Natural is better, right?
In one of our most riveting interviews yet, Britt Marie Hermes (author of The Naturopathic Diaries) details her journey from SoCal teenager afflicted with disfiguring psoriasis through her disillusionment with the impersonal Western medical machine, to her training as a naturopathic physician.
But it’s what happened in her first 3 years of practice that will make your jaw drop and teach us all about the arcane world of witchcraft and wizardry that draws in vulnerable patients (and future practitioners) looking for hope, while delivering…well, you’ll just have to listen and learn exactly what they serve up.
A tale of fear, courage, and the ultimate triumph of science, reason, and true compassion. Check out the full transcript in the Lyrics tab below.
And here’s a piece in Medium we wrote after being enlightened by Britt.
Watch the Facebook LIVE and check the comments, and make your voice heard!
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Zubin Damania: Yo, Z Pack, this episode is made possible by the general sponsorship of Athena Health. Athena Health partners with hospital and ambulatory clients to drive results. They offer network-enabled medical record, revenue cycle management, patient engagement, care coordination, and population health services, to build Health 3.0, yo! Get back to the work you love doing. Athena Health. Free up.
What up, Z Pack? It’s your boy, ZDoggMD. Welcome to Sunday Against Medical Advice! Why do we call the show that? Because everything we’re talking about is cray. Double cray. Cray squared. Right, Tom [Heineber 00:00:50]?
Tom Heineber: That’s right!
Zubin Damania: It’s what we do, people. Today we have a legendary figure from the internet who went through a journey that I think many of us, whether we’re in medicine or whether we’re patients and we’re struggling, trying to figure out what’s the right answer for how do we take care of ourselves, how do we train to help other people, what can we do to reconcile science and witchcraft. We have the legendary Britt Hermes. She was a naturopath for a while and left the field, and we’re gonna talk about what a naturopath is, and is now studying … She has her masters in science and is now studying for her PhD in mammalian microbiomes and biomedical stuff. She went from naturopathy to real science, and in the process … Real science. You see where my bias is, Tom, Heineber. In the process, she wrote an online blog called the Naturopathic Diaries, which blew the lid off of how people trained in naturopathy and created hella butt-hurt across the continuum of care. Britt Hermes. Wow.
Britt Hermes: Hi!
Zubin Damania: I’m so stoked you’re here!
Britt Hermes: Thanks!
Zubin Damania: Now I have to tell people you’re feeling really crappy today.
Britt Hermes: Thanks.
Zubin Damania: You’re jetlagged, you have a stomach thing. That you still came shows your dedication to destroying pseudoscience. I love it. Are you feeling okay?
Britt Hermes: I’m feeling okay.
Zubin Damania: Awesome awesome awesome. Cut her some slack, guys, because it’s been a long day for you.
Britt Hermes: If I need some homeopathy in the middle of the interview, I’ll let you know.
Zubin Damania: I have [newt 00:02:23], which I find is extremely efficacious for mild nausea.
Britt Hermes: I keep taking nux vomica, but it doesn’t seem to be working.
Zubin Damania: You’re speaking a language that I don’t want to understand.
Tom Heineber: Oh! P.S., Tara says, “I’m the MA for our naturopathic clinic. I’m gonna be glued today.”
Britt Hermes: Woohoo!
Zubin Damania: Woo! What’s her name, Tara?
Tom Heineber: Tara.
Zubin Damania: Tara. Listen, Tara. We actually think that people who are in the field of naturopathy are good people trying to help people. Now what we want to do is talk about what is that field, what is their training, and is it based on science or is it based on something else. You have deep experience in this. Why did you even go in that direction? Can you tell your story maybe a little bit?
Britt Hermes: The story starts when I was about 16 years old. I got psoriasis. It wasn’t just a little bit of psoriasis. It was I was covered in psoriasis. Of course I know you know, but for anyone listening who doesn’t know what this is, it’s a really unsightly chronic skin condition.
Zubin Damania: You’re 16.
Britt Hermes: I’m 16. I live in Southern California, so I want to wear shorts and tank tops.
Zubin Damania: Everyone’s superficial as fuck.
Britt Hermes: Everyone’s superficial. I’m the only brunette girl in school. I have this skin condition where I have these giant red plaques, giant red patches I could call them, all over my body. Literally all over. My mom has the condition, so I knew what it was right away. My mom says, “Go to my dermatologist.” I show up. He’s this old white guy.
Zubin Damania: Welcome to medicine.
Britt Hermes: He doesn’t have any time for me. I remember him being really rushed and basically treating me like I was a little girl who was being vain about the situation.
Zubin Damania: You’re 16.
Britt Hermes: I’m crying in the office, saying, “Why do I have this condition? How can I get rid of this condition?” My mom has it. She’s had it all her life, or at least all that I can remember. She does steroids. She injects herself with drugs and doesn’t seem to get any better. I’m terrified of this type of future for myself.
Zubin Damania: Disfigurement and social pariah. I had a friend in high school who had severe plaque, diffused psoriasis, and it was devastating for him.
Britt Hermes: It is devastating. People stop you on the street and ask you what’s wrong with you.
Zubin Damania: Are you okay, yeah.
Britt Hermes: It’s really hard on the ego. He said, “There’s nothing I can really do for you except take these steroid creams.” He wasn’t even willing to engage in the conversation with me about diet or stress or anything else that could potentially be contributing to this. I asked the questions. In my memory he was just basically an asshole to me. He’s like, “Here’s the script.” I’m out the door. I went home and I cried.
The way that I remember the story is my dad was actually really upset that I was upset. He dropped me off at the library. It was the year 2000, so Google was around, but I wasn’t really familiar with using it yet. I went to the library, started looking up information about psoriasis. One thing led to another, just digging through textbooks, found some natural medicine textbooks that really preached about diet and lifestyle and taking anti-inflammatory supplements.
I changed my diet. My dad went on a hunt to find cod liver oil. I started taking teaspoons of this, unfiltered, unflavored, disgusting, really had to suppress the gag reflex to get it down, cod liver oil. I started doing these so-called alternative treatments and the steroids. My skin got better. In my mind, my skin got better because of the alternative stuff that I was doing, and not because I was religiously applying the steroid cream.
Zubin Damania: It was a correlation.
Britt Hermes: Sure. It was very empowering experience for me because I felt like I had taken charge of my health. I felt like my doctor had said, “Here’s this terrible prognosis,” and I was like, “Forget you. I’m gonna go do my own thing and take control of my own health.” I did feel better because I stopped drinking so much soda and I stopped eating so much pizza and some of these. I cleaned up my teenage diet. Over time I just really started to develop this sense that alternative medicine had answers for problems conventional medicine couldn’t treat.
Zubin Damania: None of that seems irrational to me. As a kid, you’re there, you’re seeing this correlation, you’re getting better. You said it, you said you felt empowered. This guy was an asshole, which I’m gonna say I’ve noticed this happens in especially sometimes where you have to churn a lot of volume to keep the lights on. They really do, they’re a hammer and everything’s a nail and it has to be, “Here’s your prescription.” Our culture of training is bad. The way that we work in teams was bad. It’s worse back then. It’s still a problem. Yes, big failing of Western medicine. Huge failing. The connection isn’t there. The empowerment isn’t there. The partnership is not there.
Britt Hermes: There was no empathy for me.
Zubin Damania: You didn’t feel it?
Britt Hermes: No. I really needed someone to acknowledge what a difficult situation this was for me.
Zubin Damania: That’s all it took. That’s all it took. He didn’t do any of that.
Britt Hermes: He wasn’t capable of it I don’t think.
Zubin Damania: I had severe acne as a kid. My mom took me to the dermatologist, and I had the same fucking experience. This woman was evil. She wanted to torture me by sticking needles in my face like Hellraiser. She constantly berated how I looked, which this is the whole thing, you’re a teenager, your ego is dependent on your external experience and your social connection. I had the same experience, but just from a different angle. I remember thinking, “I’m never gonna be a dermatologist, because they’re all assholes.” After this happened, did this man inform you to say, “Now I want to help people in a way that actually helped me.”
Britt Hermes: Yeah, because my friends noticed that I was feeling better. They noticed that my skin got better. It started to slowly snowball, where I started pursuing different alternative therapies for problem X.
Tom Heineber: Z-Money.
Zubin Damania: Yeah?
Tom Heineber: Your mic is messed up.
Zubin Damania: Is my mic messed up?
Tom Heineber: Fix your mic, man.
Zubin Damania: Thank you. Thank you.
Tom Heineber: Right in the middle of Britt’s story. This is how you chooose to act to the host. There you go. That’s for you. I’m caught on you now. Bye.
Zubin Damania: I hate you so much, Tom Heineber. Logan, I don’t love you either. Anyways, you were saying-
Tom Heineber: We told Britt the show is casual. She just didn’t know how casual.
