scientific knowledge. Is it all natural and “therefore” all safe? Tabacco is a natural product, but it is certainly not safe. Do they advertise amazing results, that just so happens are never published? Personal testimonies with before and after accounts do not mean much. Clinical trails are needed to prove the safety and effectiveness of any intervention. Do the promoters put themselves above the medical profession (think Andrew Wakefield)?
Usually interventions that are too good to be true, are not to be believed. However, patients should be given hope. The worse thing a physician can say is that there is nothing medicine can do for them. Physicians can promote treatments that are not evidence-based but they should be grounded in good science and followed with appropriate trials to prove their effectiveness.