Why does Ryan Armstrong’s agenda trump Canadians’ access to the health practices they require for optimal health?

The following article was written in May 2020 in response to interest from the College of Chiropractors of Ontario in hearing further from me, as a concerned client of chiropractic. Ryan Armstrong is a professional skeptic working to discredit and ultimately dismantle chiropractic in Canada under the guise of exposing ‘bad science’.

With respect to the complaints Ryan Armstrong has submitted to the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO), I submit these observations and suggestions. It is not my intention to personally attack him, but to elucidate the absurdity of giving standing to anyone in his position:

  • Based on the CBC News report Chiropractors told to remove posts claiming their methods boost immune system and prevent COVID-19, Ryan Armstrong has never seen any chiropractor, much less the particular chiropractors he has filed complaints against.
  • Based on the CBC News report, he has no personal knowledge of any wrong-doing, apart from his disagreement with signage.
  • Based on his rebuttal to me, his knowledge of chiropractic technique, of the benefits of chiropractic, and of the training required to become a chiropractor, is non-existent and he has a strong negative bias.
  • Based on his rebuttal to me, he is entirely dependent on scientific research for his information, which continues to be controversial.
  • Consider whether he had spoken to any clients prior to submitting his complaints.
  • Consider whether any clients of the chiropractors he has filed complaints against have themselves filed complaints against those particular chiropractors.
  • Consider whether he has obtained the permission of any of those clients to speak on their behalf.
  • Consider whether any of those clients are in agreement with Armstrong’s charges, whether he has contacted them or not.
  • Consider the negative impact of the complaints on the clients, whether that means having to seek alternative health care or the damage Armstrong is doing to the client-practitioner relationship (e.g., diminished trust), especially where no issue previously existed.
  • Consider research that demonstrates a link between chiropractic and immunity; some of those can be found in the World Federation of Chiropractic’s (WFC) report, despite having been dismissed by the WFC.
  • Consider that the WFC report uses spurious reasoning to dismiss studies that demonstrate a link between chiropractic and immunity.
  • Consider that the WFC report does not provide any information on what, in the WFC’s view, would constitute credible evidence.

Linked to the March 30th, 2020 CBC news report, I came across this piece, dated March 17, 2018:

SECOND OPINION | Chiropractic critics being monitored by Ontario’s College of Chiropractors

With respect to providing evidence demonstrating a link between chiropractic and immunity, I note that one chiropractor was suspended for ordering blood tests, and yet chiropractors are supposed to prove a link between chiropractic and immunity by doing blood tests. That is in line with calls from the WFC for clinical evidence, but rejecting studies that show evidence at the cellular level. They can’t win.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes from Armstrong:

“They believe they are literally channeling some kind of divine healing power through the spine that could heal almost any ailment.”

This “divine healing power” is simply the body’s own immune system, as well as the electrical energy generated by the body’s own nervous system. The spine does, after all, house the spinal cord, which attaches to the brain, together forming the central nervous system. It should not come as a surprise that when the influence of the central nervous system reaches from the top of our heads to the tips of our fingers and toes, any activity that manipulates the energy put out by the central nervous system will have far-reaching effects on the entire body. The first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. When muscles suddenly uncoil, a tremendous amount of energy is released, which may be dissipated through a reflex action or can be directed elsewhere, both through the chiropractor’s technique and through the client’s own intention. I have had multiple physiotherapists use machines emitting electrical impulses to heal injuries. Why not use the body’s own electrical impulses to heal itself and to optimize its own function?  We are not even close to understanding all the mysteries of the brain. It is unreasonable to think that we are capable at this point – if we ever will be – of explaining all bodily activity through scientific experiments, particularly when we are coming from a standpoint of negative bias and disbelief, and/or absence of personal experience and an unwillingness to acquire any.

“It’s poorly regulated,” said Armstrong, adding some chiropractors “mislead the public in matters of science and medicine. They tend to be opposed to conventional medicine and science-based medical procedures and techniques.”

That clearly says that Armstrong is fundamentally opposed to alternative medicine. He is presupposing that conventional medicine is superior, and is assuming that alternative medicine isn’t science-based and is ineffective. The statement also suggests that he has never tried any of it himself, and as far as I can tell, he hasn’t spoken to any clients, yet based on his rebuttal to me, assumes them all to be hapless victims. On the contrary, I am more than competent to decide for myself whether I care to seek the services of any alternative health care practitioners and to assess whether I am deriving any benefit from it. This is, after all, my body and I’ve been living in it for decades. I know what works for me and what doesn’t.

