B.C.’s top doctor says there are “huge potential harms” connected to a homeopathic treatment based on the unfounded claim that vaccines cause most cases of autism.
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Three registered B.C. naturopaths are the subject of a complaint to the College of Naturopathic Physicians because of the treatment, known as CEASE therapy — “complete elimination of autism spectrum expression.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told CBC News she was concerned to learn that CEASE is being offered in B.C.
“It’s certainly not based on science. It’s based on a belief system,” Henry said. “My big concern is that it really misleads parents into believing that immunizations are a cause of their child’s autism.”
Unfounded fears about vaccines
CEASE is based on the unsubstantiated claim that 70 per cent of autism is caused by vaccines, 25 per cent by medications and other substances, and five per cent by disease.
Practitioners who offer CEASE use homeopathic remedies made by repeatedly diluting vaccines, as well as substances like vitamin C, in an attempt to “detoxify” autistic children.
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Henry described the supposed link between autism and vaccines as completely erroneous, based largely on studies that have been debunked.
“There are huge potential harms in that, not the least of which is that it’s costly for parents,” she said.
“It creates a level of fear around immunizations that is just not warranted, and it is very difficult to help people get over those fears.”
Her concerns are shared by ministry of health spokesperson Laura Heinze, who said it is not appropriate for naturopaths to advertise “complete elimination” of autism through homeopathy, or suggest that vaccines cause autism.
“The ministry expects all colleges and regulators to protect the public from misleading claims,” Heinze wrote in an email.
CBC has reported on two complaints to the college concerning naturopath Anke Zimmermann. (Anke Zimmermann/Facebook)
B.C. naturopaths Anke Zimmermann, Janice Potter and Margret Holland are all certified CEASE practitioners, and the college has acknowledged it is investigating the public complaint against them.
College bylaws prohibit false and misleading advertising, including marketing “likely to create in the mind of the recipient or intended recipient an unjustified expectation about the results which the registrant can achieve.”
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The college also forbids naturopaths from advising against vaccination unless there is a “sound, and properly documented, medical rationale for doing so.”
Zimmermann, Potter and Holland are not the only people to offer CEASE in B.C., but they are the only regulated health-care professionals. Several unregulated homeopaths and natural healers in the province also advertise the treatment.
‘We have to be very careful’
Henry noted that a number of “concerning practices” in the alternative health world have come to light in recent weeks.
That includes another complaint against Zimmermann about her claims surrounding the use of a homeopathic remedy made from rabid dog saliva on a small boy. As well, anti-vaccination comments have been made by chiropractors on social media, in defiance of provincial regulations.
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Dealing with those issues is ultimately the responsibility of the colleges that regulate naturopaths and chiropractors, Henry said, but she wants to be sure that members of the public are getting accurate information about health care.
“I think there are really important things that naturopaths, chiropractors and others do in supporting families when they’re dealing with challenging health situations, but I think we have to be very careful not to put [out] false claims,” she said.
In particular, she said, parents need to be aware that immunization is crucial for protecting young children from infectious diseases.