Zubin Damania: Other alternative treatments. You had other problems, real or perceived?
Britt Hermes: Both.
Zubin Damania: Both.
Britt Hermes: For sure. I had skin problems. I had acne problems that I went to an aesthetician for, who recommended Chinese medicine, and I did acupuncture for this, and fatigue, PMS, I don’t know.
Zubin Damania: The usual, everything that Logan still suffers from.
Britt Hermes: Normal things.
Zubin Damania: Those things you think helped you and you were more encouraged then that these things might, at least correlatory.
Britt Hermes: Sure. There were certainly a lot of things in my life that I needed to structure and set a schedule around, so exercising regularly, getting eight hours of sleep, drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables and not so much pizza, these types of things. This is common sense. It’s not alternative medicine. Where it gets tricky is that that blends into I’m getting sound advice to eat better, but then they’re saying, “Take this supplement,” or the supplement’s been proven. That supplement goes from a little bit of B vitamins to suddenly I’m injecting myself with B vitamins or … Should we stop?
Zubin Damania: Motherfuckers. I told people that B vitamins are a gateway drug. The next thing you know, Britt’s on a street, there’s a tourniquet, she’s doing this. Right? Am I right? Of course I’m right. I’m sorry, you were saying? It was pretty serious supplementation, [inaudible 00:10:23] supplementation.
Britt Hermes: It’s a slippery slope, and it’s really easy for it to happen, because if you start to feel better with something taken orally and then someone suggests, “Oh, we should do it intravenously,” it sounds ridiculous now from the-
Zubin Damania: [crosstalk 00:10:36] little is good!
Britt Hermes: Sounds ridiculous now from the other side of the table, but it was not easy.
Zubin Damania: That gets into the whole IV turmeric thing that happened recently where this young lady-
Britt Hermes: That was sad.
Zubin Damania: … was killed with this adulterated turmeric. Anyways, that’s a different story. Again, back to this, again, this started being your own personal experience, and then you decided you were gonna go to naturopathy school. Is that how it’s said, naturopathy, or is it naturopathy?
Britt Hermes: You can say it either way.
Zubin Damania: Perfect. I’m gonna say it both ways just to confuse our followers. How did you apply? Was it very competitive to get in? Where did you go?
Britt Hermes: I was doing a degree in psychology at San Diego State. I had a health psychology teacher who talked a lot about motivational interviewing and was super into Wu. He actually sold supplements to his students.
Zubin Damania: That’s ethical.
Britt Hermes: He was speaking my language. I was sitting in class like, “Wow, this guy’s awesome.”
Zubin Damania: Confirmation bias, yeah.
Britt Hermes: Totally. I was looking at health psychology graduate courses. Somehow in the course of this internet searching process, I found Bastyr University.
Zubin Damania: Bastyr, okay.
Britt Hermes: They’re located outside of Seattle, Washington. The marketing language on their website just spoke to me perfectly. It resonated so perfectly with me because they advertised and continue to advertise their programs as a rigorous curriculum. They say they teach degrees in science-based natural medicine. They talk about their degrees lending the best of modern medicine and traditional medicine.
Zubin Damania: Integrating.
Britt Hermes: Exactly. I was really under the impression that if I were to become a naturopathic doctor, I would be pursuing a medical degree, plus all of this other natural stuff. The application process was quite simple. I just needed to apply. There was no graduate school entrance exams, so no GRE, no MCAT.
Zubin Damania: No MCAT.
Britt Hermes: No MCAT.
Zubin Damania: Did you have to have a GED or a high school degree?
Tom Heineber: High school diploma?
Britt Hermes: Yeah, you have to have a high school diploma.
Tom Heineber: Standards, people.
Zubin Damania: Exactly. Come on, guys. High school. Everything I needed to learn I learned in 9th grade, like how to get in a fight in the shower and break your front tooth and have a snaggletooth for the rest of your life. I learned that.
Britt Hermes: In 9th grade?
Zubin Damania: Yeah. It was really just show up, apply, pay some money?
Britt Hermes: Show up, apply, interview.
Zubin Damania: Interview.
Britt Hermes: Pay money.
Zubin Damania: Pay money. The marketing materials had you believing that you were gonna learn medicine, plus this extra secret sauce.
Britt Hermes: That’s right.
Zubin Damania: Again, you said it spoke to you. Again, our elephant, we talk on the show in terms of elephant and rider. Elephant is our unconscious condition mind that has belief and hope and fear and those kind of things, and then our rider is our rational thinker that really evolved to be a press secretary for the elephant. If we train it right, through skepticism and reason, practice, we can actually get it to override the elephant, but not many of us are there yet. Your elephant was really inclined to believe that natural is better and that empowerment is important and these things. That’s what they were selling you.
Britt Hermes: That’s what they were selling me. I had personal experiences that fed into this. I wanted to be a doctor. I really wanted it to be this. I wasn’t really willing to look at it critically, because I have doctors in my lives, and these doctor friends were saying, and really important people in my life too, that have watched me grow up, were saying, “Britt, maybe you don’t want to be a naturopath. Maybe you just want to go to medical school, because if you want to be a doctor, go be an MD.” I was convinced that they were part of the bad medicine, part of bad mainstream medicine, they didn’t understand, they weren’t willing to open their minds and look at what naturopathy is. I was just unwilling to think about or consider what they were saying and their critiques.
Zubin Damania: Your stance was not unfair, because many are. They are just absolutely closed to it. They haven’t really looked into it, etc. Of course they’re right, but that’s a whole other subject. It comes from a place too of the typical physician arrogance that you often see, which is, “If you could’ve been a doctor, you would’ve just been a doctor.” We say that to nurses and nurse practitioners and pharmacists and PAs, and it’s horse shit, but that’s the hierarchy. Then you ended up getting in and probably had to pay a decent tuition.
Britt Hermes: Yep, about $45,000 a year.
Zubin Damania: Wow. Minus room and board?
Britt Hermes: Without room and board.
Zubin Damania: Without room and board. It’s a pretty hefty tuition. It’s a private enterprise?
Britt Hermes: Yep.
Zubin Damania: Not for profit or for profit?
Britt Hermes: Not for profit.
Zubin Damania: Not for profit, which means nothing. How many years?
Britt Hermes: Four years.
Zubin Damania: Four years. What do you learn in naturopathy school?
Britt Hermes: It’s advertised that the first two years are just like medical school. Literally they say these words, “Just like medical school.”
Zubin Damania: Were you depressed, suicidal? Did you develop a drinking habit, experiment with cocaine, what?
Britt Hermes: No.
Zubin Damania: Then it wasn’t just like medical school.
Britt Hermes: We took classes with the same names as medical courses. We took an anatomy class. I took a gross anatomy class. I dissected cadavers.
Zubin Damania: Actual cadavers?
Britt Hermes: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Zubin Damania: Great.
Britt Hermes: Actual cadavers that were loaned to us from University of Washington.
Zubin Damania: Wonderful.
Britt Hermes: I took a physiology course, histology lab, biochemistry course, so a lot of these same types of classes. Also in that year, and then in the later years, alternative medicine is stuck in there. I’m also taking homeopathy classes, a lot of homeopathy classes, a lot of herbal medicine, or herbalism, botany-type classes, from studying the herbs to also a “wet lab,” an herbal “wet lab” course where you’re actually preparing herbal medicines, like putting them in capsules or making tinctures out of it.
Zubin Damania: Did you have to ever pull a teenage mandrake out of a pot and put in earplugs because the cry of the mandrake can be fatal? It sounds like Hogwarts to me.
Britt Hermes: Honestly, it really felt like … The campus actually feels like Hogwarts.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: We joke about this all the time.
Zubin Damania: “Today, Britt Hermes, you will be a wizard!” Tell me this. The histology, the anatomy, do you think it was medical-school level stuff?
Britt Hermes: No. At the time I did, and even when I was first initially speaking out against naturopathy, I thought perhaps it was at that level. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t at the medical level or even a PhD level, graduate school level, until I started to reeducate myself. I went into a masters program and had to retake … They wouldn’t accept these courses. I had to retake them.
Zubin Damania: You took both versions.
Britt Hermes: I’ve taken both versions.
Zubin Damania: You’ve done a placebo-controlled trial, an actual sequential case-controlled thing, where now you’ve seen both, and you’re saying what you learned at Bastyr was not the level of what you-
Britt Hermes: Yeah. My anatomy class at Bastyr was pretty good, but other than that, definitely not.
Zubin Damania: Anatomy was good, real cadaver. The rest of it was not. The alternative stuff, the botanicals, homeopathy, which for those who don’t know, is a placebo at best, and very dilute water.
Tom Heineber: I got one in the comments, Z.
Zubin Damania: Come on.
