Stretching the Canvas of Faith

In light of recent conversations I’ve had relating to the Mormon culture region (MCR), I wanted to pose a question to the Blogdom. I have been impressed on my encounters here in the MCR to what extent the faith necessary to accommodate golden plates and resurrected angels has been sufficiently strong to encompass other exciting intellectual assertions, like the healing efficacy of silver, the restorative power of chiropraxy (so much more than a backrub but so much less than a religion), and the enormously tempting lucre of nutraceuticals and “health drinks.” MCR Mormons seem to love what is now termed Complementary-Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the canon of social science. When a friend asked whether I thought his relatives should be allowed to give her daughter colloidal silver, I did some reading on argyria, a now rare disease of silver miners, in which, after the whites of your nails turn a dusky blue-grey, you begin to have cognitive impairments and seizures, which can occasionally be fatal. What amazed me was that in the pubmed-indexed literature, almost all of the recent reports of argyria came from Utah and Arizona, and they were people taking colloidal silver for its purported health effects (it is a topical antiseptic used in people with severe burns, but there’s never been any evidence that it helps when ingested, and in fact it’s generally considered toxic on the basis of argyria). Then I started looking around and discovering surprising numbers of people employed by (or dealing for) expensive fruit juices marked by unsubstantiated claims for efficacy and a proselytizing fervor among distributors. And still more who report firm belief in the power of CAM remedies.

I instinctively (but not exclusively) feel that these kinds of extra-canonical beliefs dilute true religious faith and make believers into the kinds of straw people that Dawkins likes to squawk at triumphantly. To my eye, we would be better off if we admitted that chiropraxy is about the need to be touched, listened to, and made to believe in the possibility of recovery rather than the fantastic claims of energy currents responsible for disease and susceptible to joint popping. And admit that health juices represent a desire to have less processed food, to feel connected with the rhythms of nature, rather than endorsing bizarre and scientifically falsified claims about the nature of physical disease. To me, this would be cheaper and less embarrassing, although I will confess that I am fascinated by these belief systems and have spent some time studying how people interpret them, what the metaphysics of these disciplines are.

Some friends and acquaintances counter that my intuitive skepticism about herbal and natural remedies or non-traditional health disciplines indicate a lack of overall faith, and they point to the Word of Wisdom, which, the more I read it, does appear to be a metaphysical physiology that fits better with chiropraxis and homeopathy than the canons of scientific medicine. Or they complain that I’m too taken with science, too ready to accept scientific explanations of health which are culturally mediated or suspect within postmodern viewpoints. Or they think I’m just plain rude and self-absorbed (statistically the most likely explanation).

What’s the verdict? I’m interested to hear all sides and have made my position clear so people understand where I’m coming from rather than to make people feel ashamed or embarrassed about their health beliefs. What does it mean for Mormons to accept CAM practices? Are they gullible marks of a corrupt industry, or are they aware of metaphysical currents of great power that we deride at our own peril? Or something in between?


  1. Those of us involved in the pursuit of health outside the medical arena regard the human body as being created to enjoy an abundant and healthy life. Most of us believe that if the body is given the nutrients it needs that it can heal itself. There are some supplements that do cause more harm than good which is why Certified Natural Health Professionals, such as myself, should be consulted with. Your blog is thought provoking!

  2. I had a missionary companion who was really into CAM (although I’ve never heard it called by that name before). Some of what she had to say made sense, but some of it struck me as a bit weird.

    My personal take on it is that a lot of the stuff is scientifically testable, and so should be subjected to those sorts of tests. I’m thinking along the lines of herbal remedies, etc. If we can test the safety and efficacy of drugs, it shouldn’t be too hard to do that with herbs as well.

    For things such as chiropractics, massage therapy, and energy fields, things get a bit stickier. I had a friend in high school who somehow got a slipped disk in his neck, and one day, it paralyzed him from the neck down. He went to a chiropractor, who was able to get the vertebra back in place and restore his ability to move. This had nothing to do with the supernatural; it was a simple matter of relieving pressure on the spinal cord.

    I don’t know whether there are invisible energy fields that surround everything, but I don’t discount the possibility. (Just what, exactly, is spirit, anyway?) I suppose that if someone wants to get his or her energy field worked on, it’s relatively harmless. (Provided that it doesn’t stop someone from receiving needed medical treatment.)

    I do think that part of the attachment in LDS circles to alternative medicine is cultural. A lot of the products are marketed MLM style, which capitalizes on relationships. We’re a tightly knit community, and we tend to trust one another.

  3. So, here’s my theory, based on my CAM-obsessed Mormon relatives [in Provo]. People who bow to religious authority in most aspects of their lives can have a frisson of rebellion in their medical lives, flouting the medical authorities.

    Also, many Mormons and other religiously conservative people feel that many aspects of popular culture exclude them and/or are hostile to their beliefs. [some Mormons even believe that science is part of this hostile culture] So living Mormonism is really living a counterculture lifestyle, in a way of thinking. So it’s not a huge step to accept a counterculture medical authority.

  4. Latter-day guy says:

    I really think that the Church could cash in on this. Perhaps by marketing their own WoW approved health supplements, or a drink:

    “How does Gordon do it? 97 years and still going strong!
    Try Bittner! The revolutionary antioxidant fruit drink: …unto the renewing of your body…

    Ask about our tithing deduction program.”

