Top 10 Holistic Traps

Avoid these 10 holistic traps when looking for alternative forms of treatment.

Dog, woman, doctor
Dr. Robinson demonstrates an applied kinesiology test for allergies by noting muscle strength in a client’s outstretched arm as she touches her animal.

Many of us get snowballed sometimes by the hype that alternative treatment providers heap onto the airwaves and Internet. Here are 10 of the most common holistic traps to avoid.

1.Dubious Allergy Diagnostics and Treatments

In January 2008, the Washington state attorney general and Department of Health secretary asked the FDA to block the sale and distribution of unproven and dangerous “energy medicine” devices, citing several, including Bicom, Bodyscan and VEGA.1  Other dubious allergy-testing techniques include applied kinesiology (AK), pulse testing, and hair analysis.

AK tests for allergies by noting muscle strength alterations in an individual’s outstretched arm when they hold “test” vials.2,3 2,3 Veterinary AK employs a human surrogate who touches the animal and gets tested on behalf of the animal, since animal patients cannot follow instructions as well. More bizarre is treating the surrogate in place of the animal: “Once the sensitivities are identified, a quick, painless and noninvasive acupressure treatment through the surrogate is used to rebalance the pet’s nervous system response to the identified allergens. Muscle testing is also utilized in the prescriptive phase to identify any additional necessary medications and to individualize dosages.”4


Authors touting glandular lore advise consumers to feed thyroid tissue to hyperthyroid cats, spinal cord extract to dogs with degenerative myelopathy and adrenal tissue for Cushing’s as the “principal natural treatments.”5 Glandular products may transmit disease such as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.6,7 No proof exists that they work; active hormones in the products may in fact worsen disease.

3.Chinese Herbs

In 2007, the FDA recalled 12 Chinese herbal mixtures containing ephedra, aristolochic acid or human placenta due to serious health hazards.8 Aristolochic acid causes nephropathy and potentially cancer.9 Chinese herbs like ephedra can damage the liver, sometimes leading to fulminant liver failure and death.10,11,12 Human placenta and animal parts found in Chinese herbs introduce biosecurity concerns.13 Western pharmaceuticals hidden within Chinese herbs remain an ongoing danger; a 2007 study evaluating Chinese herb safety in products obtained from New York City’s Chinatown found nine different Western pharmaceutical drugs in five samples.14

4.Colloidal Silver

Hawked by the unscrupulous as “very successful for veterinary use,” “for daily oral ingestion” and “works on pets of all kinds,” colloidal silver has no place in veterinary medicine. Ingested silver accumulates in every organ and can induce irreversible neurologic toxicity.15  Per the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, “FDA is not aware of any substantial scientific evidence that supports the safe and effective use of colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for any animal disease condition.”16

5.Pennyroyal for Fleas

Natural flea treatments containing pennyroyal may kill fleas and their host. Even small quantities of the oil or tea have led to human deaths.17,18  A 1992 case report of pennyroyal toxicosis in a dog illustrated the lethal hepatic and neurologic consequences that ensue after topically applying only 60 cubic centimeters.19

6.Craniosacral Therapy

Human craniosacral therapists say that releasing dural strains can resolve hosts of behavioral and physical problems ranging from autism to scoliosis.20 Patterned after the human approach, dog and horse craniosacral therapists claim similar results.21  But the fundamental premise of craniosacral therapy requires human-like cranial bone mobility, not ossified sutures, which means the craniosacral dynamic fails to translate across species. Somehow, this key feature has failed to deter dog and horse “cranialists.”

7.Gold Bead Implants

As noted in Chest 2007: “Migration of embedded acupuncture needles is associated with life-threatening consequences. The practice of embedding acupuncture needles is now considered malpractice and is discouraged by professional acupuncture associations.”22

8.Relabeling Myths and Metaphors with Legitimate-Sounding Buzzwords

Noting veterinarians’ hunger for more rational foundations for the complementary modalities they learn, continuing education programs are adding the words “scientific” and “evidence-based” to course material that has no such merit. Caveat emptor! Find out whether old metaphysical material has simply been repackaged before enrolling. Faculty background and publications may lend further insights.