Tom Heineber: Amy says, “I’d like to challenge this guy,” meaning you, you bald jerk, “To get someone on his show that actually practices naturopathic medicine in an evidence-based way.” They’re slamming Britt and saying Britt didn’t do that. “Also, I’d love to show you the types of notes from my biochem course taught by a PhD in biochem.” I air-quoted PhD, for those of you listening on the podcast.
Zubin Damania: You just wait, because she’s gonna talk about that. Please. We were saying botanicals, homeopathy. She’s asking, “What about get a naturopath on who practices in an evidence-based way.” You have thoughts on that. We’ll get to that at the end. Tom, don’t let us forget.
Tom Heineber: I won’t.
Zubin Damania: Because that’s a smackdown-
Tom Heineber: I won’t.
Zubin Damania: … that we won’t shy away from.
Tom Heineber: Also, essential oils! I need to know, Z!
Zubin Damania: Essential oils?
Tom Heineber: I need to know. I need to know.
Zubin Damania: The only essential oil I believe is in the 10W-40 I put in my Toyota Camry Hybrid 2012, fabric interior. The first two years are like that, or is it all four years? Because when do you do your clinicals?
Britt Hermes: You do your clinicals in the last two years, so similar to-
Zubin Damania: Just like medical school.
Britt Hermes: It’s set up to emulate medical school as much as possible. You take your first set of licensing exams after the two years. You take a second set of licensing exams after you graduate. Naturopaths get this wrong all the time. They call their licensing exam a board-
Zubin Damania: A board exam.
Britt Hermes: … certification. It’s not a board certification exam. It’s a licensing exam. Of course you know this. It’s set up to emulate medical school as much as possible. Our clinicals are taking place in a naturopathic teaching clinic. It’s an outpatient clinic run by naturopaths. Our supervisors are licensed naturopathic doctors. We see patients in three-hour time chunks. We see one to two patients during that time.
Zubin Damania: One to two in a three-hour. Here’s one of the big differences.
Britt Hermes: One to two to three.
Zubin Damania: One to two to three in a three-hour period. This is already different than the Western model, because you’re spending a lot of time with patients. To me that’s one of the big advantages of the relationship you can build in naturopathy is that you actually have time. You’re not in the same volume grind that we are, probably because they’re charging a ton of money for witchcraft. That’s another subject.
Tom Heineber: Hey, Z!
Zubin Damania: Yeah?
Tom Heineber: Hey, take your mic out of your hoodie. Take it out of your hoodie, Z. Sounds so bad, Z.
Zubin Damania: I hate you so much, Tom Heineber.
Logan: Just clip it to the side.
Tom Heineber: Clip it to the side, Z.
Zubin Damania: I’m gonna do that.
Logan: There you go.
Tom Heineber: Come on, Z.
Zubin Damania: You know what?
Tom Heineber: That’s much better, Z.
Zubin Damania: You’re embarrassing me in front of our guest.
Tom Heineber: Thank you so much.
Logan: This is why no one wears hoodies on TV, Z.
Zubin Damania: You know who wears a hoodie on TV? Mark Zuckerberg, okay, and he’s more rich than all of us combined, so you just shut up. Don’t listen to them. They’re bad people. They’re bastard people. Just understand that. Speaking of Bastyr, these rotations, they’re always supervised by an MD. You don’t work with MDs or DOs or PAs or NPs.
Britt Hermes: No. There’s a couple. Just to be super specifically accurate, there was a shift, for example, gosh, I think it was called Minor Office Procedures, and this was supervised by a medical doctor. He would come in for just this one shift. I think he did it once a year or maybe once a semester. The majority of the shifts, if not all of the shifts, are run by naturopaths.
Zubin Damania: Naturopaths. You’re in that world. In other words, it’s like a parallel Hogwarts to the real world. You have the muggle doctors and then you have the witches and wizards who run the Hogwarts of Bastyr. As a special witch or wizard, did you guys feel different or better or worse than your medical colleagues when you were training? What was your ego structure like in that period?
Britt Hermes: I felt better than my medical colleague. One of the things that naturopaths say and that really resonated with me is that I used medical text to study in naturopathic school, because the medical texts are far better than the naturopathic texts, and they’re more complete, and so you could just pull out what you needed. I twisted that to mean, “Oh, because I can use a medical text to study for my naturopathic class, this must mean I’m receiving the same education.”
Zubin Damania: You’re all of naturopathy, plus you got the medicine part dialed. That makes sense from a confirmation bias standpoint. You’re like, “I’m already this thing that I went into this for this reason, to differentiate myself from the West.” When you came out, first of all, did you realize when you graduated you’re now a full-fledged licensed naturopath, which is done how? Did you do a residency?
Britt Hermes: You don’t have to do a residency. They’re optional. I did do a residency. They’re considered to be prestigious in the naturopathic field because there’s very few of them, at least at the time that I graduated there was very few. There was only one so-called accredited naturopathic residency in pediatrics. That’s the one that I got. I was quite proud of myself. I felt like I was the best.
Zubin Damania: I’m proud of you too.
Britt Hermes: Thanks.
Zubin Damania: I’ll tell you why. Z Pack, you gotta understand this fact. Logan, hit me with the wide, because I don’t know what you’re doing right now.
Logan: Sorry, Tom’s distracting me.
Zubin Damania: Stop distracting. First of all, my mic is screwed up. This show is a disaster, Britt. Listen. When you graduate medical school, medical school, you are not okay to see patients, meaning you cannot be a practicing physician. I’m not saying this from a legal standpoint. I’m saying this from a, I’ve been there. You are not safe to see patients. That’s why we do the residency and get the 10,000 hours of experience and so on and so forth, at least at a level that they expect doctors to practice. The question is, coming out of a naturopathy school, are you ready? Now you did a residency, which we’ll ask you about in a second. Out of naturopathy school, do you think you were ready to just start seeing patients?
Britt Hermes: God no. No.
Zubin Damania: Most of them don’t do a residency.
Britt Hermes: Right. Most don’t do a … It’s actually terrifying to think about that I was practicing independently. I was in a resident position, which mean I had a salary, but I was allowed to practice independently. I had my own provider number. I could’ve gotten a DEA number. I could call myself a primary care physician.
Zubin Damania: You can write prescriptions?
Britt Hermes: Oh yeah.
Zubin Damania: For medical stuff?
Britt Hermes: Yeah, not in every state, but in Washington and Arizona where I practiced, I had a DEA number. There were some controlled things that I could prescribe.
Zubin Damania: Wow. Please continue. The residency, what was that about?
Britt Hermes: That was also in an outpatient naturopathic clinic, outpatient setting. I saw people in a family medicine type of setting. I had babies to grandparents. I was responsible for things like the heel stick test and testing newborns for inborn errors.
Zubin Damania: Metabolism.
Britt Hermes: Exactly. I did PAP smears, for example. I did these types of cancer screening tests. I did general wellness. Then I just had patients like a young woman who was diagnosed with MS and she wanted a second opinion, and so she came in to see me as a … I could give a second opinion to a neurologist for an MS diagnosis. This was the variety of patients that I saw.
Zubin Damania: Wow. When an MS patient came in, what did you tell her? What would you have a …
Britt Hermes: For this patient in particular, I actually referred her to a colleague of mine, who gave her a naturopathic treatment plan that included things like special foods, so to eat things that would help her mitochondrial function. She was told to eat things like anchovies, for example.
Zubin Damania: Of course, because we learn that in med school 101. Anchovies and mitochondria, they’re like peas in a pod.
Britt Hermes: Lots of supplements. Lots of supplements.
Zubin Damania: Which cost money.
Britt Hermes: Which cost a lot of money.
Tom Heineber: They’re unregulated.
Zubin Damania: They’re unregulated and are uninsured.
Britt Hermes: Then she would come back to me, and I would actually provide a lot of emotional support for her trying to implement these therapies because it was costly, she was a vegetarian, so to be asked to eat things like fish-
Zubin Damania: Anchovies.
Britt Hermes: Exactly. This was really emotionally distressing for her. We had counseling sessions around whether or not she should break her values and start to eat fish, because this was recommended to her. Her relationship deteriorated throughout all of this because it was expensive and hard on her relationship to process, not just having MS, but also now having to rearrange her life according to these naturopathic tenets.
Zubin Damania: Did it help her?
Britt Hermes: No.
Zubin Damania: Oh gosh. Wow. You finished your residency and then you practiced for a bit?
Britt Hermes: That’s right. I practiced for three years in total, including my residency.
Zubin Damania: Guys, remember earlier we were talking about, “Talk to a naturopath who actually practiced using evidence-based stuff.” She practiced for three years. The evidence-based stuff, every naturopath thinks they’re evidence-based. That’s the thing, because you’re trained, and they tell you this is-
Britt Hermes: This is really important to understand. When you’re going through naturopathic school, we’re provided with information that tells us what we’re being taught is evidence-based or science-based.
Zubin Damania: Science-based.
