Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, April 11, 2005

Naturopathic technique stirring bad blood

Naturopathic technique stirring bad blood
by Logan Jenkins
April 11, 2005

Some time back, I went to a holistic clinic in Leucadia to be examined by a self-described doctor of Chinese medicine.

The laid-back doc was as Asian as I am. A likable SoCal guy nearing 50, he'd probably been surfing at Swami's that morning.

He pricked my finger and put a few drops of blood on a microscope slide linked to a TV. We watched my red cells, like Jell-O bowling balls, lumber across the screen. Gradually, they slowed down, started to clump and then went into rigor mortis.

The doctor's prognosis was encouragingly sanguine. I was in no immediate danger of contracting a serious disease like cancer, but to feel right as rain I should cut down on sugar and take special supplements the doctor prescribed – and just happened to sell in the office.

Was he practicing medicine without a license, an old-fashioned quacksalver, or something more subtle, a New Age healer with an educated grasp of what ails his patients?


I recently received an e-mail from Stan Schmunk of Vista who was worried that his friends from Minnesota might be plunging into a dubious multilevel marketing company.

"I think that this is far outside the realm of legitimate health care and should draw inquires from various agencies," Schmunk wrote. "I'm just a North County citizen so I don't really know what to do next. I was ready to pass it off as another of the alternative health empires when I was struck by the recruiting device – a palatial estate in Valley Center where individuals pay thousands of dollars to have their blood read and possibly become apostles who stand to make huge amounts of money selling the products promoted by Dr. Robert O. Young."

I admit my pulse raced a bit when I read the blood part.

Robert O. Young has written a number of health books, including "The pH Miracle" and "The pH Miracle for Diabetes." Next month, Time Warner is publishing his latest book, "The pH Miracle for Weight Loss," Young's Web site announces.

No question, Young has blazed a bright path for himself in the naturopathic world. Ten days ago, he participated in a symposium at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He's appeared on TV as a dietary scientist famous for his "Alkalarian Approach to Optimal Living."

Of course, this sort of popular eminence arouses skeptical watchdogs like Dr. Stephen Barrett, who operates, a Web site devoted to exposing what he sees as medical mountebanks. Barrett, a retired psychiatrist, contends the United States has entered a Golden Age of health-promising charlatanism.

High on Barrett's list of rip-offs is "live blood cell analysis." On his Web site, Young touts himself as a "pioneer" in this procedure that Barrett dismisses as hokum.

"This no better than tea leaves or tarot cards," echoes Dr. Robert Baratz, also an M.D. and president of the National Council on Medical Fraud. "It's crapola."

Maybe so, but in some naturopathic circles it's considered as basic, and beneficial, as granola.


Young, who says he is a direct descendant of Mormon leader Brigham Young, hails from Utah. About two years ago, he and his wife, Shelley, moved to Rancho del Sol, a 45-acre avocado ranch in Valley Center.

Young said he earned doctoral degrees in nutrition and microbiology from an Alabama correspondence college of natural healing as well as an undergraduate degree in business and biology from the University of Utah.

He is no stranger to the sometimes tense border between alternative healing and standard medicine.

Various brushes with the law have been reported in the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City:

In 1995, Young, then 43, was arrested in Alpine, Utah, on two felony charges of practicing medicine without a license. He allegedly took blood samples from two women, used the samples to diagnose illnesses and then prescribed one of his products as treatment. In a plea bargain, he copped to a single misdemeanor. Per the agreement, the count was dismissed 18 months later.

In 2001, Young was charged with another felony in Utah when a woman suffering from cancer claimed he analyzed her blood and told her to stop chemotherapy and take his "Super Greens" product instead. Young told the woman that he had cured people suffering from AIDS, the affidavit alleged.

A month later Young was arrested when an undercover agent went to him for a consultation. Young allegedly analyzed her blood and prescribed a liquid diet. A judge ordered Young to stop drawing blood or risk being denied bail.

David Wayment, a Provo, Utah, prosecutor, took the Young case to preliminary trial, but said he lacked enough victims who were angry at Young. "It was clear to me that we couldn't get a conviction," Wayment told me last week. The charges were dropped.

In a phone interview, Young dismissed the Utah arrests as "harassment." He said he moved to California in part because the legal climate here is more tolerant for dietary researchers such as himself.


According to Young's Web site, a five-day retreat at Rancho del Sol is not cheap – about $2,500 per person, excluding air fare and hotel. Attendees receive a variety of services: a private blood analysis with Young; an alkalarian culinary consultation with Shelley Young; a luxury lymphatic massage; emotional clearing; lectures on arcane health subjects; and a variety of InnerLight products.

Young said he doesn't recruit sellers at his retreats. He sold his InnerLight multilevel marketing company several years ago, he said, though he continues to receive royalties from products he developed.

He insists that live blood cell analysis, which he says he trains people to perform, is a tool for research and education, not medical diagnosis, a legal distinction that some might find elusive in practice.

Also dicey is the drawing of blood in an unlicensed setting, said Tricia Pummill, a San Diego County assistant district attorney who has prosecuted medical fraud cases. A spokeswoman for the Medical Board of California agreed that the simple act of pricking a finger could be illegal in a medical context.

Pummill said she was aware of no complaints about live blood cell testing in the county. Until there are, the practice is likely to carry on beneath the radar of the law.