Over the past 20+ years, I personally have seen the following MD’s, all to no avail in addressing my health concerns:

3 gastroenterologists

3 gynaecologists

1 endocrinologist

2 dermatologists

1 neurologist

2 rheumatologists

2 psychiatrists

1 otolaryngologist

5 general practitioners

None of the above had anything useful to tell me and the only diagnoses I received were irritable bowel syndrome, “scarring” on my face, insomnia of unknown origin, and a psychosomatic disorder that essentially wrote me off as a hypochondriac. Stomach medications, i.e., pharmaceuticals, significantly worsened my condition and I had to wean myself off of them. The best the rheumatologists could offer – which I refused – were injections to relieve pain, which would have done nothing to halt the deterioration in my spine, which would have eventually landed me on the operating table and/or in a wheelchair. The endocrinologist was a past president of the BC Medical Association who literally threw up his hands and said, “I’m just a dumb doctor.” I’ve had a number of other medical doctors tell me that “doctors don’t know everything,” i.e., they were unable to identify the problem and therefore couldn’t help. I began this odyssey in my 20’s. Was I supposed to accept that I would be feeling unwell for the rest of my life? People turn to alternative health care for a reason.

One of the problems with allopathic medicine is that it focuses on one symptom or one system at a time, not to mention that it takes months of waiting to get in to see each specialist, and they do not work together as a team, unless the patient has deteriorated to the point of requiring hospitalization. No living creature is a collection of unrelated parts. I have been asked a number of times by allopathic doctors to identify “the one main problem”. It is not always possible for a patient to identify what the one main problem is. A disease or dysfunction in one system is bound to have a negative impact on another. Holistic healing has been far more effective in addressing my health concerns. I finally experienced significant relief when I sought help from the following:

1 doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine

2 naturopaths

4 chiropractors, most particularly my current one who uses a completely different technique from anything I have previously experienced.

Thanks to the second naturopath, both the “scarring” and the IBS turned out to be multiple food sensitivities and a severe Candida infection in my gut, which I discovered had also been the cause of various other problems I had been experiencing, such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating. As a result of the prescribed treatment, the “scarring” has long since cleared up, most of the food sensitivities have disappeared, the memory and ability to concentrate returned, and the gut issues in general have much improved – and have continued to improve since I started seeing my current chiropractor. The latter is a benefit that I was not even remotely expecting. I have made no significant changes in diet or exercise that would explain that improvement. The quality of my sleep has also continued to improve since I started seeing my current chiropractor, with no medications or sedatives required. Those benefits have, of course, been in addition to healing my spinal issues.

As I’ve suggested before, in attempting to measure the effect of chiropractic on immunity, more attention needs to be paid to outcomes, rather than testing blood samples. For example, as above, I have found that through chiropractic, my sleep quality has much improved, due to decreased muscle tension, improved spinal alignment (e.g., elimination of the hump in my upper back) alleviation of pain due to severe degeneration in my spine and shoulders, and possibly other factors I wasn’t aware of, all of which had contributed to decades of insomnia. Here are a couple places to start with respect to the effect of sleep disturbance on immunity:

Neuroimmunologic aspects of sleep and sleep loss | Request PDF

Effects of sleep deprivation on human immune functions

What is interesting about the second study is the difficulty in measuring something that I know from personal experience to be true – if my sleep is consistently disturbed, I feel run down and am far more likely to get sick. This to me is an obvious truism and yet that fact does not necessarily bear itself out in the research – hence the problem with depending on scientific research to establish a link between immunity and various physical and psychological disturbances. It is therefore troubling that both Armstrong and Caulfield, as well as the regulatory bodies, insist upon trying to prevent chiropractors from making claims that are not based on evidence obtained in a scientific study. A certain set of results in a scientific study does not negate my personal experience, hence the importance and value of self-reporting in assessing the efficacy of a given health care modality.

However, an interesting point that is raised in that study is that the psychological distress arising from a given sleep disturbance, not to mention the distress of simply not being able to sleep, may be a reason for fluctuation in immune function. “A frequent confounding influence to the interpretation of the physiological effects of sleep deprivation is the possibility that the emotional stress of the disruptive experience may contribute to the observed changes.” The effect of emotional stress on immunity does bear itself out in this study published in the well-respected New England Journal of Medicine: Psychological Stress and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. What is most fascinating are these points:

“[T]he relation between stress and colds was similar for those with and without infected apartment mates. In short, the stress index was associated with host resistance and not with differential exposure to virus.

“Moreover, the consistency of the stress-illness relation among three very different viruses — rhinovirus, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (as well as among rhinovirus types) — was impressive. This observation suggests that stress is associated with the suppression of a general resistance process in the host, leaving persons susceptible to multiple infectious agents, or that stress is associated with the suppression of many different immune processes, with similar results.”

This is exactly what I was getting at in my first article – the very much “common-sense” connection between stress of any kind and susceptibility to illness. Therefore, any health care modality that can help to alleviate any kind of stress will be helpful in supporting a healthy immune system and making one more resilient and resistant to any kind of health threat.