Britt Hermes: These are different things. Evidence-based doesn’t mean the same thing as science-based.
Tom Heineber: Science-based could mean one study, something like that.
Zubin Damania: What does science … Tell us. Clarify that for us.
Britt Hermes: Evidence-based means that you’re pulling from a body of evidence that shows that through some trial setup that there’s evidentiary support. I’m just using the same words in the definition. I know that’s not-
Zubin Damania: I like that.
Britt Hermes: That’s basically what it means. Homeopathy’s a really good example to try to differentiate these terms. You can find evidence, even randomized controlled trials, that make it look like homeopathy might work. You pull from that body of research. You cherry-pick those studies, whatever.
Zubin Damania: Cherry-pick them.
Britt Hermes: Now you have an evidence-based therapy. Science-based means that it’s actually plausible.
Zubin Damania: There’s a mechanism.
Britt Hermes: There’s a mechanism.
Zubin Damania: That’s where homeopathy [inaudible 00:27:31].
Britt Hermes: Homeopathy is not science-based. It’s nonsense. It breaks the laws of physics. It’s not plausible. The argument is that we should make sure something is science-based before we even move on to studying it. It should pass the science test first.
Zubin Damania: Let me just ask you this aside question. Why do you think homeopathy works for so many people?
Britt Hermes: I can tell you my story with homeopathy.
Zubin Damania: Please.
Britt Hermes: The first time I was introduced to homeopathy was at Bastyr. I didn’t actually know about homeopathy before I was in school there. I showed up to class one day and I had a really terrible spider bite on my leg. I was terrified that it was one of those necrotizing spider bites.
Zubin Damania: Can I ask you a question?
Britt Hermes: Sure.
Zubin Damania: Are you an injection heroin user?
Britt Hermes: No.
Zubin Damania: Because every injection heroin user at some point comes in with a “spider bite” that’s really just skin popping. Now my hackles are really raised, Britt, because first of all, now I don’t trust you, because I’m sure you’re a drug user, and number two, this is called correlation, not causation. Please continue. Spider bite.
Britt Hermes: I had this gnarly spider bite on my leg. You could feel it where it was swollen and the heat from the spider bite through my jeans.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: It was itchy itchy itchy. During a break in class, I went up to my naturopathic teacher and I said, “I have a spider bite. I don’t know if I need … ” I actually asked her if she thought I needed antibiotics or a steroid or something because it was just getting worse and just bothering me like crazy. She said, “Oh, you know what you need? You know what homeopathic remedy you need, right?” I said, “No.” She said, “You need apis, because you’ve been bitten, and so it’s a puncture wound and it’s hot and it’s red.” This is classic presentation for this homeopathic remedy named apis. Other common ailments for using apis is a bee sting for example. “Run up to the Bastyr bookstore, pick up some apis in this certain dilution, 30c, take five capsules under the tongue, away from food and drink, and you’ll have to re-dose it every six hours. This will work. This will cure your spider bite.” She said, “You’ll know when you need to take it again because it’ll start to itch again.”
Zubin Damania: Three things will happen. You’ll either get better, you’ll stay the same, or you’ll get worse, and that’s how you know it’s working.
Britt Hermes: I thought, “Brilliant.” I go up to the bookstore. It’s eight bucks for a homeopathic remedy. I pick it up.
Zubin Damania: That’s a deal.
Britt Hermes: I take it. It’s not really working at first. I re-dose. I re-dose. Then I don’t know, at some point-
Zubin Damania: You should’ve diluted it further.
Britt Hermes: I should’ve diluted it further.
Zubin Damania: That makes it stronger.
Britt Hermes: At some point I did start to feel like it was itching less. Then it didn’t really bother me. Then four to six hours later, I was like, “Oh it’s itching again, oh, just like she said. I need to take another dose of homeopathy.” In a day and a half, it was completely healed, ZDogg.
Zubin Damania: At the end of her speech did she be like, “Wingardium leviosa!” It’s “leviosa” actually. That is exactly the story that I hear from patients who are like, “Homeopathy works for me.” It is a placebo, where if you had cloned yourself and done nothing-
Britt Hermes: It would’ve gotten better anyway.
Zubin Damania: The exact same thing would’ve happened, or it wouldn’t have. Taking something, the therapeutic relationship and the expectation released various neurotransmitters and hormones that made you feel better, the true placebo. Homeopathy, really the bomb.
Britt Hermes: There was another time when I was in practice, there was a patient, she got bit by a dog. She had a really deep puncture wound. My recommendation was antibiotics and make sure she had her tetanus vaccine, which I knew because of UpToDate, not because of my training, I’m just gonna say.
Zubin Damania: UpToDate, my favorite journal reference.
Britt Hermes: God, I love that.
Zubin Damania: I love UpToDate so much.
Britt Hermes: I miss having access to it.
Zubin Damania: You don’t have access?
Britt Hermes: No, I don’t pay for it.
Zubin Damania: I’ll give you my password. Don’t listen, Wolters. I was just in Boston. I drove by Wolters Kluwer, the people who make UpToDate. I almost got out and said 10 Hail Marys-
Britt Hermes: “Thank you!”
Zubin Damania: … and did a little thing, because I was like-
Britt Hermes: They’re the best.
Zubin Damania: … “You people are science.”
Britt Hermes: They’re the best. I don’t know what I would’ve done in practice without UpToDate. I swear to god, I would’ve-
Zubin Damania: It’s a fantastic thing. Don’t tell anyone, but a lot of times when I teach on the show, I got UpToDate open in the corner just to back me up.
Britt Hermes: Just to be sure.
Zubin Damania: Just to back me up.
Britt Hermes: UpToDate told me what the standard of care was. This is what I recommended. I got into a big argument with the naturopath in the clinic, because he was afraid. She was his patient, and he was afraid that my recommendation would make her multiple chemical sensitivity disorder worse. Multiple chemical sensitivity disorder, as you know, is not a real thing.
Zubin Damania: Not a real thing. It’s called being crazy or having chronic psychosomatic pain or …
Britt Hermes: Yeah, so not a real diagnosis.
Zubin Damania: Not a real diagnosis.
Britt Hermes: She was paying lots of money to have treatments for it, including lots of intravenous vitamins, blah blah blah.
Zubin Damania: Intravenous vitamins. Nice.
Britt Hermes: He was afraid that the antibiotic and the vaccine would make her worse. Not only that, but he believed that she was highly susceptible to a vaccine injury-
Zubin Damania: Related complication.
Britt Hermes: … because of the multiple chemical sensitivity disorder. Anyway, a big to-do. I refused to back down. For the listener who says that I wasn’t an evidence-based practitioner, here it is.
Zubin Damania: Suck it. Yeah. Give it.
Britt Hermes: The way that I got around this with her is I remembered in my training the homeopathic remedy for preventing vaccine-related injuries. I gave her this homeopathic remedy. I told her to get the vaccine and to take this homeopathy prophylactically, and that would prevent a reaction. I saw her three days later, “Guess what, Dr. [Jeegan 00:33:11]?” That’s my maiden name. “I didn’t have a reaction!” She was thrilled. This is how I used homeopathy-
Zubin Damania: Homeopathy.
Britt Hermes: … in order to get her to follow the standard of care.
Zubin Damania: Do you think it’s unethical to do that if you know homeopathy doesn’t work?
Britt Hermes: Yes.
Zubin Damania: I think it’s unethical to lie to patients. I think it’s not unethical to use a placebo if you tell them it’s a placebo and it still works, but it’s unethical to lie to patients.
Britt Hermes: I agree. That was a-
Zubin Damania: That’s amazing. Now you’re in this process.
Britt Hermes: … [crosstalk 00:33:36] situation.
Zubin Damania: Something happened that made you say, “Fuck all this. I’m out.” What was that?
Britt Hermes: My former boss, his name is Michael [Yuzik 00:33:46].
Zubin Damania: Oh, naming names, are we?
Britt Hermes: Oh yeah.
Zubin Damania: Is our slander policy up to date?
Tom Heineber: Hell no, Z.
Zubin Damania: Okay, let’s do this. Bring it.
Britt Hermes: It’s truthful. It’s a truthful story.
Zubin Damania: It can’t be libel if it’s true.
Britt Hermes: He was importing a non-FDA-approved drug and administering it to cancer patients.
Zubin Damania: Nice. Douche bag.
Britt Hermes: Under his medical orders, I was assisting and giving these injections of this drug as well.
Zubin Damania: Wow, so you had to be accomplice to this.
Britt Hermes: Yeah. For those who don’t know, to import and administer a non-FDA-approved drug is a federal crime.
Zubin Damania: Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done a federal crime, but mine’s mostly white-collar stuff like tax fraud.
Tom Heineber: Tax evasion.
Zubin Damania: Sorry, is this on? Are we still live? Please continue. This thing happens.
