Monday, March 11, 2024

#2746: Carolyn Dean

Carolyn Dean is a conspiracy theorist, homeopath, naturopath, cholesterol denialist, anti-vaccine activist and promoter of her homemade “magnesium miracle” cure. Now, Dean did, in fact, have a degree from a legitimate medical school at one point in time, but her registration certificate was revoked in Ontario (where she was working) in 1995 because of unfit medical practice and disregard for the welfare of 36 of her patients; the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario correctly described her conduct as disgraceful and unprofessional. Dean, who was also a naturopath and graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto (she didn’t lose her ND degree), didn’t even try to contest the charges, but promptly moved to the US (ultimately Hawaii) to continue her practice of scamming victims with insane quackery.


The College case summary is instructive enough:


-       Dean used unscientific methods of testing, such as hair analysis, Vega and Interro testing, iridology and reflexology as well as treatment not medically indicated and of unproven value, such as homeopathy, colonic irrigations, coffee enemas, and rotation diets.

-       She did not individualize her patients and try to reach an appropriate diagnosis and treatment but rather pre-diagnosed them without individualizing them with her preferred nonsense diagnoses candidiasis and immunodeficiency problems.


Conspiracy theories

According to herself, her loss of a license was obviously an attempt by the “medical establishment to remove her, and the entire incident was “staged and fake removal of my medical license in Ontario.” Because of course there is a conspiracy afoot: “[t]he conclusion I draw from my experience with the medical establishment is that they will do anything they can – up to and including pushing people to commit suicide – to maintain their monopoly on disease care” because the conclusion that the whole world is in a conspiracy to get you is far more palatable than the obviously correct one that you made a mistake. She is currently the director of the pseudoscientific Nutritional Magnesium Association where she advertises herself as the “Doctor of the Future. And she currently also contributes to NaturalNews, which in any sane world should be diagnosis enough. (She has also, to add insult to injury or something, apparently also been a repeated contributor to Huffington Post).


The conspiracy theory complex she has built is elaborate. Of course, much of her work, including her articles and lectures, is heavy with irrational Big Pharma conspiracy theories (“the future of medicine is unfortunately in the hands of Big Pharma; it’s got nothing to do with patients anymore or even doctors for that matter”), and the list of people and organizations ostensibly in the pockets of Big Pharma is staggering. When the FDA is, as she sees it, harassing proponents of homeopathy just because they are earning money by promoting nonsense quackery to people in desperate situations, Big Pharma is the ultimate source. She frequently cites NaturalNews as a source for her claims, as well as a source for medical information.


But Dean is, perhaps most famously, author – together with several other deranged quacks (Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and, not the least, Gary Null – of the rather infamous 2005 paper Death by Medicine, published in the quack and pseudoscience outlet the Journal of Orthomolecular medicine, where they try to argue that modern medicine does more harm than good by examining statistics of deaths due to pharmaceutical drugs. Of course, the paper is blithely lying about many the numbers by wildly extrapolating, and even when the numbers are (more or less) correct, the authors misrepresent them and their significance (basically, anyone who dies during treatment in a hospital is counted as a death by modern medicine). There is a brief but telling takedown of their ridiculousness here, and a slightly more detailed discussion of the idea here. Despite its misrepresentations, errors and baseless extrapolations, the paper has become wildly popular in denialist and altmed circles, and has been widely used, despite its lack of quality and its sordid provenance, as a source for further speculation and extrapolations. Undeterred by facts, evidence and science, Dean went on to publish a book to speculatively elaborate on her misrepresentations in the papers, Death By Modern Medicine, with forewords by Joseph Mercola and Julian Whitaker, no less.


And as Dean seems to see it, the conclusion of the paper (and book), that modern medicine is killing you and not helping you allows her to reject science wholesale – not just the results of studies she doesn’t like, but the whole epistemological framework, including such features as evidence, accountability and accuracy – as vestiges of her grand conspiracy. And she has promptly gone on (or continued to go on) promoting various forms of pseudoscience and quackery free from and unfettered by concerns for evidence, safety, accountability or accuracy.


Magnesium woo

As for pseudoscientific panaceas, Dean’s quackery of choice is magnesium. According to Dean, more or less any health condition is caused or triggered by magnesium deficiency (yes, it’s the One True Cause for All Disease), and can be cured by buying her magnesium supplements. Indeed, Dean apparently sells her own, very special type of magnesium, ReMag, which is apparently better, so don’t you go ahead and buy whatever ordinary kind of magnesium you can get your hands on. 


Now, Dean admits that she has received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration stating that she cannot say magnesium can treat a disease because saying that it can treat disease would be lying. But, reasons Dean, the real problem she needs to circumvent is the fact that the FDA requires that drugs be tested for safety (and efficacy), so she must avoid committing herself to anything “that will make magnesium a drug and subject to drug testing,” insofar as (she doesn’t explicitly say that) her health claims wouldn’t fare well under testing. So Dean’s solution is to emphasize that her magnesium and vitamin supplements are not drugs because they haven’t been tested for safety or efficacy. Her live-radio website, for instance, contains a Quack Miranda Warning that also emphasizes “A vitamin is not a drug, NEITHER is a Mineral, Trace Element, Amino Acid, Herb, or Homeopathic Remedy. Although a Vitamin, a Mineral, Trace Element, Amino Acid, Herb or homeopathic Remedy may have an effect on any disease or the structure and function of any body system.”


