Stupid Tuesday questions, pitching woo edition

This week’s Question is yet another spin-off of last week’s post about naturopaths.

Before I get to this week’s silliness, I’m going to take a moment to be a little more serious.  Obviously, I have major qualms with naturopaths prescribing medications.  And I have to admit a lot of skepticism about the scientific basis on which much of their treatments and diagnoses have been established.  However, as some guy once wrote, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.  I don’t believe that medicine has a monopoly on the truth, and I will admit there are things we need to do better.  If there are “complementary” or “alternative” practitioners who are genuinely applying the scientific method to their own practices, then I commend them to their work.  Fair enough?

That said, there are a whole lot of quacks and frauds out there.  I’ve written about “applied kinesiology” before, and as far as jaw-droppingly preposterous woo goes, it’s among my favorites.  But it’s only one possible option in a diner-sized menu of gimcrackery and mumbo jumbo.  Often these treatments and methods have sprung up out of concern surrounding various high-profile maladies, both real and imagined, none of which I feel especially motivated to list just now.  (Sometimes when I get specific the comments get a mite spicy.)

We don’t encounter many of these treatment plans at my current practice, because we have a pretty strict “no woo” policy.  However, once in a while we’ll get some kind of report from an alternative practitioner of some kind or another that makes us bang our heads against a wall.  And sometimes, after prolonged banging, we think “well, if you can’t beat ’em, maybe join ’em?”

However, as they say in “Gypsy,” you gotta have a gimmick.  In the exciting world of pseudo-medical smoke and mirrors, it’s not enough to latch onto someone else’s idea.  No, one must come up with something new to stand out from the crowd.  So my colleagues and I will sometimes try to concoct our own exciting new non-traditional treatments, which we will start offering here in our office for a reasonable fee any day now.

The idea that has gained the most traction, and has become a running joke for a couple of us, is what we’d be calling “cranial rinsing.”  During this highly technical procedure, the patient is vigorously immersed up to the shoulders in a large vat of ice water, repeatedly if necessary.  This provides a neurocognitive “deboot,” allowing the brain and body to recalibrate.  It’s good for all manner of ailments and infirmities, from piles to palpitations, hives to hysteria.  We’d be happy to book you an appointment.  Because disentangling and re-coordinating an out-of-whack mind-body nexus can take quite some time, patients should give treatments plenty of time to work, and should be willing to come in for weekly sessions over a period of months or years without expecting to see obvious benefit.

(Note — it’s not funny to imagine doing this to real kids.  But we would be happy to offer our services to certain parents.)

So that’s this week’s question — what would you add to the Saunders Protocol?  What’s the voodoo that you’d do so well?  Submissions should be both so ridiculous and transparently phony that it beggars belief anyone would pay for them, but also have a scientific-enough sounding benefit to be billable to insurance.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. It’s well known that, because it passes through so many hands, paper money is both germ-ridden and filthy. (I’ve read that the police can justify confiscating any collection of bills as drug money, because testing will reveal that it is in fact contaminated with trace amounts of drugs.) I suggest a service that protects your patients from both germs and toxins by, literally, laundering their money. And if they get a five in return for a twenty, well, what can you do? It shrunk.

  2. A “diet” plan I actually sold a friend on in college…

    Get hammerd Friday night. Throw up early Saturday AM. Lay in be unable to eat all day Saturday. Marvel at increased tone Sunday.

    Between the dehydration and starvation, things did look a bit tighter. You just had to ignore the bloodshot eyes, puffy face, terrible breath, and general irritability. But, hey… Abs!

    • This is remarkably close to how I quit smoking.

  3. I must admit….that my son’s physical therapist, who seems the most level-headed of folks, always citing data, heard my son grinding his teeth and offered to do cranial-sacral therapy. She freely admitted there was no data, but she personally found it effective. I told her to go ahead, and the teeth-grinding completely stopped. So I thought I would try it for my migraines. I went, and ended up being asked to have a conversation with my “inner wisdom.”

    But here’s my woo suggestion – first, we magnetize water by roiling the water in a centrifuge made of magnets, to insure that every molecule of the water is magnetized. Then the patient must submerge himself completely. The magnetized water will draw toxins and heavy metals, including those that may permeate the blood brain barrier, through the pores of the skin. Then a healing salve that includes bled petunia root is applied to the pores to re-seal them.

    • She freely admitted there was no data, but she personally found it effective. I told her to go ahead, and the teeth-grinding completely stopped.

      I actually don’t have a huge problem with how this was presented.

      And I appreciate your thoroughness in devising a means of re-sealing the pores. Imagine what might otherwise leak out.

    • Oh, that one is awesome, Rose. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it being done already.

      The magnets are an especially nice touch.

  4. Cat sleeping. One must have a feline (preferably of the same gender) actually sleep ON you, and this will restore your natural affinity for the wild. It is also an instant cure for insomnia, but has fish cravings as a side effect.

  5. My mother was diagnosed, at age 74 with tumors on her parathyroid glands, leading to hyperparathyroidism. Immediate surgery was suggested, as her body was literally leaching the calcium out of her bones.

    Now, my mother was one of those people constitutionally opposed to “western medicine.” She would believe the medical advice of some stranger she met in a supermarket line before she would a doctor. Once she got the “tumor” diagnosis, she managed to find some whack job phycic healer type, who told her that surgery was unnecessary, and that sitting under colored lights of a particular spectrum would resolve the abnormal growth in her parathyroid glands. So she spent an hour a day, sitting in the light of a slide projector with deeply orange and blue (but remarkably expensive) colored gels in them.

    She spent almost two years on this avoidant bullshit. By the time she had the surgery, her bone density had been reduced by 40%, and she had developed an autoimmune disorder that required her to take immunosuppressants for the rest of her life.

  6. I’m going through my childhood and remembering the iridologist we saw for a while but there really isn’t anything *THAT* funny about taking 45 fiber pills a day and eating nothing but eggs and salad for a year.

    So I’ll tell a story that Maribou told me about her family (I got permission first!):
    Her mom told the kids that there was a light on their foreheads that lit up when they told a lie and that moms could see it. Maribou was too savvy for this one but her little brother went up to mom with his hand covering his forehead from time to time.

  7. It’s a well known fact that our desire to surround ourselves with electronic devices is growing everyday. Cell phones, pads, laptops, portable gaming systems – not to mention all the non-portable electronic devices we have decided we “need” for work and play!

    As you know, the data about electricity and cancer, birth defects, and many chronic illnesses is pretty scary. Sure, you need a cell phone – but what damage are you doing keeping it at your side, day after day?

    That’s why we’re now selling SaunderWear clothing to all of our patients. SaunderWear is an incredible new technology that takes the fabric used to make dryer sheets made by great companies like Downy!*

    Using it couldn’t be easier! Simply put on your SaunderWear undershirt, underwear, or slip when you get dressed in the morning. As you go throughout your day, SaunderWear will absorb the dangerous leftover electricity that puts you and your loved ones at risk. And your SaunderWear products are disposable, so at the end of the day simply throw them away!

    *Legal Disclaimer: Neither Downy or it’s parent company Proctor & Gamble or any subsidiary of either endorses SaunderWear.

    • And you’ll smell springtime fresh!

  8. If y’all’re gonna revive the time-honored medical practice of cryopsychotherapy (a market I was horrified to discover you’d still have stiff competition in, albeit no longer actual doctors)…

    … may I suggest adding poultices? The stinkier and stickier the better. I’m thinking mustard, tar, cinnamon, and menthol are the main ingredients you’d need.

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