  5. Back in the days when some doctors prescribed arsenic, perhaps the Thomsonian alternative was the way to go. It is just that our mortality rates are…well…incomparable to that era. I think you are right Sam, that this is in many respects a belief system. People want to explain the mysterious and have a hope for the miraculous. We are too skeptical to think that consecrated oil would be a therapeutic cure as our progenitors did (that and the hierarchy started discouraging internal and external application in the mid twentieth century). However, there is just enough pseudo-science to legitimize belief in homeopathic cures. So we latch on to the idea that immunizations cause autism and that magnets, EDTA, colloidal metals and mangosteen (though not red wine) are efficacious against all sorts of ailments.

  6. Sam,
    It sounds like you are conflating chiropraxy with accupressure.

  7. J. Michael says:

    This issue is on my mind a lot. My in-laws are darned near obsessed with magnets and something called “Juju Juice” (I’m sure I have that wrong). Over the years their promotion of CAM has strained our relationship, as they pressure us to buy stuff we have no need for, or faith in. One example of their evangelical (to my mind) zeal for questionable (to my mind) health practices and products – their first response on learning of our son’s cancer was to suggest a magnet product. My FIL graduated from Georgetown’s dental school. They are a bit more liberal than most members I’ve known, but certainly orthodox in their beliefs and practices.

    Most members I know subscribe to the belief that the spirit and physical body are so closely intertwined that when one is suffering, the other will manifest symptoms, as well. I believe that. So I think it is somewhat natural to favor medical remedies that acknowledge the spirit-body relationship. What makes me uncomfortable is the passion with which many members embrace MLM-based, anti-traditional medical establishment practices and products. My in-laws’ 30-year experience with potions, magnets, juices and magic beans includes a jaundiced view of the traditional medical establishment bordering on conspiracy theory. I think it odd; my non-member family members smilingly connect the dots between a belief in golden plates and the unprovable efficacy of magnet therapy.

  8. D. Allen says:

    I’ve always thought of chiropractic as a canonical form of medicine based on the mechanics of joints and bones and has proven beneficial. However, your insurance company may disagree. On the other hand, the drinking of colloidal silver sounds way out there, given no proven health benefits and having proven detriments. Of course, I can’t say anything about my routine of a 3 St. John’s wort (aka poor man’s Zyban) tablets.

    The Appalachian region in which I was born and raised has much of the same view of CAM. My grandmother swore by honey infused with a yellowroot and took a teaspoonful every day.

  9. I live in a small town in the MCR (that means mostly the Wasatch Front, right?) The only person who has testified to me of the truthfulness of CAM is my dad. He’s very suspicious of medical doctors. We all smile, nod, and call the MD when we get sick. He sighs, shrugs, and goes to his chiropractor. He’s not weird about it, although he’s very convinced it has helped him. When my brother was diagnosed with cancer, Dad was supportive of using regular MDs, and did not try to push alternative therapies on my brother.

    One of those fruit drinks that’s supposed to do amazing things, Tahitian Noni, is based here in Utah Valley, but it’s marketed overseas almost exclusively. You can’t buy it here.

    The lady I VT did tell me to pray and receive a witness of the health recommendations she was giving me for my son. I told her no, and that her claims were unscientific. But she’s 81 years old, so I try and cut her some slack.

    In sum, I don’t see a lot of CAM worship here in Utah Valley, and I’ve lived here my whole life. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of people like you describe. But I guess we don’t run in the same circles.

  10. These are good questions, Sam.
    Here’s my take on it: on a very small scale, faith in CAM acts in mainly the same way as faith in God/miracles/prophets work. If you trust the latter and not the former, I say it’s because we have to compartmentalize. We have to, we can’t rationalize believing one and completely dismissing the other.

    Also spiritual experiences in religion, often speak for themselves. We only need out of the mouth of two or three witnesses when it suits our purpose. You don’t need to be able to repeat your particular faith experiment over and over to trust it. I think people approaching CAM feel the same way. Take Keri’s friend who benefited from chiropractic care. It becomes a “testimony”, once shared can lead others to the same “truth” and other people come to believe in chiropractics.

    Mostly I think CAM is bunk, that we’re making something out of nothing because we want it to be there. The other thing is that I think we are mainly consumers. And we get sold. I drank wheat grass on a regular basis because of marketing. It may not have done any harm but it does taste like weeds. I even convinced myself that it tasted good. Clearly, I was lying to myself. Most recently I was devastated by the studies on Airborne and Emergen-C (vitamin C plus supplements) I drank Emergen-C all the time and swore that I never got sick because I used it regularly. Then they showed it didn’t. Did I not get sick as often? Or was I forgetting when I did get sick because I was sold on the product? It didn’t break the bank but I could buy a lot of books with that money, dammit. Anyway, my point is I’m a consumer. I believed it because of advertizing and anecdotal evidence. I did stop once the study came out but I’m still a little disappointed by it, since I miss drinking it. Placebo effect is astonishing.

    Noni juice wacked me out. I served in Tokyo and many Mormons were doing the pyramid selling thing with Noni and people got crazy over it. We could see them “tracting” in the same way we were. Nuskin was the same. You could spot their “missionaries” on the streets and on train platforms, they were using the skillz they learned on their missions.

