Do chiropractors know 'secret' ways to reverse diabetes?
Don Brown figured he'd be dead by now. His type II diabetes had made it so hard for him to walk that he could barely get around his house. Depressed at his doctor's diagnosis, he felt worthless.
Then his wife, Ruth, saw an ad for a different doctor, one who could "reverse" the disease.
Six months and thousands of dollars later, Brown, 66, was 40 pounds lighter and had stopped taking insulin and medications for his underactive thyroid and high blood pressure. The retired rancher from Blanding said he felt alive again and was itching to garden.
But was he no longer a diabetic?
He and his wife were crossing their fingers before a test in February, hoping they hadn't been sold "snake oil."
The Browns had tied their hopes to West Jordan chiropractor Brandon Babcock, who claims to know "hidden secrets about how to reverse" the type of diabetes related to weight gain.
Chiropractors in Utah and nationwide are exploiting the surge in diabetes and flaws in how traditional medicine promotes nutrition and exercise. Often promoting "functional endocrinology," chiropractors are treating diabetes and other diseases that traditionally fall under a medical doctor's purview.
Some states, including Texas and Colorado, are reining them in. Babcock's program was developed by Brandon Credeur, a chiropractor now accused of harming diabetic patients in Colorado and fighting to keep his license there.
In Utah where at least three chiropractors are soliciting diabetic patients state law says that chiropractors can treat diabetes and other diseases.
"Diabetes treatment is within the scope of a chiropractor," Mark Steinagel, director of the Division of Professional Licensing (DOPL), said in an email.
"Professions regularly complain about each other and consider their profession to be better capable of performing certain services," he wrote.
But Utah medical doctors are questioning state law, spurred by chiropractors' aggressive tactics.
"Diabetes is a medical condition, and they cannot diagnose and treat medical conditions," said Michelle McOmber, CEO of the powerful Utah Medical Association, which recently complained to DOPL. "I don't think it's appropriate. I don't think they're trained to do that. It's something that needs to be looked into."
The pitch • Babcock, 36, has been licensed as a Utah chiropractor since 2002 and once did up to 50 adjustments a day. Diabetic care now takes up 95 percent of his time, he said recently, and he doubled his office space to accommodate the dozen new patients he said he signs up each week.
He targets people with diabetes who are ages 50 to 80 younger ones don't have the time to put into their health, he said. He charges $6,000 for six months of care more when patients need financing and his remedies aren't covered by insurance.
Here's his reversal recipe:
Clients start with a three-week gluten- and dairy-free diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, and drinks made with a powder that can "detoxify" their livers. They later add some dairy foods and breads.
Babcock claims he fixes the causes of diabetes by balancing estrogen, testosterone and cortisol hormones; eliminating intestinal infections; and improving the function of patients' livers and adrenal glands with proprietary supplements in pills and creams.
Many medical doctors, "misdirected" about what causes diabetes, "let patients fail" by prescribing drugs that only address symptoms, he tells potential patients.
"That model usually tells [patients], 'Eat whatever you want. Take more drugs and that's life,' " he said.
Success is "typical" among his clients, he says in advertisements and at weekly free lunches or dinners for potential clients.
"I get people off their insulin in usually the first month, depending on how much it is," he told a group of 30 in Provo in December.
"If you're motivated and you're willing to change your diet, I'm going to take you on and I'm going to reverse your diabetes," he said in his closing pitch. "I've seen people all the way up to  to 400 units of insulin get better."
In an interview, Babcock acknowledged he can't cite independent studies to back his claims. Instead, he points to his successful patients. Some, like Brown, give "testimonials" at the meals.
Brown said his medical doctor sent him to a class on nutrition and exercise, but it didn't help and he had to take more medications. Under Babcock's regimen, he ate more fruits and vegetables, took supplements, lost weight and decided to stop taking his various medications. An initial test in November indicated his blood sugar was no longer in the diabetic range.
"I know it works," Brown told the lunch crowd.
The pushback • It's true that diabetes can technically be reversed when it is connected to a patient's weight, said E. Dale Abel, medical director of the Utah Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at the University of Utah.
But much of Babcock's treatment is based on "pseudoscience," Abel said, after reviewing information provided by the The Salt Lake Tribune about his plan and parts of his sales pitch.
For example, while obese people will have low testosterone or estrogen, those shortages occur independently of diabetes, he said, and there is no proof that addressing hormones or infections will affect diabetes.
And when Babcock says the cause of type II diabetes has "nothing to do with the pancreas" or diet or being overweight, Abel said, that is "patently false. He is completely confused."
Most diabetics are overweight or obese and their pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, he explained. The hormone is key to transforming glucose, a sugar, into fuel for muscle, fat, and liver cells.
Such marketing pitches from chiropractors, he added, are akin to financial scammers who promise unrealistic investment returns. "He's just taking people's money," Abel said. "This absolutely has nothing to do with protection of turf. It has to do with protection of patients."
It is not standard for medical doctors to tell diabetic patients not to change their lifestyle, Abel said. But he concedes that traditional health care is not set up to effectively help them eat right and exercise. Since insurers pay little for weight loss management and nutrition education, such care is a money loser for doctors, he said.
"The only thing that he does that will have any benefit is this very restrictive diet," he said. "You do that to anybody and they will lose weight and their diabetes will get better."
The blueprint • Babcock said he uses the diet, supplements and laboratory tests developed by Credeur, his former classmate at Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas. "Just like if you bought a McDonald's franchise you know exactly how to make the french fries," Babcock said.
