When Naturopaths Try to Silence Public Discourse : The Harry Adelson Chronicles

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I have been a big critic of naturopaths offering investigational stem cell procedures. In my opinion, one of the naturopaths who has pushed his practice act to its limits and beyond is Harry Adelson. I was recently sued by Harry for questioning whether his practice act authorized what he’s doing. Now that the suit is done, I can write about it.

My Overall Experience with Naturopaths

My wife and some of my kids have food allergies. In particular, I’m very thankful to our local naturopath who helped my wife figure this all out. So I have no issue with the idea of naturopaths.

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Naturopaths and Stem Cells

Naturopaths are just one provider type in a list that includes medical doctors, chiropractors, and acupuncturists who are misleading the public by offering stem cell therapies with no stem cells or procedures that are less than technically competent. However, naturopaths have specific practice restrictions based on far less medical training compared to physicians. What’s fascinating about all of this is having reviewed all existing state naturopathic practice acts, almost all clearly don’t permit many of the procedures that are being performed out there. Which is how Harry Adelson ended up suing me. Let me explain.

The Utah Naturopathic Act and Adelson

Many years ago it came on my radar that Harry Adelson was offering a full suite of x-ray guided interventional spine procedures including the injection of low back discs. The problem? His Utah naturopathic practice act, in my opinion, doesn’t authorize spinal injection procedures. Here’s what it says:

(7) (a) “Minor office procedures” means:
(i) the use of operative, electrical, or other methods for repair and care of superficial lacerations,
abrasions, and benign lesions;
(ii) removal of foreign bodies located in the superficial tissues, excluding the eye or ear;
(iii) the use of antiseptics and local anesthetics in connection with minor office surgical
procedures; and
(iv) if approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, percutaneous injection into
skin, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints with:
(A) local anesthetics and nonscheduled prescription medications; and
(B) natural substances.
(b) “Minor office procedures” does not include:
(i) general or spinal anesthesia;
(ii) office procedures more complicated or extensive than those set forth in Subsection (7)(a);
(iii) procedures involving the eye; and
(iv) any office procedure involving tendons, nerves, veins, or arteries

Note that all Harry is permitted to do is to perform, based on what’s written here, are minor office procedures. Injecting stem cells into a disc using x-ray guidance is NOT a minor office procedure. In particular, the Utah naturopathic practice act states that Harry can’t inject the spine (i.e. no “spinal anesthesia”).

Getting Sued

After one of my blogs, I got a letter from Adelson’s attorney that requested that I take down my blog and issue an apology. Before I could even digest the letter, I was met with a lawsuit a few days later. These are called SLAPP suits which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Given that my critiques of Harry have been about his injection techniques (which in my opinion are not up to our standards) and the fact that in my opinion, the state of Utah doesn’t permit him to perform interventional spine procedures using stem cells and that all of that is well within my first amendment rights, I didn’t back down and hired a Utah attorney who is an expert in first amendment law. The outcome? The judge threw Harry’s case out (with prejudice) at the preliminary summary judgment phase, meaning he felt that Harry had no chance of winning his case at trial. Why? My opinions that Harry was violating his practice act are protected free speech.

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When Naturopaths Stifle Public Discourse

An interesting feature of Harry’s lawsuit was that there is a legitimate public discourse to be had around which procedures are appropriate for naturopaths to perform. However, Harry’s lawsuit has had the effect of stifling that discourse for the past 6-months. Meaning while we were being sued, whether Harry’s or any other naturopathic practice act actually authorized performing spinal or stem cell procedures wasn’t featured here. It looks like I’m not the only health provider to be sued by a naturopath as Britt Hermes, a long-time critic of naturopathy (who was herself a naturopath), has also been sued and had the case thrown out.

A Consensus Statement

A consensus statement on the issue of naturopaths and other alternative medicine providers performing investigational care and stem cell procedures was recently produced. Twenty key opinion leaders in orthobiologics, orthopedics, and interventional spine signed the document. Which begs the question for those physicians involved in courses where naturopaths and other alternative health practitioners are educated on how to perform stem cell and orthobiologic procedures, should you be doing this? Meaning, is it ethical for a physician to train providers whose practice acts don’t authorize the procedure being taught?

Harry’s Statements

I reached out to Harry Adelson for comments and his point of view, but at the time of this writing I hadn’t heard back. If he does respond, I will update the blog.

Threatening Letters

I have become a watchdog of sorts for the regen medicine industry, trying hard to separate legitimate, science-based, medical care from claims that don’t add up or make scientific sense. As a result, I’ve gotten my share of letters threatening lawsuits. However, I have no problem defending what I write. From a bigger picture standpoint, you would think that scenarios like this one would silence me from calling out the crazy parts of the stem cell wild west. In fact, they have the opposite effect, making it clear to me that I’m doing the right thing.

The upshot? Should naturopaths be performing complex spinal procedures using stem cells? Not in my opinion. Let me know what you think.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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