  11. J. Michael says:


    Your comments reflect my feelings. I do not doubt that many have benefited from various non-traditional treatments. My daughter once worked for a chiropractor and always feels better after treatments. My MIL visits an acupuncturist for pain control, but her faith is so pure she’d probably do well with a good Pentacostal faith-healer. I confess that what I have is an in-law problem, but I’ve waited patiently for someone to post on this subject so I could rant under the cover of righteous superiority.

    For what it’s worth, this item appeared in the 19 Feb 1977 Church News, p16: “The Church … deplores the patronage of health or medical practices which might be considered ethically or legally questionable. People with serious illness should consult competent physicians, licensed under laws of the land to practice medicine.” Today, area medical advisors (generally, retired physicians serving as senior missionaries, who act as consultants to mission presidents outside the US) are given this list of “unproven medical practices” that should be avoided by missionaries, including senior couples: Chiropractic Treatments, Homeopathic Medicine, Herbal Supplements, Hypnosis, Acupuncture, Reflexology, and Iridology.

  12. I think Chiropractic is fine when it sticks to things it can actually help: despite my skepticism it actually helped when I had major muscle spasms in my neck (all my doctor could offer was muscle relaxants). The problem is that unethical practitioners and outright frauds play upon the faith of believing members to sell remedies and products which are completely useless, especially as cancer cures, as which they are sometimes touted.

    It’s all about money. Xango, Noni and other fruit juce products, along with many neutritional supplements and cosmetic remedies seem to be complete scams. It’s sad that LDS people are so willing to believe outlandish product claims. I don’t think more regulation is the answer, but perhaps more education would help to filter out the hucksters from the products that actually have some value.

  13. 1: Most mainline physicians believe that in the USA among the people buying those “nutrients” there is no malnutrition that would require supplementation. In other words, God provided through actual food all the nutrition the body needs. A doctor friend of mine characterized people who use these supplemental nutrients as “the people on the block with the most expensive urine” because all the supplements just wash out (the body doesn’t need them so doesn’t store them).

    2: There’s a name for tested herbal remedies: medication. Up until the last couple decades, where do you think pharmaceutical companies found their medications? (Nowadays they are actually engineering drugs to an impressive degree.) They got them by sticking plants into blenders and seeing what came out that actually had an effect.

    3. It’s fascinating to consider, and I suppose you’re right. Although Mormons love to be dentists and doctors and lawyers and businessmen, all professions invested in maintaining the status quo authority structures.

    7. Read up on the Palmers and the beginning of chiropraxy. You will be amazed how metaphysical it was. The movement to consider it mainstream or non-mystical is of relatively late mintage. Almost all of the studies that have looked at chiropractic have either failed to show an effect (claims for anything other than musculoskeletal aches and pains) or have failed to show that it is in any way superior to standard physical therapy.

    8. Magnets actually go way back, as a central focus of the metaphysical health tradition has been assimilating cosmic forces. In a sense, it’s a modification of astrology. Where once the stars, by correspondence–a mystical sense that forces, symbols, and elements will apply across scales–were able to influence events on earth, now unseen forces can have the same effect. Incidentally, the body does generate small but measurable electromagnetic forces. So does your cell phone and your toaster.

    12. Thanks for that useful information.

    Stapley, thanks for the reminder about our prior use of consecrated oil, including ingestion. I love olive oil on so many levels, it made me feel nostalgic.

  14. Oh, and the individual who approached a chiropractor with paralysis likely put his health and the chiropractor’s license on the line. I assume the individual was not actually paralyzed because a chiropractor manipulating someone with central loss of function should generally call his malpractice company before he sees the patient to alert them to the need for settlement. Those represent possible dangerous instability that could be worsened by the quick whipping of chiropraxy. (I recall estimates that 1 in 2 million “adjustments” cause permanent severe paralysis. While one will admit that a visit to the allopathic MD also has risks, it is a reminder that neck-popping is not entirely benign. Carotid arteries have been dissected by neck manipulations, as well as structural bone disruptions.)

  15. Finally, what would happen if all the money we have invested in therapies without any evidence for efficacy were given to help the poor? Why can’t we attribute the realignment of mystical forces to Christian service? Why can’t we believe that we have been healed (or saved from illness) because we spent our money to bless other people’s lives?

    PS: Sorry if this sounds angry. If you find this offensive, please translate it into less offensive language and feel free to respond to the question.

  16. Thats funny. I’m in rexburg, attending BYU:Idaho and I’ve never heard of any of this stuff. Chiropraxy, or silver-whatever… You know, there are differences between Mormon culture and Utah culture.

  17. David, I bet if you did a straw poll in the established “family” wards in Rexburg you would be quite surprised. Rexburg is inside the MCR if my memory serves.

  18. Sam, I believe CAM works only as a placebo, but do Mormons subscribe to CAM more than the general population? Snake oil has been around a long time, and it seems to me that new-age naturalists and organic-food types fall for this marketing angle all the time. (In fact, shouldn’t the organic food industry be included in this, given advocates unsubstantiated health claims?)