Credeur and his wife, Heather, now run the Functional Endocrinology Center of Colorado, where their care and claims are under attack.
The state Board of Chiropractic Examiners has charged Credeur with 25 counts of violating various rules and laws, including unethical advertising, substandard care and practicing medicine for which he is not licensed. It recently filed similar charges against Heather Credeur and is seeking to revoke both of their licenses.
The board accuses Brandon Credeur of luring in diabetic patients and women with thyroid disorders with false and misleading advertising guaranteeing success. Five patients one of whom didn't know Credeur was a chiropractor have allegedly been harmed.
According to the board: Credeur misdiagnosed an 82-year-old woman with diabetes and celiac disease. A woman with bipolar disorder became suicidal after taking his supplements. One woman's thyroid condition worsened after his program. Another woman said she was told to stop taking her thyroid medication without consulting her medical doctor.
The board also targets these issues with how Credeur promotes his plan:
• The name of his business suggests he has credentials he hasn't earned.
• An ad for a "free gourmet dinner" to discover "hidden secrets about how to reverse your diabetes" with "limited seating" was false, exerted undue pressure and "created unjustified expectations or guaranteed a cure."
• His claims that "98 to 99 percent our patients get better" and that it is "standard" for patients to no longer need medication were unethical because they improperly promised a cure and couldn't be verified by standard lab tests.
Told of the charges against Credeur, Babcock distanced himself from his consultant. "I pay him but I don't need him, really."
Babcock maintains that he doesn't guarantee the reversal of diabetes and he doesn't tell patients to stop using medication, which the Browns confirm.
But like Brown, many patients have chosen to take that step, Babcock said.
"My license doesn't allow me to take somebody off medications. I can instruct them: Here's ranges and where you should be," he said. "I'd say a high percentage of patients go off on their own. Their doctor doesn't see them but once a year."
But Utah County patient Betty McElroy said Babcock "told me I could stop taking all of it [insulin], so I did," she said.
The 75-year-old licensed physician described Babcock as having a Ph.D. in nutrition which he doesn't. Babcock said he didn't tell her to go off her insulin and he doesn't know why she thought he had a doctorate.
She's pleased with her 20-pound weight loss so far and higher energy, she said. "I am putting my body out on the line to see if this was helpful and so far it has been very helpful."
Utah's stance • One of the names Babcock uses Functional Endocrinology Institute of Utah is similar to Credeur's business name. His free lunch ads are virtually identical. So are his claims that success is typical.
But Colorado's restrictions on advertising are more specific than Utah's rules. McOmber, with the Utah Medical Association, said Utah's rule that allows chiropractors to claim they are experts in diabetes or endocrinology should be tightened.
A clause basically says "they could get a couple hours in education on something and say they're an expert. It's very concerning and it's misleading," she said.
While a Sunday ad in The Tribune identified Babcock as a chiropractor, months of previous ads used only the initials "D.C." "It's not transparent to patients that this is not an M.D," McOmber said.
The Utah Chiropractic Physician Association has also questioned Babcock's ads.
By touting "hidden secrets," Steinagel said, Babcock's ads may violate a Utah law that says chiropractors can't advertise that they treat a disease by "secret means."
But he won't comment further on advertising by Babcock or other chiropractors, and won't say whether DOPL is investigating.
In 2008, DOPL ordered Babcock to stop claiming he could treat depression and emotional problems, as well as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.
And last December, Babcock said, he met with an investigator who made him clarify that he doesn't treat type I diabetes, in which the pancreas no longer makes insulin.
"I'm allowed to do exactly what I'm doing now," Babcock said, "which is help people with diabetes."
'Dramatic change' • Brown got good news in late February: For the second time, his average blood glucose levels were in non-diabetic range. If that continues for a year, his medical doctor, Allen Naylor, will consider him nondiabetic.
While Babcock's fee was steep, Ruth Brown said she felt the treatment was worth it "because it's worked for Don."
Naylor said he is concerned about doctors trained to manipulate the spine saying they can treat diseases. He had previously examined Brown's supplements, ensuring they were safe for him to take. No ingredients stood out that would directly affect diabetes, he said, but some could help Brown burn calories more efficiently.
"If you can control diseases using natural remedies, that's great with me," Naylor told Brown at the February appointment.
Still, since supplements are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it's unclear whether the pills and creams are any more effective than placebos, or do what they claim to do, he said. Naylor has had patients who switched to supplements instead of insulin, only to be admitted to an ER.
He considers Brown a "stand out case." His "dramatic change" is "probably more a result of the diet," he said.
But Babcock denies that reversals are due to diet or the motivation patients feel because they've paid so much money.
"If it was just diet, number one, I couldn't charge the fees I'm charging," he said. "And two, it would be easy and we wouldn't see it as an epidemic we're seeing."
Diabetes in Utah
By the numbers:
120,000 • The estimated number of Utahns diagnosed with type II diabetes.
45,000 • The estimated number of undiagnosed Utahns.
$1.2 billion • The estimated tally of direct diabetes medical costs in Utah, including $27 million on outpatient care and $23 million on medications.
Source: Utah Department of Health Diabetes in Utah
The estimated number of Utahns diagnosed with type II diabetes.
The estimated number of undiagnosed Utahns.
The estimated tally of direct diabetes medical costs in Utah, including $27 million on outpatient care and $23 million on medications.
Source: Utah Department of Health