Britt Hermes: This thing happens.
Zubin Damania: You’re asked to administer it.
Britt Hermes: Yep. When I found all of this out, life changed in about 48 hours.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: I figured all of this out on a Friday, meaning I figured out that the drug was not FDA-approved and then it took me some time with Dr. Google to figure out what this meant, actually which might seem quite obvious to the medical audience, but as a naturopath, I did a ton of shit that was not approved by the FDA. It didn’t actually click that this was a really big-
Zubin Damania: Big deal.
Britt Hermes: … fucking deal, until I realized what it all meant, and then put it together that of course I was involved in this and felt like I had some responsibility and liability-
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: … in this situation as well.
Zubin Damania: Then what did you end up doing?
Britt Hermes: I got a lawyer. I knew I wanted to quit, but I also wanted to talk to a lawyer before I did anything. I got a lawyer. He confirmed all of my fears and laid it out very black-and-white for me that this was a big deal, that this is a federal crime, and that of course this isn’t okay. I reported my former boss to the Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board.
Zubin Damania: That’s a thing?
Britt Hermes: That’s a thing. In Arizona, naturopaths can call themselves physicians. The Naturopathic Board uses that title. It’s the regulatory board. I reported him to the Attorney General and I quit.
Zubin Damania: That’s a very courageous thing to do, or were you more scared than courageous?
Britt Hermes: I was terrified. I was terrified. Going to the Attorney General was-
Zubin Damania: Horrifying.
Britt Hermes: … horrifying. I cried and shook through the whole thing.
Zubin Damania: Did you take a homeopathic anti-anxiety pill?
Britt Hermes: I took Xanax.
Zubin Damania: Yeah, Xanax. That’ll work.
Tom Heineber: Man.
Zubin Damania: That’ll work. Wow.
Britt Hermes: I had a psychiatrist and a psychologist throughout this whole thing. My blood pressure was 160 over 100 for a while-
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: … because it was very scary and very stressful.
Zubin Damania: Wow. After all that played out, you left that.
Britt Hermes: Yeah. There were some key things that happened.
Tom Heineber: Britt, can I ask you a question real quick? Do you think that’s a rare occurrence in naturopathy or all too common? Because it seems to me to be super common.
Britt Hermes: This is part of the story. It is not rare. It’s the essence of naturopathic medicine.
Zubin Damania: Fantastic.
Britt Hermes: A few things happened. I got a call from a really important person in my life who was a mentor of mine at the time. I really looked up to him. Former president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a really big deal in the field. I loved this guy like an uncle. He called me and told me that this wasn’t a big deal and that I should go back to work for my boss. He didn’t know that I reported him. He told me I shouldn’t report him. He said, “Britt, you are a naturopath after all.”
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: That was just-
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: … unbelievably devastating to have someone that I looked up to so much tell me that I was overreacting.
Zubin Damania: Was this a potentially harmful compound?
Britt Hermes: Yeah. The drug is named Ukrain.
Zubin Damania: Ukrain. Sounds like something Tom would snort on the weekend just because. Ukrain.
Britt Hermes: Ukrain. The reason I found out that this drug was not FDA-approved was because it had been arriving from Austria. Shipments of the drug, of the Ukrain, had stopped arriving. I asked my boss why perhaps we wouldn’t have gotten it, which was a big deal, because patients were paying thousands of dollars out of pocket up front for this drug. They were on a tight schedule with it. They were afraid that if they went off schedule-
Zubin Damania: Missed it, their cancer would go.
Britt Hermes: Exactly. Shipments probably stopped arriving because around that time, the drug’s manufacturer was arrested in Vienna for fraud for charges of relabeling expired product and continuing to sell it. Based on all of that timing, it’s highly likely our patients received some of that expired product.
Zubin Damania: Oh my gosh.
Britt Hermes: This product is believed to be an herbal product made from a plant called chelidonium. It does have chemotherapeutic alkaloids in it. Alkaloids are quite toxic.
Zubin Damania: Hence the chemo component.
Britt Hermes: This drug has been known to cause side effects like bone marrow toxicity and liver failure and really gnarly side effects.
Zubin Damania: Just like chemo.
Britt Hermes: Just like chemo.
Zubin Damania: Except chemo has-
Britt Hermes: Except unregulated.
Zubin Damania: Unregulated.
Britt Hermes: We don’t know how much is in it.
Zubin Damania: Don’t know how much is in it, can’t dose it right, and giving it to people who desperate for hope.
Britt Hermes: It was marketed as a cure-all, so it could cure any type, including pancreatic cancer.
Zubin Damania: Which as we know, any chemo … Look, no matter what cancer you get, Britt, I’m gonna give you the same chemo, because it’s dope as fuck. This is crazy. It’s unregulated, like all supplements and a lot of natural products, correct?
Britt Hermes: Yeah.
Zubin Damania: You’re asked to administer it. You leave. You tell the Attorney General and the Arizona Board of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Then what happened to you?
Britt Hermes: I get this call from my mentor, which is devastating.
Zubin Damania: He says, “Suck it up. This is what we do.”
Britt Hermes: He says suck it up.
Zubin Damania: Are you a witch or not?
Britt Hermes: That’s how I felt, yeah, exactly. Then I started to look at what naturopaths around the country were doing, because I thought, “If this is a bad apple, I can come up with excuses to justify this.”
Zubin Damania: Is it the standard of pseudoscience in the community? Because if I’m practicing the standard of pseudoscience, then hey, I’m good, right?
Britt Hermes: I found other naturopaths marketing the same drug. Then I found many naturopaths marketing many non-FDA-approved drugs for all sorts of conditions, including cancer and other really serious or terminally devastating illnesses. Then I just didn’t know what was what anymore. I went and got a book called Trick Or Treatment, written by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh. Do you know this book?
Zubin Damania: What a great name for a book.
Britt Hermes: It’s an awesome book.
Zubin Damania: I don’t know it, but it sounds amazing.
Britt Hermes: I highly, highly recommend it. Trick or Treatment.
Zubin Damania: Trick or Treatment.
Britt Hermes: Alternative Medicine On Trial, by Edzard Ernst, who is a medical doctor from Germany. He used to practice homeopathy, ended up becoming a medical researcher for complementary and alternative medicine at the University of Exeter in the UK. He was brought in with the assumption that he would find evidence to support CAM.
Zubin Damania: CAM is complementary and alternative medicine.
Britt Hermes: He kept finding evidence that showed that these alternative therapies didn’t work.
Zubin Damania: Oh no.
Britt Hermes: Being the awesome medical researcher and ethical man that he is, he was publishing true results, which showed-
Zubin Damania: Negative results, yeah.
Britt Hermes: It cost him his job ultimately.
Zubin Damania: Of course. Wow.
Britt Hermes: Simon Singh, who is a physicist and a big name in the skeptic community. It’s a great book. They go through alternative treatments chapter by chapter. They cover acupuncture for sure, homeopathy and naturopathy. I think they cover chiropractic techniques as well.
Zubin Damania: Placebo placebo placebo placebo.
Britt Hermes: This book was my bible for a while. I lived with this book on my bedside table. I went through it chapter by chapter, not in the order it was written. I went through it in an order that I could take in the information. I didn’t have any emotional attachment to acupuncture or chiropractic, for example, so I read those chapters first. By the time I got through the book, I realized that it was all basically bunk, and practicing naturopathy would be totally unethical. I would have to be showing up and lying to my patients every day.
Zubin Damania: I gotta wonder, your whole life had been leading through naturopathy for all the reasons that you had confirmation bias, wanting to see naturopathy be true throughout your life. How was it do you think that one book, which you should’ve either rejected or gone through and said, “This is another reason why naturopathy is true,” pulled out, cherry-picked the parts that may confirm it, more confirmation bias, why didn’t that happen? Is it because you were so upset by the malfeasance you saw in the doctor’s office? I put “doctor” in quotes.
Britt Hermes: Yeah, a couple things. I was scared out of my mind. I was afraid that … Some of the patients that we saw who were being treated with this quack cancer drug, Ukrain, died during treatment. They probably died from their cancer, but actually I don’t know. I don’t know if the drug expedited their death-
Zubin Damania: You’re worried.
Britt Hermes: … or not. Yeah, I’m worried. It was a horrible experience. I’m driven by guilt I think at this point, not ever wanting to be in the situation of being ignorant and not knowing what I’m doing. I suddenly felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. My world didn’t make sense to me anymore. I think I was in this really special place that I could …
Going through this book was horrible. Horrible. I would literally read a page or two on naturopathy, cry, put it down, and not pick it up for a week. I had to force myself, honest to god, force myself to get through it, because I knew I had … It was written so beautifully and so compassionately. I didn’t feel like the book was trying to sell me anything. They weren’t trying to sell me on medicine. They weren’t trying to sell me on alternative medicine. I didn’t feel like there was any agenda there. It was just written in a very neutral, beautifully way for me to-
Zubin Damania: More easy for your elephant to accept this as truth and start to recondition. Wow. At any point did you consider it may be wrong and maybe you’re just overreacting and all the things that your mentor said? This was an important person to you. Were you having doubts?