    Utah County is supposedly home to 60% of the country’s 200 largest multi-level marketing companies, and many of them sell snake oil vitamins and exotic fruit potions. Their success in Utah, I’ve imagined, springs from Mormonism’s extensive social networks, entrepreneurial culture, and belief that God materially rewards his followers. The Mormon connection to snake oil, it seems to me, is just an unfortunate (and morally bankrupt) effect of finding new MLM products.

  19. Ardis Parshall says:

    I think part of the problem is our reluctance to respond strongly to bogus health claims, either because of the people involved or their reasons for believing in it. Comment #10 referred to giving some slack to an 81-year-old; I have the same desire toward my 83-year-old aunt (and former RN of all things!) who is passionately devoted to iridology, reflexology, acu-this and pressure-that. She spends a fortune on magnet and pills and powders. Yet I can’t convince her calmly and politely of the foolishness of it all. I don’t want to offend an old lady.

    Then there are the people who believe in this stuff because of a perverted reading of the Word of Wisdom, or who claim to have had a spiritual confirmation regarding, say, laetril. Do we really enjoy challenging sincere testimonies, even when we see them as ridiculous? How is that different from someone challenging your testimony of the healing you received through a priesthood blessing? So we end up not challenging.

    So the fraud goes on.

  20. er, that’s what I meant. I could have spent that money used on Emergen-C and wheatgrass to help the poor. (not buy books, that was a typo.)

    You are right on Ardis. It’s hard to tell anyone they’re crazy and throwing their money away. Especially when they are nice or old or both.

  21. Sam, your observations about the MCR are correct. And it has been interesting to hear how the MCR has now been expanded outside the US.

    People feel comfortable expressing suspicion of physicians because they are echoing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, but that is about the only skepticism we employ today. You’ve had good science training, but most of us don’t recognize confirmation bias when it is staring us in the face. And usually, politeness overrules our desire to tell a member of our ward that something he has just endorsed with much fervor is the functional equivalent of BS. Combine those characteristics with a tight social netork, and we become easy pickings for any charlatan who wants to put the hustle on us.

  22. MikeInWeHo says:

    Isn’t Utah the center of the supplement industry? I think I’ve read that Sen. Hatch’s interventions have gone far in preventing further FDA oversight of that industry. Goodness knows, big pharma would love a crackdown on all those TV ads which make supplements look like pharmaceuticals.

  23. Is it just me or is the following true.

    I have lived in St. Paul, Chicago and Dallas and have never heard much about CAM. I think if somebody started pushing CAM on fellow members in my ward here in Dallas they would get a call from the Bishop to cease and desist. People here do sell Pampered Chef and other type things like candles.

    I am of the opinion that CAM is something unique to MCR.

    Its all a fraud of course.

  24. Perhaps the phenomena discussed here are a product of provincial culture, and not just a byproduct of Mormon faith. I wonder if other provincial cultures (like in the Appalachian region mentioned in #9 above) are similary enthused with CAM. Of course, Mormon faith may contribute to provincialism, or vice versa . . .

  25. This falls in the category of wacky stories and the willingness of members to want to believe. My wife’s sister in the St. George area became aware that one or more chiropractors were actually using the parents of missionaries as “proxies” for adjusting the “auras” remotely of their missionaries with health problems overseas. I’ve had missionary kids, and I’ve worried about their health. But I never could figure out how this was supposed to work.

    Related to this, I remember sitting in a priesthood meeting while my wife and I were visiting this sister-in-law in St. George, and hearing an announcement about a stake blood drive. The bishop got up and said after the announcement that he knew people thought it was a good idea to give blood, but that it was of a questionable doctrinal basis, and he recommended that after study and prayer, we would all come to the same conclusion, and stop giving blood. No explanation as to what the “doctrinal basis” was, but a member of his ward that was an EMT just about exploded in response.

    I do believe that as we have spiritual experiences, sometimes we have difficulty discerning emotional responses to the real promptings of the spirit. We believe on faith in so many things, that for some it is easy to throw some of these CAM issues in with the rest of our handcart of faith.

    One final note: While serving as bishop, I am sure I offended some folks, but I got wind of a Relief Society enrichment meeting about iridology. I had no idea of what that was, so I did some quick checking on the internet, was horrified by what I found, and told the RS President that they could not do that at enrichment. I probably overstepped my bounds, but it just felt wrong, so wrong.

  26. “People feel comfortable expressing suspicion of physicians because they are echoing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.”

    I don’t accept that, Mark IV. Poke around the internet a bit and you’ll find there are tens of millions of people irrationally suspicious of physicians, vaccines, government, media, bankers, “big oil,” “big food” and Wal-Mart, 99% of whom have no regard for Joseph Smith or Brigham Young whatsoever. Whatever tendency there is among Mormons to be among them, it’s not because of Smith and Young.

    You’ll be pleased to know that in a presentation for a mortgage buy-down scam (it promised to pay off your mortgage more quickly without refinancing or paying extra principle) where the presenter used every known manipulative trick from social psychology, and depended on people’s poor understanding of math. Knowing that the ruse depended on the fear of contradicting the speaker, I determined to speak out, and did. Near the end of the presentation I raised my hand, called it a scam, and said before he suckered any of the 60 people there out of there money, I thought he and I should go through his PowerPoint presentation again, slide-by-slide, so I could show people why it was a scam. When he refused I said it was a scam and a trick. It caused a big scene and saved some people their $3500.