In addition to the improvements in gut function, another benefit of chiropractic that was totally unexpected is that a vivid memory of a traumatic experience I had as a child has suddenly all but disappeared, along with the decades of tension in my body as a result of my “fight or flight” response that had never been resolved. My theory is that, because muscles contract as a result of nerve impulses, and all nerve endings ultimately lead back to the brain, the memory associated with those muscle contractions remained embedded in my brain as long as those muscles remained contracted. Now that the muscle contractions have been much diminished, the associated memory is also almost gone. It’s a feedback loop. Not only is the memory far less vivid, but I no longer play the event over and over in my head. Rather, I have an aversion to recalling the event, which is much to the benefit of my mental health and overall well-being. As the days pass, even the aversion is reduced and the memory is becoming a non-issue. The relevance here to immunity is with respect to physical and emotional stress reduction.

I even have a proposed means to test this scientifically. If those with more knowledge than I have suggestions as to how the research design could be improved to achieve measurable results, e.g., what sort of instrumentation may be required to measure nerve impulses, that would be welcome. Perhaps Tim Caulfield, Canada Research Chair, would be willing to solicit proposals to undertake this study. I see this as a much more worthy endeavour than tracking down sources of presumed misinformation on COVID-19. It could, for example, provide evidence for using chiropractic as a treatment for PTSD, especially where all other forms of therapy have failed.

For the purposes of this proposed study, it would be important to have research subjects who have sustained neither multiple physical injuries, nor multiple significant psychological traumas, in an effort to isolate connections and limit confounding variables. This would need to be a longitudinal study, rather than testing results after a single chiropractic adjustment.

  1. Have the subject recall the traumatic memory.
  2. Test via medical imaging where, and the extent to which, the brain “lights up”, and identify where the subject experiences physical tension. It may take some time to identify where exactly in the body the associated muscle tension resides. Instrumentation for measuring muscle contraction, likely in the neck, chest, upper back, and/or shoulders, may be helpful in this regard.
  3. Have the chiropractor perform an adjustment, targeting those areas of muscle tension.
  4. Over time, measure the extent to which chiropractic reduces the muscle tension and the associated activation of the memory centres in the brain.
  5. Between adjustments, collect self-reports from the subject regarding the vividness of the memory of the traumatic event, and the frequency with which the subject involuntarily or voluntarily recalls the memory. Collect self-reports also on whether the subject plays out the entire event in their memory or whether the memory is actively pushed away.

It would also be important to test various chiropractic techniques, since my current chiropractor has been by far the most helpful in addressing my specific complaints, as well as in resolving unexpected ones. Other clients may respond differently and derive better results through different techniques.

The point I have been making throughout is that the human body is a highly complex organism, with multiple interrelated systems. Chiropractic ultimately deals with the nervous system, which innervates the entire body and all of its systems. A number of websites state that the human brain contains 100 trillion connections, which doesn’t include the connections throughout the body. It is foolish to think that with that level of complexity, we can accurately determine all of the effects and benefits of chiropractic through a scientific study. Dismissing the benefits of chiropractic because we can’t explain them, have been unable to design a clever enough study to reveal them, or simply don’t believe in them, is a serious disservice to the public and a major loss to health care.

I emphasize again that the misinformation being spread here is not that there is a link between  chiropractic and immunity, but that there is no link between them. There absolutely is a link. The research is simply focusing on the wrong thing, and how chiropractic contributes to immunity and overall health is totally misunderstood. Any mode of heath care will require time to take effect, whether cough medicines, antibiotics, or cancer treatment. The link between chiropractic and immunity is not about miracles from a single adjustment, especially in cases of long-standing physical and/or psychological injury. Please, let’s not have any more blood tests. Randomized controlled trials are not the answer, either. That is a far too simplistic approach. Instead, give it time and look at the end results. As with any other health profession, where there is limited or no scientific evidence, give the practitioners the benefit of the doubt that their established standard of practice is a legitimate one, especially when no harm can be proven.

Dismissing any form of alternative health care based on ideological arguments and skepticism, setting them up for failure by discounting all supporting evidence, or refusing to identify criteria for acceptable evidence, all go very much against the public interest. What is in the public interest is offering a variety of health care modalities – without undue limitations – since everyone’s needs will be different, and how each individual will respond to treatment will be different. For my part, I was very much let down by conventional medicine and would be much the worse off – in multiple ways – had I not had the option to turn to alternative health care, including chiropractic. Chiropractors must be permitted to provide health care to the fullest extent that their practice offers, and clients must be afforded the right to choose their preferred form of health care, especially where conventional methods have failed.

Anita B.

Concerned Citizen and Grateful Recipient of Chiropractic Care