Britt Hermes: I sought out new mentors. I actually emailed the author. I emailed Edzard Ernst. I just laid it all out in an email and told him what had happened. He wrote back right away-
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: … really compassionately. I emailed a woman named Jann Bellamy from Science-Based Medicine. She writes a lot about naturopathy and the unethical practices of naturopaths. She was also incredibly kind and warm.
Zubin Damania: They weren’t super judgey pants?
Britt Hermes: Unbelievably nice.
Zubin Damania: “How could you be so stupid? Why would you do something like this?”
Britt Hermes: No. The amount of empathy and just feeling sorry for me, but not letting me feel sorry for myself at the same time.
Zubin Damania: Actual compassion, as opposed to sympathy, empathy. It’s more like love in the face of someone else’s struggle.
Britt Hermes: They were so wonderful.
Zubin Damania: Then you made this a crusade and changed your life and actually applied to a program, moved to Germany with your husband, who was a PhD candidate is it?
Britt Hermes: That’s right, in archeology.
Zubin Damania: In archeology?
Britt Hermes: Yeah.
Zubin Damania: You married Indiana Jones.
Britt Hermes: I did.
Zubin Damania: That’s dope AF.
Britt Hermes: It is.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: It’s cool.
Zubin Damania: You move with Indy to Germany and you reboot your entire life and start pursuing a masters in science. Fill in any of the gap in that. Tell me how you want to tell that.
Britt Hermes: That was a very humbling experience. My husband Taylor got accepted into this PhD program. Of course I went with him. Education in Germany is free, so I realize that this is a wonderful opportunity for me to start over, because I have hundreds of thousands in student loan debt from naturopathic school.
Zubin Damania: You’re still paying debt?
Britt Hermes: Oh my god, are you kidding.
Zubin Damania: From your naturopathy days?
Britt Hermes: Yeah.
Tom Heineber: What does it cost? How much?
Britt Hermes: 45k a year.
Zubin Damania: 45 a year. 45 a year.
Tom Heineber: Oh man. I missed that part.
Zubin Damania: That’s insane. You’re still suffering with this yoke around you, but now have to start over. Germany, the education’s free, which is great. You got that head start there. Now you start studying science.
Britt Hermes: Applying to this masters of science program was incredibly humbling, because I had come to terms with the fact that my education was not … I had actually tried to apply for other jobs within the medical field, doing anything.
Zubin Damania: What kind of job, like a medical assistant?
Britt Hermes: Exactly.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: Medical assistant, nursing assistant, I wanted to work at a blood draw clinic, phlebotomy manager.
Zubin Damania: Wait, so you go from being called doctor, being told you’re a physician, there’s a board, you’re in Arizona where they call you doctor, to phlebotomist application?
Britt Hermes: I couldn’t even get hired.
Zubin Damania: You couldn’t get hired.
Britt Hermes: I couldn’t even get a call back.
Zubin Damania: This was in Germany?
Britt Hermes: No, in the U.S.
Zubin Damania: In the U.S.
Britt Hermes: In the U.S.
Zubin Damania: Before you moved.
Britt Hermes: Right before I moved.
Zubin Damania: Wow. Already you’re like, “Okay, I’m not feeling-”
Britt Hermes: Literally the only thing I could do is medical marijuana certifications.
Zubin Damania: Which is dope. No, it’s not dope.
Britt Hermes: You can make a lot of money doing it.
Zubin Damania: You can make a lot of money. They tried to get me to do that here. I’m like, “It’s not. Just use it if you want. Make it legal. Don’t make me-”
Britt Hermes: It is legal now, isn’t it?
Zubin Damania: It is now. They did because they listened to me, because I’m the shit.
Britt Hermes: Good job.
Zubin Damania: Thank you. Tell the rest of the story.
Britt Hermes: I’m realizing that I can’t get a legit job. I can’t get a job in the medical field, at least not a job that’s gonna pay my student loan bills.
Zubin Damania: Which is crazy for someone who has that much loan and that many years of education.
Britt Hermes: Allowed to call myself a physician, allowed to get a DEA number and all that stuff.
Zubin Damania: You have a DEA number, you can write prescriptions.
Britt Hermes: Then I decide I don’t even want the naturopathic doctorate degree at all anymore. I decide I want to divorce myself from this profession. I need to start over. I need to reeducate myself, because I don’t know anything anymore. I don’t know what’s real. I don’t know what’s fake. I apply to this program. I had to be very blunt in my application letter and just say up front I went to this naturopathic school, I made a giant mistake.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: “Here is where I think my strong points are, but to be honest, here’s my weak points.”
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: “Please let me in.” They gave me an interview. I flew to Germany-
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: … because I thought it was so important to convince the committee that I would work hard. It’s always better in person. I flew to Germany to make my case. They were brutally honest. They told me I was not qualified. Even though they had reviewed syllabi and my degree, they could tell by looking at it-
Zubin Damania: They looked at it and said, “This is BS.”
Britt Hermes: I’d have to retake all of these science classes. I convinced them that if they let me in, I would work really hard and do it, and I did. I had to totally reeducate myself and work harder than I think anybody in that class.
Zubin Damania: Wow.
Britt Hermes: I did it.
Zubin Damania: Was it in English or German?
Britt Hermes: English.
Zubin Damania: In English. You have to redo all the science. In doing so, what was your impression then?
Britt Hermes: Then I start to realize that the sciences that I was taught at Bastyr was not at the graduate level.
Zubin Damania: It was like, what, a high school level, college level?
Britt Hermes: I think it was undergrad level.
Zubin Damania: Undergrad level of science.
Britt Hermes: It’s a masters, so everybody had an undergraduate degree. Their background in science was far stronger.
Zubin Damania: Far mature.
Britt Hermes: Far stronger than mine.
Zubin Damania: You had to come from this-
Britt Hermes: Fuck.
Zubin Damania: … place of-
Britt Hermes: I’m getting tutored by 23-year-olds.
Zubin Damania: That’s dope. That’s dope. I still get tutored by these two assholes.
Britt Hermes: I would bring them over. I’m like, “I will be mom. I will make you dinner.”
Zubin Damania: That’s awesome!
Britt Hermes: “Please teach me biochemistry.”
Zubin Damania: None of them are married.
Britt Hermes: Exactly.
Zubin Damania: That’s hilarious.
Britt Hermes: Me and my dog and little … I would have them over all the time and play mom and then they would teach me things.
Zubin Damania: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Did you pick up a bunch of German along the way?
Britt Hermes: Yeah, I’m learning.
Zubin Damania: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Then you actually finished that program.
Britt Hermes: I finished.
Zubin Damania: Got a masters of science. What was the field of study?
Britt Hermes: Biomedical science.
Zubin Damania: Biomedical science. Now you’re pursuing your PhD, and you’re studying the mammalian genome with a particular … Explain that to me.
Britt Hermes: I study the mammalian skin microbiome.
Zubin Damania: Skin microbiome, which is all the rage these days.
Britt Hermes: All the rage.
Zubin Damania: People are like, “Don’t wash your hands, because you’re gonna kill your microbiome, dude.” By the way, what’s your take on that?
Britt Hermes: Wash your hands. It’s fine.
Zubin Damania: Wash your damn hands.
Britt Hermes: Just don’t use the antibacterial-
Zubin Damania: I agree.
Britt Hermes: … hand stuffs.
Zubin Damania: I agree. That’s a scam. Awesome. Now you’re pursuing your PhD. You’re on the path to full science. Somewhere along the way you did something horrible, which was write a blog.
Britt Hermes: Start a blog.
Zubin Damania: Start a blog. I know it’s horrible because I’ve done this, and the results are-
Britt Hermes: Brutal.
Zubin Damania: … crazy. They’re brutal. You open yourself to both supporters and criticism. As a woman too, it’s a little different too, because you get all kinds of weird hate that a man would never get. Tell me about the Naturopathic Diaries, why, how, and what.
Britt Hermes: I started it in early 2015, before I started my masters program. I did it initially as a way to try to figure out what was real and what wasn’t, because I didn’t know. I wanted to critically analyze my naturopathic education.
Zubin Damania: You’re still processing. It was like public therapy.
Britt Hermes: It was super public therapy, super processing. I went through my syllabi and course descriptions and was doing credit comparisons with medical school, because I had been presented with all this information, but I wanted to know if it was real. What I came to find out is that while the naturopathic profession and the education system has some superficial markers of legitimacy, it’s actually just a bunch of labeling.