  27. J. Michael says:


    I can beat your “remote aura readings”. My sister-in-law (have I mentioned my in-laws?) was buying some magic potion from a huckster whose product’s success depended on balancing certain properties in her blood. She needed to have her blood tested each month for this purpose. Unfortunately, she lived several hundred miles from her gifted provider. No problem – he allowed her to prick her own finger, smear the blood on plain bond paper, and fax the sample to him.

  28. Nick Literski says:

    Pat Robertson, of the 700 Club, already does market his own “health drink,” based on his own alleged vigor. I believe he was recently sued for making unsupported health claims.

  29. Matt E. 27,

    Matt, I don’t know what it is about me that seems to attract MLM True Believers, but I have actually been proselyted, more than once, by people with pills and silver. They used flip charts with statements by JS and BY, and they read them word for word, then followed up by asking me, the patsy, if I believed in the words of the prophets. So I’m not blaming our founders, I’m noting that we have people among us who don’t mind using out of context GA quotes for their own purposes. But that is not really news.

    I think it is great that you stood up to the swindler and called his bluff. I would have paid money to see it, though not $3,500.00.

  30. You can fax blood?!
    When are they going to start faxing food? Seriously.

    I definitely think CAM has more to do with who we are as consumers rather than our religion, though our religion does play a role in our definition as consumers.

  31. As a sufferer of Scoliosis (I can’t spell), in a long line of of women with severly crooked spines, I have to say I don’t think a chiropractor is all that weird. Regular visits have made my mom be able to keep walking and running and waterskiing and everything else, whereas medical doctors just want her (and me) to get an expensive surgery with a long recovery. I’d much rather get my back realligned once a month than have someone cut me open and re-build my spine and have to wear a brace. But, I have never heard of people going to chiropracters for anything other than pain managment and the like, which really doesn’t seem to out there to me. Its even covered by my insurance.

    I have never heard of any of that other stuff though, but I have seen the other extreme. Those who are so unwilling to look at ‘alternatives’ and instead turn to surgery, pharmeceuticals, and antibiotics for every little thing. My inlaws, whose relatives are doctors and dentists, instead of focusing on nutrition or sleep when my husband got sick growing up, would always jump straight to antibiotics. It could have been hayfever, and they would give him amoxicillan (get over my bad spelling). As a result, when he was older and suffered from some real medical problems, including an infection that affected his heart, antibiotics were useless on him. I have seen this alot, not just DHs fam and think it can be just as dangerous.

  32. Mark, I’ve been a target for multiple MLM pitches, too. At some point in my career I’d hope to start an organization to expose MLM companies. It makes me sick to see so many Mormons profiting from selling false hope. Another idea is to put together a “Smart Consumer” curriculum for a college course. It would rely primarily on marketing and sales materials, not to teach how to market and sell, but to recognize the techniques and methods marketers use to manipulate consumers. Another unit would be on business models, and teaching people to recognize how MLM works, and why most of them are bad.

  33. Sam,
    I had a bishopric member while I was at BYU who advocated energy fields of some sort at an FHE. We all (meaning at least me and my roommates) rolled our eyes and made fun of him. (My dad’s a dentist but, in stark contrast to J. Michael’s (8) FIL, we grew up with strict belief in medicine, and strict amusement about non-medical treatments).

    Although I found, living in NY, that it’s not just crazy Mormons (and weren’t you in Boston? isn’t it the same there?). My wife’s a dancer, and dancers all subscribe to alternative therapies and acupuncture and holistic and chiropractic stuff (and, while my wife’s a little skeptical, she’s also curious–esp. w/r/t back pain, for which there’s little doctors seem to be able to do). And yoga and other alternative mind-body things were everywhere in NY (and, I assume, LA, although I haven’t found them so prominently in DC).

  34. Veritas,

    As one who has also earlier in life been to a chiropractor for some issues, I do believe they have a place, as does acupuncture, and others. I meant no offense to those who provide honest, valuable services. But adjusting auras by proxy? Diagnosing cancer by looking at the pattern of your iris? Faxing a blood sample? That’s beyond the edge of any legitimate practitioner, IMO.

  35. The MCR? — Middle Common Room? I always enjoyed my time in my college MCR (even if the MCR President was a dandy) but was never approached by anyone selling snake oil.

  36. Kevinf- I have never even heard of those things. They are wacky, for sure. There are Chriropractors that do that stuff?

    My last post made me sound like I am anti-medicine and such, which is SO not the case. I just think there are crazies on both sides of the spectrum. I have never lived in Utah, and I have never heard of any of these crazy things you guys refer to (the faxing blood makes me laugh out loud). I was asked by a ‘friend’ to sell some products with rediculous claims once (teas, stuff to wash your fruit…but they would claim you ‘would never get sick agian’ and stuff). When I told her it was a pyramid scheme she got offended. She was from Utah, now that you mention it.

    However, I do not think that yoga or the chiropractor fall into the same category. I mean, if you are using those things for which they are not intended, yeah. But, honestly, I think there is room for both traditional and holistic medicine, Im not sure they need to be mutually exclusive (and of course there are limits, and it can be taken to extremes).