9.Chiropractic for Everything

Brochures advertising animal chiropractic indicate that nearly every animal needs chiropractic, whether they are experiencing behavior changes, chronic health problems, advanced age or surgery.23  Until evidence emerges supporting chiropractic as a valid technique in nonhumans, indications for its safe and appropriate inclusion in veterinary practice remain elusive. 24

10.Holistic Cancer Care

No alternative cancer treatments have been shown to cure cancer. Combining herbs with chemotherapy may interfere with metabolizing enzymes and drug transporters.25



1. Device Watch. FDA urged to curb bogus “energy medicine” devices. Obtained at on 04-27-08.

2. Haas M, Cooperstein R, and Peterson D. Disentagling manual muscle testing and Applied Kinesiology: critique and reinterpretation
of a literature review. Chiropractic & Osteopathy. 2007;15:11. Available from

3. Hall S, Lewith G, Brien S, and Little P. A review of the literature in applied and specialized kinesiology. Forsch Komplement Med (2006). 2008;15(1):40-46.

4. Veterinary NAET. What is Veterinary NAET and How can it help in the treatment of domestic pets? Obtained on 04-25-08 at

5. Messonier S. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats. Prima Publishing, 2001.

6. Norton SA. Raw animal tissues and dietary supplements. NEJM. 2000;343(4):304-305.

7. Detention without physical examination of bulk shipments of high-risk tissue from BSE-countries. Import alert#17-04. Department of Agriculture, revised 24 January 2000. Cited in: Norton SA. Raw animal tissues and dietary supplements. NEJM. 2000;343(4):304-305.

8. Food and Drug Administration. Recall – Firm Press Release. Herbal Science International, Inc. recalls twelve dietary herbal supplements nationwide because of possible health risk associated with ephedra, aristolochic acid and human placenta. April 10, 2007. Obtained at on 04-26-08.

9. Debelle FD, Vanherweghem JL, Nortier JL. Aristolochic acid nephropathy: A worldwide problem. Kidney Int. 2008 Apr 16 [Epub ahead of print].

10. Seeff LB. Herbal hepatotoxicity. Clin Liv Dis. 2007;11(3):577-596.

11. Pittler MH and Ernst E. Systematic review: Hepatotoxic events associated with herbal medicinal products. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003;18(5):451-471.

12. Chitturi S and Farrell GC. Hepatotoxic slimming aids and other herbal hepatotoxins. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008;23(3):366-373.

13. Beunnion BJ and Daggett V. Protein conformation and diagnostic tests: the prion protein. Clinical Chemistry. 2002;48:2105-2114.

14. Miller GM and Stripp R. A study of western pharmaceuticals contained within samples of Chinese herbal/patent medicines collected from New York City’s Chinatown. Legal Medicine. 2007;9:258-264.

15. Mirsattari SM, Hammond RR, Sharpe MD, et al. Myoclonic status epilepticus following repeated oral ingestion of colloidal silver. Neurology. 2004;62(8):1408-1410.

16. US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Veterinary Medicine. CVM Update: Colloidal silver not approved. February 12, 1997. Obtained on 04-26-08 at

17. Bakerink JA et al. Multiple organ failure after ingestion of pennyroyal oil from herbal tea in two infants. Pediatrics. 1996;98(5):944-947.

18. Anderson IB et al. Pennyroyal toxicity: measurement of toxic metabolite levels in two cases and review of the literature. Ann Intern Med. 1996;124:726-734.

19. Sudekum M et al. Pennyroyal oil toxicosis in a dog. JAVMA. 1992;200(6):817-818.

20. Upledger Institute. Obtained at on 04-28-08.

21. Caroline Pope – Animal Communicator & Craniosacral Therapist. Obtained at: on 04-28-08.

22. Von Riedenauer WB, Baker MK, and Brewer RJ. Video-assisted thorascopic removal of migratory acupuncture needle causing pneumothorax. Chest. 2007;131:899-901.

23. American Veterinary Chiropractic Association brochure. Routine chiropractic care can benefit your animals. Obtained at on 04-26-08.

24. Morandi X, Riffaud L, Houedakor J, et al. Caudal spinal cord ischemia after lumbar vertebral manipulation. Joint Bone Spine. 2004;71:334-337. [See references at the end of text.]

25. Marchetti S, Mazzanti R, Beijnen JS, et al. Concise review: clinical relevance of drug-drug and herb-drug interactions mediated by the ABC transporter ABCB1 (MDR1, P-glycoprotein). The Oncologist. 2007;12(8):927-941.

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