Zubin Damania: You lay this out in your blog. I encourage Z Pack, all you guys to go to this website and just check it out and give it a shot and see. If you disagree, leave comments, etc. I think it’s gonna be crucial to understand her experience, and also if you’re looking at naturopathy. People have accused you of all kinds of malfeasance. You’re lying, you have a vendetta. Bastyr actually gave you a cease and desist letter.
Britt Hermes: That’s right.
Zubin Damania: Which you know what I do to cease and desist letters? I’m like, “I’m sorry, can you hear this? Let me turn it up for you,” which is not necessarily the right answer. I’m not giving you legal advice. I’m saying you clearly triggered something there.
Britt Hermes: Yeah. I’ve upset them.
Zubin Damania: You upset them.
Britt Hermes: Bastyr’s very upset with me because I say that Bastyr teaches pseudoscience and quackery. They’re very angry with me for saying this.
Zubin Damania: They don’t like those words? They sound good.
Britt Hermes: They don’t like those words. Last weekend, Bastyr Teaching Clinic hosted a class on bloodletting, and not for treating hemachromatosis, so not therapeutic-
Zubin Damania: Not for legitimate bloodletting.
Britt Hermes: … phlebotomy purposes.
Zubin Damania: For 18th century madness.
Britt Hermes: Mm-hmm (affirmative). High cholesterol.
Zubin Damania: Of course.
Britt Hermes: Wrinkles, anti-aging. They taught a technique using a seven-star hammer, which is a hammer with seven spikes on it. You just tap someone until you bleed. They taught bleeding the knees for herpes.
Zubin Damania: Tom, finally, a noninvasive way to treat that herpes.
Tom Heineber: It’s been stubborn, Z.
Zubin Damania: Your knees are stubborn too.
Tom Heineber: I’m out of options, man. I’m looking for somebody to prey on my fear and denial of my herpes. I think maybe a naturopath is the perfect person to do that.
Zubin Damania: Clearly, pseudoscience and, what was the other one, quackery?
Britt Hermes: Yeah.
Zubin Damania: Hogwarts School of Pseudoscience and Quackery is probably still valid, in your mind.
Britt Hermes: Yeah.
Zubin Damania: I’m gonna agree with you, because I agree with you.
Britt Hermes: Because you agree with me.
Zubin Damania: A variety of reasons.
Britt Hermes: You can look at the real things that I learned. For example, I took a class in pharmacology.
Zubin Damania: Great.
Britt Hermes: When you start to look at it more carefully, it’s taught by a naturopath. I took one course in pharmacology, so very superficial coverage of information. I took three courses in homeopathy. I took three times as many classes in made-up medicine.
Zubin Damania: In magic.
Britt Hermes: In magic than I did in real medicine. That’s just an easy comparison. There are so many of these.
Zubin Damania: You go through it in the site, which I think is very educational. Now people fucking hate you. They hate you.
Britt Hermes: They do.
Zubin Damania: They would love to see something terrible happen to you. I’ve seen this because I’ve seen comments. They use all kinds of horrible, sexist, terrible things they say about you. How do you process that?
Britt Hermes: It depends. It depends. It depends. When I’m being sent a dick pic, this I don’t enjoy so much.
Zubin Damania: Tom, stop.
Tom Heineber: Somebody’s gotta diagnose the herpes.
Zubin Damania: That happens, does it?
Britt Hermes: Of course it happens.
Zubin Damania: Now I’m a little hurt because I don’t get sent dick pics.
Britt Hermes: I’m sorry.
Zubin Damania: I know.
Britt Hermes: You can put on a wig.
Zubin Damania: I got a couple on Facebook.
Britt Hermes: This is just sexual harassment at its finest.
Zubin Damania: Weinsteining.
Britt Hermes: I get accused of not being able to write my own blog or design my own blog, I assume because I’m a woman and women can’t write or can’t do web design or whatever it is.
Zubin Damania: It’s because naturopaths have lower IQs. That’s why they’re-
Britt Hermes: Trust me. It’s a free WordPress site. It’s not even like it’s fucking [crosstalk 00:55:35].
Zubin Damania: By the way, I looked at your site, I’m like, “Damn, this site looks dope, Tom Heineber. How do we get a site like this?” It’s a free WordPress site?
Britt Hermes: Exactly! It’s so ridiculous. You want to change something, you YouTube it. “How do I change my free WordPress template?” Then you follow the YouTube instructions and you do it. It’s not brain surgery.
Zubin Damania: Are you saying that women aren’t capable of brain surgery? Because I’m detecting some implicit bias. You get those kind of things?
Britt Hermes: Yeah, just the idea that I couldn’t possibly run a free blog and make a blog look nice because I’m a woman.
Zubin Damania: Because you’re not a coding male.
Britt Hermes: Or that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to do something like this. I’ve talked to male bloggers who do not get accused of this.
Zubin Damania: Of that.
Britt Hermes: Or the idea that in order to do an interview like this, I must have a coach. I must have a speech coach. I must have a marketing person.
Zubin Damania: Let me say something about that, because I do a lot of interviews, and it’s very rare that someone is as natural, unrehearsed, and fluent as you are in an interview setting, feeling as shitty as you do today.
Britt Hermes: Thanks.
Zubin Damania: If that’s a result of coaching, I want that fucking coach.
Britt Hermes: I think I’m just lucky then.
Zubin Damania: You’re articulate. This is all interpreted as you’re damn evil.
Britt Hermes: Yeah, or they think I’m employed by Science-Based Medicine.
Zubin Damania: Which has so much money to-
Britt Hermes: Which has so much money.
Zubin Damania: … employ people.
Britt Hermes: None, people.
Zubin Damania: Because this is for-profit entity that just is raking in the money.
Tom Heineber: Can I ask a sexist question?
Zubin Damania: Yes.
Tom Heineber: Why does naturopathy attract so many women, both on the provider side and the client side?
Zubin Damania: That’s a really good question.
Zubin Damania: Great question, yeah.
Britt Hermes: I think because medicine does a really shitty job of taking care of women.
Zubin Damania: You shut up, Britt Hermes!
Britt Hermes: Sorry. It’s true.
Zubin Damania: Tell me more about that. I want to hear about this, because I don’t disagree with you.
Britt Hermes: I think it’s really common for women to feel like they’re not heard by their male physician, to feel like they are belittled, to feel like they are making their symptoms up. They come in complaining of uterine cramping or fatigue or PMS symptoms and it’s brushed off as exaggerated symptoms or, “Just take an ibuprofen and get over it.”
Zubin Damania: I agree with you 100%. We did a show on Lady Gaga’s new documentary where we talked about her fibromyalgia and how she would be treated by the medical establishment if she wasn’t a celebrity. They would call her crazy and the usual things that happens. It’s unacceptable. It’s unexcusable. How about as a practitioner though? Do you think that the medical system fails women as practitioners? Because one of Tom’s questions was why are there so many women naturopaths.
Britt Hermes: A lot of people who go into naturopathy have bad experiences with doctors.
Zubin Damania: Like you did.
Britt Hermes: Like I did. I don’t know that I know one story of a naturopath actually who didn’t have a terrible experience with a doctor. This is always an underlying driver.
Zubin Damania: Can I address these assholes for a second?
Britt Hermes: Yeah, go for it.
Zubin Damania: I didn’t mean to call you assholes. I really didn’t. I love you, Z Pack. I’m just being colloquial. You guys gotta understand, we in Western medicine are absolutely culpable for the rise of witchcraft and wizardry. You need to understand that until we treat our patients as partners, until we’re paid on actual outcomes, until we practice team-based collaborative Health 3.0, there’s absolutely no reason why someone like Britt, who’s presented with a dermatologist who’s behaving like a dick isn’t gonna react in a way that feels intuitively correct to her.
The thing about naturopathy is they go in with really high idealism and the right intent and compassion. They spend time with patients. They connect. If that has a placebo effect for some people, that’s wonderful. Where it becomes a problem is you have cancer. You have people saying don’t vaccinate. You have a elevation of the pseudoscience and mystical, magical thinking and rationalizations that medications, many came from natural origins, “Okay, great, let’s study them and make them medications.”
Britt Hermes: Right, like the artemisia example. Cancer and the anti-vac are the easy examples to draw from, but I want to make sure your audience understands that it’s also the common conditions. Naturopaths have treated teenage asthma patients with herbs and homeopathy and these patients have died. There’s been untreated bacterial meningitis in babies, and these babies have died. You have conditions like chickenpox becoming fatal and causing a sterilization, major problems. It’s not just-
Zubin Damania: It’s not just cancer.
Britt Hermes: It’s not just the things you hear about in the media all the time. It’s all of these common conditions that get misdiagnosed, mistreated, that become very serious conditions that were totally treatable with real medicine.
Zubin Damania: Wow. Again, I don’t disagree. The thing is I think a lot in the medical establishment want to villainize and demonize our naturopathic brethren. They are brothers and sisters. The problem is it’s another example of maybe not knowing what you don’t know.