  37. For a reality check, the standard scholarly treatments of CAM suggest that somewhere around 30-40% of Americans, all comers, participate in CAM. It’s not just people without education; in fact wealthy white women in middle age are a known group that uses a great deal of it. A study I did in Russia suggested that essentially all physicians in the sample had practiced CAM therapies as defined in the US. It’s also quite widespread in Germany according to the literature. It’s amazingly widespread the world over.

    As far as its grounding in Mormonism, I think that different cultures use different cues to decide how to respond to metaphysical health systems, but in Mormonism, historical animosity toward allopathic physicians coupled with the frankly metaphysical claims of the Word of Wisdom (the more I look at it, the more I wonder whether we fancy pants have misinterpreted its original meaning, even though its meaning has changed toward the less metaphysical under the guidance of successive church leaders, so we’re not obligated to defend the metaphysical vision) are the narrative structure that Mormons use to support CAM.

    I think MLM is a product of Satan sowing corruption in Zion personally, attempted to hijack the sacred community of faith with a greed both vacuous and malignant.

  38. I am in medical school (in the far away state of NY) and we have had many lectures devoted to CAM, so this is definitely not a uniquely Mormon trend. I say let education be your guide. Be careful with unfounded claims for miracle cures but also remember that willow is the original source of aspirin, a mainstay of our “western” and evidence based medicine. The placebo effect is so powerful that I am all about CAM for my future patients, as long as they make sure to investigate potential harm that could result from its use. Since they probably won’t do that research I think it’s up to us to do the research for them. I am especially concerned about the fact that so many herbal supplements aren’t regulated (I’ve also heard that Sen Hatch has been instrumental in avoiding herbal regulation) because of the fact that these herbal meds do have real impact on the body–especially in changing cytochrome p450–meaning that a medicine you are taking to treat another condition could either be metabolized way too quickly and not at all, with potentially horrible effects on your health.

  39. Another hugely interesting thread! There is so much to be said here, and so many valid yet diverse perspectives, that it would seem helpful for one of the appropriate magazines (Sunstone, Dialogue, BYU Studies, or (and preferably) the church-sponsored magazines) to devote a full issue to the subject.

    The question of why Mormons are or seem to be especially susceptible to CAM is intriguing. One possibility: perhaps followers of Joseph Smith reason that if MAJOR truth can be revealed outside orthodox channels, certainly minor truths can as well.

    About things being “scientifically testable.”
    In 1956, as a journalism student at the University of Arizona, I spent a week covering an international conference on solar energy. According to every paper and every panel, extensive scientific tests had proved beyond reasonable doubt that solar energy could, should, and almost certainly would replace fossil-fuel sources within about 15 years. Well, could and should , yes–but it’s been 50 years, yet solar energy is still a very minor source of the world’s energy. Was something wrong with the theory? The tests? Some suggest Big Money (the fossil-fuel interests) made sure the prophecy wasn’t fulfilled. Or maybe people just find a romance in cars that solar panels lack.

    I don’t know if Mormons are more susceptible to CAM than the rest of the Western world, but I do know that life is scary, and when a person (of any persuasion) is scared, fear spills way beyond the container of reason. Remember the behavior of Naaman, a great captain of Syria, whose wife’s little maid suggested an alternate therapy to Naaman’s leprosy. (Imagine paying any attention to a slave maid! But then, Naaman was scared.) It’s a great study in the back-and-forth tug between reason and faith–Naaman makes the long trip to Elisha, the prophet in Israel, but then sneers at Elisha’s advice. (“Aren’t the rivers of Damascus better, etc.?”)(II Kings 5: 1-14.)

    Unquestionably, some people, in and out of the church, have the gift of healing. But here’s the tricky part: if you have the healing touch, or a healing ‘recipe,’ or a healing diet–should you ask for, or even take, money in exchange? (Elisha refused.) I don’t know the answer to that one either.

    But the whole matter is important and very much worth thinking about. Thanks for raising the subject, Sam MB.

  40. SMB: I have heard Latter-day Saints talking about herbal remedies and vitamins but I must say I’ve never heard them talk about them with reference to the Word of Wisdom as a justification for taking vitamins or drinking chamomile tea. And I feel compelled to add, if for google searchers if for nothing else, that I as a lifelong Latter-day Saint have never heard Latter-day Saints praising snake oil, colloidal silver, magnets, energy fields or any other such potentially dangerous or mystical alternative remedies. All of the Latter-day Saints that I know and grew up with believe in going to the doctor when sick or injured, getting the children vaccinated, all in addition to obeying the modern Word of Wisdom the best way they know how. The most fringe thing I’ve personally witnessed in a small minority of Latter-day Saints is a dedication to wheat or other whole grain breads over simple super-market white bread and a belief in vitamin supplements.

    Obviously, others on this thread, including you, have had different experiences and have encountered Latter-day Saints who espouse what you are calling CAM. As someone above mentioned, perhaps it just depends on the circles a person runs in. Since I grew up in the suburbs, perhaps these mystical remedies weren’t so popular among the people attending the wards I grew up in etc.

    But, again, my experience has been that Latter-day Saints are more likely to thank God in prayer for the “miracles” of modern medicine in improving and prolonging lives and reducing suffering rather than distrust doctors.

    Having said that, upon further reflection, I have met some Latter-day Saints (only a handful) who are suspicious of vaccinations. But it never occured to me to attribute this in any way to their membership in the Church; rather, I just ascribed it to eccentricity.