So according to Dean, her magnesium and vitamin supplements can, in fact, cure practically all diseases. Magnesium, in particular, “helps to alleviate heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and asthma,” and is, in her words, a miraculous mineral (though again: “You may need a particular kind of magnesium [her ReMag] to achieve therapeutic levels”). As she sees it, “[i]f you were to list today’s leading chronic diseases, heart disease (angina, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol) along with diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, generalized inflammation, and toxicity are found at the top. Magnesium is a mineral and nutrient that when eaten or supplemented in the proper amounts and form, has had a miraculous healing effect on these and other serious health conditions” (she promptly added long Covid to the list in 2022, as a putative “new label” for magnesium deficiency). She has no real evidence for these claims, which are false, but since magnesium is, as she sees it, not a drug, she doesn’t need evidence (note that that’s actually what she says). “Evidence” is presumably something that belongs to science, with its oppressive focus on facts, reason, evidence and accountability, which are all just tools that Big Pharma uses to suppress people who wants to get your respect and money from just making things up. Instead of scientific evidence, Dean cites e.g. What Doctors May Not Tell You for her claim that 200 mg magnesium daily showed 80% reduction in migraines with 200 mg magnesium”, in direct contradiction with an actual metastudy on thequestion (which did admittedly not include What Doctors May Not Tell You). She also recommends homeopathic magnesium.


In addition to the real medical conditions her magnesium supplements can cure, she Dean’s claims to be able to treat non-real and nonsense medical conditions (and probably much more successfully, for obvious reasons), including yeast overgrowth syndrome, detox reactions, multiple chemical sensitivity, and electromagnetic sensitivity. As the reader probably recognizes, Dean is hardcore on chemophobia pushing: “Toxic chemicals are being found in all foods, all bodies of water, and all humans in every study performed.” And don’t try to tell her that the dose makes the poison or talk to her about the difference between trace amounts detected by sensitive instruments and poisoning. Science is dumb! Instead, Dean quotes “detox expertSherry Rogers, who thinks everyone should use far infrared saunas to eliminate (unspecified) stored environmental toxins (by unspecified mechanisms).


Her claims are summed up in her book The Magnesium Miracle, published in 2003 and updated in 2017, and briefly reviewed here. Her work is also promoted by the Nutritional Magnesium Association, an organization apparently devoted to hyping magnesium as the cure for all ills and featuring all manner of magnesium quacks.


Cholesterol denialism

Dean also belongs to a group we might not have covered as extensively as we should: cholesterol and statin denialists. Dean claims, in line with her general tendency to prefer conspiracy theories over reason (and especially over the possibility that there might be details she is missing or has misunderstood), that the American Heart Association “simultaneously is covering up statin side effects”, that cholesterol does not cause or increase the risk of heart disease, and that cholesterol levels above 200 are not dangerous. And to achieve a synthesis of her cholesterol nonsense with her magnesium quackery, she asserts that magnesium operates as a “natural statin” (natural statins are of course better than other statins) and keeps cholesterol in balance. And to turn that synthesis of denialism and quackery into money, she markets her “Total Body ReSet” bundle of dietary supplements for cholesterol, which will cost you $299. She also recommends clay baths and footbath detoxification.


She has furthermore stated that chronic inflammation is the cause of heart disease and that cholesterol is unrelated. That claim is, to put it mildly, not supported by scientific evidence, but evidence was of course never part of the package here. She also endorses the pseudoscientific nonsense of the British leading cholesterol denialist Malcolm Kendrick.


Dean is also an anti-fluoridation conspiracy theorist, and claims that she knows “that fluoridation of tap water is a disaster afflicting the population with an epidemic of chronic disease, including arthritis and cancer.” She cites Russell Blaylock, no less, as her authority. The claim is false, and Dean cites no evidence to suggest otherwise. The connection to cholesterol denialism? As Dean (though emphatically not reality) sees it, statins are potentially toxic fluoride compounds and may release fluoride ions that can irreversibly bind to magnesium, thereby contributing to muscle pain. That idea flatly contradicts elementary chemistry, but whatever. Fluoride atoms in statins are not released as ions.


Antivaccine views

Determined to get everything wrong, Dean is an anti-vaccinationist and has written several garbled and conspiracy-filled articles claiming that vaccines do not work, despite the fact that they obviously do. She is, for instance, the author or an article “The Politics of Mercury Poisoning in Autism” for something called Total Health Magazine, in which she touches on an impressive array of antivaccine tropes, including appeals to the largely mythical autism epidemic and citing safeMinds as an authorative source.


Diagnosis: Consistently wrong about everything (almost to the level of being genuinely impressive) and fundamentally disgraced as a consultant on anything related to health and medicine. Unfortunately there are i) people for whom being disgraced is apparently considered a virtue, ii) people in desperate situations willing to try virtually anything, iii) lots of people who don’t have medical expertise themselves and wouldn’t really be in a position to know what a dingbat purveyor of potentially dangerous nonsense Dean actually is when they come across the drivel she is producing for various outlets. As a result, Dean still has a victim fan base. And even after some 2700+ loons, that is genuinely shocking.


Hat-tip: Rationalwiki; Harriet Hall @SciencebasedMedicine

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