Here’s the thing. In Western medicine, we have criminally overtreated people. We have criminally medicalized a bunch of stuff. There’s a lot of reasons why we suck really bad. I’m gonna be the first to admit that. I stepped out of that full-time space to actually realize that. It doesn’t mean that I go in and embrace witchcraft. It means that I think the relationship between people is important, the therapeutic alliance is important. The placebo effect does have a real effect. How do you harness it without lying to patients? Then how do you therapeutically deliver what medicine is really good at doing? Study the hell out of it and make it evidence-based and science-based.
That’s why when I heard about you, and I discovered you early on and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this person is amazing.” I couldn’t imagine you existed, because first of all, I did, I’d made all the implicit bias too, I was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s a woman. She has a really good blog. She is being a total dick, meaning she’s able to just say, ‘Fuck all y’all. This is what went down.'”
Britt Hermes: I’m pretty blunt.
Zubin Damania: My implicit bias is, “Maybe women don’t do that.” It’s wrong, obviously, but that’s my unconscious conditioning. When I saw this, I was like, “This is remarkable.” I want to make sure I support you in any way that I can, but I also want to make sure I’m not wrong about you, that you’re not out there doing this for some ulterior motive or that you’re wrong about naturopathy or any of that. I sound like an anti-vaccer, “I did my own research, Britt. I did my research. You’re on the up and up, girl, according to my research.” Tom, you got some comments from the peanut gallery?
Tom Heineber: I want to ask Britt, Britt, so I get into these conversations with people, like friends, girlfriends and things, and I’m pretty dickish about naturopathy. I’ll just shut people down and tell them how stupid they’re being. How should I change hearts and minds when I’m talking to these people? Because I hate them. I despise them.
Britt Hermes: That’s your first problem. First of all, it just sounds like you’re an asshole.
Tom Heineber: I am. I am. I am.
Zubin Damania: Give it up, Britt.
Tom Heineber: It’s true.
Zubin Damania: That’s fact.
Tom Heineber: It’s true.
Zubin Damania: Fact. Fact.
Britt Hermes: You have to understand what their motivation is. I think once you understand why the patient is seeking alternative medicine, then you can start to have a conversation about whether or not alternative medicine is an appropriate avenue for this person. Until you understand what’s driving that person away from medicine and towards something alternative, you’re not gonna have a productive conversation.
Zubin Damania: You have to talk to patients.
Britt Hermes: You have to. You gotta listen. You gotta repeat things that they say [crosstalk 01:03:12] listening.
Tom Heineber: What if it’s stupid, what they’re saying? What do you do then? Do you mirror it back and say, “Yes, yeah, oh, the more dilute something is, the more potent it is.”
Britt Hermes: What if they’re stupid? I guess it depends on what’s your motivation. Are you trying to get them to change their mind or are you just trying to belittle them?
Tom Heineber: No, I’m just trying to belittle them usually.
Zubin Damania: That’s Tom’s job. He’s Tommy belittlement.
Britt Hermes: I don’t think you’re gonna have very many friends much longer.
Zubin Damania: Or his friends will just be bigger and bigger assholes, like me.
Tom Heineber: That’s the truth, like Z.
Zubin Damania: You said early on when we started this thing, you said you felt like you weren’t acknowledged, that your suffering and your situation wasn’t acknowledged by the dermatologist. I think that’s 95% of it. I get a lot of private messages on Facebook. I just found out, by the way, Facebook’s new inbox just randomly doesn’t show me a bunch of messages.
Britt Hermes: I hate Facebook’s inbox.
Zubin Damania: It’s really terrible. I went back to the old inbox and found about 1,000 messages that I hadn’t seen.
Britt Hermes: You’re kidding.
Zubin Damania: I spent two hours this morning combing through, and I found a few pearls. For example, Facebook themselves reached out to me, and their own stupid ass algorithm wouldn’t show me their own message, when the Vegas shooting happened, and said, “We’re really happy that you did a fundraiser using Facebook Live and raised $42,000 for UMC Hospital. We’d like to go to the press with this.” I would’ve liked to have seen that, because I would’ve said yes. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I get more things from people with chronic pain, with chronic disease.
Britt Hermes: I do too.
Zubin Damania: You do, right? Multiple paragraphs with a story. 95% of them want someone who has a position of some authority to say, “I hear you. Your suffering is real. I wish I could help you. I can’t give medical advice, but you are heard and acknowledged.” That’s all it takes.
Britt Hermes: Totally. Not always, but sometimes I think there also needs to be something offered to that patient. You can’t just take away alternative medicine. If you just take away alternative medicine and say it doesn’t work, that’s gonna leave the patient feeling abandoned and scared and without that crutch that they were using to have hope. You can replace it with things like just basic diet and lifestyle advice.
Zubin Damania: Diet and lifestyle.
Britt Hermes: I started suggesting that people would look into counseling, for example, find a support group.
Zubin Damania: Are you a fan of meditation and yoga, those kind of things?
Britt Hermes: I love yoga, yeah, been doing yoga for a long time.
Zubin Damania: That’s what I do with my patients.
Britt Hermes: I think those are wonderful tools to use. I think they’re appropriate. I think they’re safe. The likelihood of these tools harming the patient are very, very, very, very low.
Zubin Damania: I like that balanced approach. I think one question I’d ask you is people will say, and you’ll see this in the comments I’m sure, “It’s the integration of East and West. We should just integrate the best of both.” Where’s the downside in that?
Britt Hermes: Do you know this famous quote where if you mix apple pie with cow pie, it doesn’t make the apple pie any better?
Zubin Damania: That’s my favorite thing I’ve ever heard. I’ve never heard that. That’s amazing.
Britt Hermes: That’s a great one.
Zubin Damania: I’ve been schooled. I like that. Why is it a cow pie that poisons the whole dish? Is it because it’s bringing in a magical thinking? Is it because it’s lying to patients? What is it?
Britt Hermes: I think it’s all of that. It’s costing the patient. It’s wasting the patient’s time and money. It’s potentially taking away real therapies for that patient and investing in magical thinking. Once you teach a patient that it’s okay and that they should be engaged in magical thinking, I think it’s a bit of a slippery slope. You go from using homeopathy for a self-resolving spider bite to then treating asthma to then treating something serious like cancer. It’s pretty actually easy to make that leap, and because you are then presenting things, something real and something not real, on the same playing field, and a patient or even a naturopath who’s not trained in science and medicine can’t tell-
Zubin Damania: Tell the difference.
Britt Hermes: … what from what.
Zubin Damania: That’s why I criticize Dr. Oz a lot, because he conflates really good medicine, he’s a tremendous physician, tremendous communicator, with reiki and green tea.
Britt Hermes: It’s very, very dangerous.
Zubin Damania: It’s very dangerous.
Britt Hermes: Because when you put reiki on the same field as antibiotics-
Zubin Damania: You can’t tell which is what.
Britt Hermes: … you can’t tell those apart.
Zubin Damania: Patients especially who are looking for hope will cling on to that.
Britt Hermes: Of course.
Zubin Damania: Can I tell you something?
Britt Hermes: Sure.
Zubin Damania: I think that the powers of pseudoscience, deception, and the supplement industrial complex, all these things, and I’ve already criticized Western medicine, so I feel like that has to be said, but they should be very scared of people like you, who have an innate vulnerability that you’re willing to express, but also incredible courage and strength, and are articulate, smart, and have done both. They’ve studied the science now, and they’ve done the other stuff. They’re willing to go out in the world and put themselves at risk legally, financially, and also emotionally to tell their story. To me, you don’t gain anything from this but a sense of feeling like you’ve made right something that has been wrong. That’s why I’m blown away by you, Britt Hermes.
Britt Hermes: Thank you.
Zubin Damania: Everybody should go look at your page and judge for yourself. As the anti-vaccers say, do your own research! Tell us what you think in the comments. Send us messages. It has been such a thrill-
Britt Hermes: Thank you so much.
Zubin Damania: … to have you on the show, really an honor. Tom, any parting words?
Tom Heineber: Man, any naturopath that’s preying on people with cancer can go straight to hell.
Zubin Damania: They can.
Tom Heineber: I hope they just burn for all eternity.
Zubin Damania: Not Britt. She did the right thing.
Tom Heineber: Everybody else, kill yourself.
Zubin Damania: We’ll say bye. Thank you for being so … You want to wave for the Z Pack? Bye, guys.
Britt Hermes: Bye!
Zubin Damania: We love you. Thanks to Britt, and we out!
Yo, Z Pack, this episode is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Athena Health. Athena Health partners with hospital and ambulatory clients to drive results. They offer network-enabled medical record, revenue cycle management, patient engagement, care coordination, and population health services, to build Health 3.0, yo! Get back to the work you love doing. Athena Health. Free up.