  41. Peter LLC says:

    as a lifelong Latter-day Saint have never heard Latter-day Saints praising snake oil, colloidal silver, magnets, energy fields or any other such potentially dangerous or mystical alternative remedies.

    That comes from living on the other side of the tracks.

    The most fringe thing I’ve personally witnessed … is a dedication to wheat or other whole grain breads over simple super-market white bread

    Whole grains? Fringe? Yikes! You’ll soon have a continent of Europeans lecturing you on the benefits of dinkel if you keep up your old bread habits in your new home.

  42. Peter, that’s exactly my point. Most Latter-day Saints are not espousing fringe views of these things if the most radical thing they are doing is interpreting the WoW somehow to bless whole grain breads over white bread.

  43. By the way, Peter, I have noticed that it was easier to get good whole grain breads at supermarkets in the United States than in London, which surprised me greatly. This is one sense in which England certainly isn’t the Continent. I long for the heavy rye I enjoyed so much living in Berlin and Hamburg and elsewhere on the Continent.

  44. England certainly isn’t the Continent.

    Dieu et mon droit

  45. Peter LLC says:

    I see your

    Dieu et mon droit

    and raise you a

    Honi soit qui mal y pense

  46. I earn my writing/editing salary in Utah’s MLM nutritional supplement industry, and I couldn’t resist doing a send-up of the magic juice in my recent novel Kindred Spirits. Here’s a snippet (and if you know anything about this industry, you can guess which two real-life company names I combined to get my juice name):


    Like a bartender, LaVonna opened a cupboard and set out two small glasses. Then she went to the fridge, took out a tall, green bottle with thick, dark liquid inside, and poured about three inches into each glass. “This is zongi juice. It’s from a fruit that grows only on some islands of Tonga in the South Pacific.” As she spoke, she made eye contact with each of them in turn. “It has some amazing health benefits. It’s full of little bio-molecules that do all sorts of great things.”

    “Is it multilevel marketing?” Eliza asked.

    “I just believe in the fruit. I’m not necessarily trying to make money.”

    Multilevel marketing schemes occasionally swept through Eliza’s parents’ Orem neighborhood. In the past, LaVonna had signed up to distribute nutritional supplements, scrapbooking supplies, candles, children’s toys, and kitchen tools.

    Eric lifted his glass of purplish juice, sipped it, and made a face. “That’s pretty tart.”

    “We don’t make it unhealthy with added sugar.”

    “It smells like throw up.” Eliza set her glass back down.

    “You don’t have to drink much to get the benefits.”

    “What are the benefits?” Eric asked.

    LaVonna smiled, and then a look of concentration passed over her face. “Let’s see. It’s full of antioxidants that mop up free radicals. It turbo-charges your immune system and gives you more energy. It’s good for your digestion and circulation. Tongan warriors rubbed the fruit right onto their wounds so they’d heal faster. And Eric, it even helps your hair grow back.”

    Eric held up his glass, said “Cheers,” and chugged it.

    “While Eliza was on her mission, I had a bout with breast cancer,” LaVonna said, laying her palms flat on the countertop. “I believe the reason I got cancer was because of all these pollutions in our world today, the chemicals and additives and toxins. Moroni saw our day, and he said there would be great pollutions upon the face of the earth.”

    “Mom, you don’t use scriptures to sell it, do you?”

    LaVonna put her hands on her hips. “Now listen here. I believe the Lord held the zongi fruit in reserve for these latter days, and now he’s blessing us with it. The fruit Lehi saw in his vision was white, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that the zongi rind appears almost white in color.”

    Eliza let out an incredulous laugh.

    “And you know the fruit Alma talks about—well, the same principles apply here. Don’t cast this out by your unbelief. Let it begin to swell within your breast. Let it enlarge your soul and enlighten your understanding.”

    “You can’t seriously be using Alma thirty-two to sell this juice,” Eliza said.

    “Hold on a minute,” Eric said. “I can feel some tingles. Seriously.”

    “There.” LaVonna beamed. “You see?”

    Eliza sighed and folded her arms. “I can’t believe this.”


    As further therapy, I’m really looking forward to going to see Believe the Movie this weekend, a sendup of MLM.

  47. Unfortunately, Ronan, as you know, breads are one area in which England could stand to resemble the Continent more closely.

  48. Very nice, Chris. Good stuff.

  49. Chris B., I think the only thing you left out is that old guys who drink the stuff can throw away their Viagra. That was the testimonial given to me by a senior citizen pill pusher.

  50. Fowles,

    I may, if feeling generous, bow to the Semmel, but even then you need to know that the Semmel (OE Semmul) was introduced to the German lands by Richard the Lionheart as he traveled incognito through Europe.

    Unfortunately, Oliver Cromwell subsequently banned the Semmel, which only underlines the evils of a Republic. This was an unfortunate quirk of history, but as we all know, the worse your bread, the more free you are, hence the American Wonderbread, known in NeoCon circles as Freedom Bread.

    Europe: the Semmel, the baguette, Mussolini.

    England: brown bread, the Beatles.

    America: Freedom Bread, Bruce Springsteen.

  51. Ronan, I’m not really talking about Semmel, actually. As good as they are, they’re still just white bread. I was actually thinking of Berliner Bauernbrot and other varieties of dark rye and vollkorn breads that are so enjoyable. America similarly simply doesn’t have it on a large scale. American rye bread is also very good but nothing at all like Bauernbrot — not sure why that is.

  52. john,
    Try Waitrose. Or M&S.

  53. Sure, they have sliced loaves of fluffy dark breads but I haven’t seen real heavy rye breads. Perhaps they’re there and I just haven’t seen them since we shop mostly at Sainsbury’s (Waitrose is quite a bit more expensive on most items).

    I guess what really surprised Allison and I was that the bakery near our house offers “baguettes” that are essentially the same as “french bread” loaves offered by Albertson’s and other supermarkets in the United States. It was a disappointment to see that we couldn’t even get real baguettes at our local bakery. But we have a Wiatrose nearby, so we might be able to find it there. On the other hand, our local bakeries here offer pastries and sweet breads that rival those found on the Continent.

  54. that is, surprised Allison and me — I can’t believe I made that mistake, which is one of my largest pet peeves!!!

  55. Ronan #51:

    Hey. Hey! I don’t know if I like the implications of that. Have you ever SEEN Bruce Springsteen? In Houston, in 2002, during the song “Land of Hope and Dreams,” I discovered what the pentecostals mean when they talk about being transported by the spirit. I cried. I danced. I may have even levitated.

    Wonder Bread indeed.

  56. Lonny Mower says:

    Are there any CAM folks out there that can recommend a good supplement for the straightening of one’s teeth, and an oral alternative to injected insulin? My kids and wallet would benefit from the former, and my patients from the latter. Compliance is everything.

  57. 57, inhaled insulin has some reasonable data, though it’s a bit early to know what the long-term pulmonary effects will be.
    and relishing naturally crooked teeth has saved me a ton of cash over the years.

  58. And thanks to Chris for sharing his fiction. A nice read.

  59. Lonny Mower says:

    Sam MB, thanks for the comment about Pfizer’s Exubera, a rapid acting insulin for mealtime control. I was hoping that one of them certified nutra?….herbalists would chime in with a potion that’s got some street-cred for a replacement for both rapid and basal insulins.

    By the way, if you really want to get an optimal, daily dose of antioxidants, look no further than your local State Liquor or grocery store. If you’re a drinker already, drink 6 oz (more IS NOT better)of red (not white) wine. It’s the flavanoids. 36 oz – yes 36 oz – of purple grape juice does the same thing, but you might have to go to your dentist for teeth whitening. Give your money to the dentist rather than some whack MLM herbalist.

  60. Slippery Sam says:

    #10 Melinda-

    One small note, Tahitian Noni is definitely available in Utah Valley. I used to work for them, and I can promise you there are plenty of “Independent Product Consultants” that would love to unload the juice on you. It’s a complete crock of course, but it is available.

  61. I take stuff with real science behind it. Vitamin C I take 3g a day, which my endocrinologist says is the anti-oxidant dose. I also take olive leaf extract, which has been shown to have broad-spectrum antibacterial and antiviral properties. Mostly I take it because I’m diabetic and really prone to bacterial infections and viruses. I take this stuff called L-carnatine because my endocrinologist says that recent research suggests it might help type 2 diabetics, and because when I take it my feet feel warm and tingly like they’re getting more circulation or something. My feet are fairly numb usually. But I look at all that stuff as drugs, so the regular precautions about side-effects and weighing the benefit against the risks applies. Science does a great job of weeding out the real effects from our wishes and fantasies.

    I do believe in the efficacy of some healing effects that come from spiritual factors. I don’t think those are for sale, though. =)

  62. Tatiana, you’re in good company. Linus Pauling, one of the best minds of 20th century in biochemistry became convinced of its efficacy. The only data I’ve ever seen suggested marginal benefit from 4gm per day at onset of cold symptoms. Every time antioxidants are studied in actual large studies, they don’t work, and occasionally there are even suggestions of harm.
    As far as L-carnitine, it’s still got a long way to go before it has good data for use. (Many of the medicines allopaths administer don’t work or have good evidence for them either.)

    and i agree that there are almost certainly spiritual factors relevant to health, but how those integrate into CAM or Ponzi schemes (sorry, MLM) is the tough nut to crack.

  63. Sam, this hits close to home for me. My father has a terminal, so far incurable disease, Polymyositis (degenerative muscular disease). Since discovering this and getting little help from the medical profession my Mother is on a search for anything that can possibly help. She has spent thousands on a limited budget on Zoning (foot reflexology) both in treatment and instruction. They have tried supervitamins and have been on a strict diet of vegetable, nuts and berries. Personally, I would think my dad would benefit from a diet high in protein (ie meat). But I’m no nutritionist. My father also has frequent priesthood blessings. — I’ve wondered about what he think about this but I guess this is for another thread.

    In the same vein that Joseph was open to revelation due to peepstones (ala Bushman) I believe my mother is open to CAM due to the church. So yes I believe she is a gullible mark because of her non-questioning faith in the church.

    I sometimes wonder if I should confront my Mother, normally I just ignore her when she is spouting her latest CAM. I think she knows I don’t support it, maybe that is all I should do.


  1. […] end up worse off.  I read of the probable adverse reaction to colloidal silver in Sam’s blog. He’s right about people taking and marketing products that have known toxins or unproven […]