Alternative medicine and religion are both areas I have addressed on this blog, the former being a much more frequent topic than the latter. The subjects would seem to have little in common, with a smattering of exceptions. For instance, there is Reiki, which could reasonably be considered a form of Japanese faith healing. And I have sporadically happened upon Christian fundamentalists who feel God has provided grasses, barks, and herbs to heal us, if only we can find the right one for our condition through a mix of experiment and prayer. This is separate from pure faith healers, who are content to let their children die horrible, preventable deaths without trying plants, pills, potions, or anything beyond petitions to a deity.
Today, though, we address an alternative medicine-religious hybrid known as alphabiotics. Just how much it is a purported medicine or a religion, however, is debatable. For instance, websites promoting the field lack quantifiable specifics as to what alphabiotics is, how it works, or what it does. A terse description of the alleged process would be that it is neck manipulation meant to relieve stress and thereby usher in multitudinous, though mostly undefined, benefits for the body, mind, and soul. According to adherents, the procedure is meant to enhance energy flow and remove blockages that cause illnesses. This makes it one of dozens of mostly indistinguishable practices that make similar claims. The only difference here is that an attempt is made to douse the field in religious vernacular and to cloak it with a spiritual veneer. While the two parties don’t get along, alphabiotics is an outgrowth of chiropractic, with the former solely manipulating the neck.
Alphabioticbalance.com ostensibly tries to explain how the field works, informing the reader that “unrelieved stress causes your brain to lateralize, meaning that the dominant hemisphere of your brain begins seizing control, trying to work harder, not smarter, and attempting to operate entirely from its perceived area of singular strength.” It further warns that ignoring this will lead to an unbalanced skeletal system that will be deleterious to one’s muscles, nerves, and organs. An additional claim is that most persons have one leg shorter than the other and that this will put pressure on the hips and spine and even impact persons at the cellular level, as “blood is sent to the extremities of your limbs in a futile effort to correct and operate inefficiently aligned limbs.”
To fix it, a practitioner will employ a “gentle, safe, non-invasive hands-on technique” to make a patient’s legs the same length, to cause its blood to flow to the right places, and to make everything balanced. A similarly glowing report at alphabioticinfo.com describes “a process that deals directly with the negative impact of unrelieved, off-balancing stress on the brain and body.” It makes the unsubstantiated, outrageous claim that up to 90 percent of illness is stress-related and that alphabiotics techniques will result in “lower stress levels and improved health, happiness, disease prevention, and longevity.” Another website promises reduced muscle tension and an enabling of “the wisdom of the body to better do its job of regulating, controlling, and coordinating physiological function, as well as normal mental activity. Strength is restored, brain-fog is lifted, and people’s lives began to work better.”
This pseudoscientific babble is based on no cited research or clinical studies. The impossibly vague, unquantifiable notions are accompanied by no explanation of what mechanism would cause or how the physiology works. Adherents fail to bolster their claims with even one double blind study, instead favoring testimonials by patients identified only by their initials. And it is all supposedly accomplished in just half a minute by “sending sensory input to the brain that a defensive stress response is no longer necessary.”
The field is awash in empty words instead of solid evidence. It bandies about baffling terms like “brain hemisphere balance,” “joy of whole person congruence,” “hidden causes of denigrating one’s self,” the “true meaning of inner peace,” and the alt-med mainstay, “maintaining balance.”
One attempt to explain it goes thusly: “The Alphabiotics Alignment involves a process of unification of brain hemispheres and integration of higher levels of life force. It instantly unifies the brain hemispheres, balances the energies within the nerve system and muscles, and releases stress held within the mind and body, manifests our dreams and keep us in a constant state of physical, emotional, and spiritual balance and harmony, achieves inner peace, connects to their inner source of power, and takes advantage of the body’s natural capacity for wellness.” Man, for supposedly lifting brain fog, alphabiotics is leaving my noggin right muddled.
So we have pseudoscientific language, over the top claims, and anecdotes in lieu of double blind studies. There is no empirical evidence, but they do have a positive review in the book, Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About. So all this takes care of the alt-med portion, but where does religion fit in? That’s hard to say because on alphabiotics websites, the spiritual aspect is even more vague than the health claims.
But for starters, this practice is only available to members of the International Alphabiotic Association. This isn’t a religious stance per se, but to the best of my knowledge, this requirement is unique among supposed medical ventures. It is more akin to church membership than a medicinal field, even the pretend kind. Next is verbiage that hints of an esoteric or supernatural nature, such as “being in tune with your inner source of power,” and “mind-spirit connectivity.” Practitioners call themselves priests and insist their neck manipulations are sacraments in the Church of Alphabiotics. Founder Virgil Chrane bestows the title “Doctor of Divinity” to those who complete enough training under him.
Beyond this, adherents don’t seem to say much about the religious aspect publicly. The movement seems threadbare with regard to philosophy, tenets, rites, or instruction on morality, afterlife, and miracles.
It is probable that the adherents adopted the religious veneer in order to avoid taxes and medical licensing. Indeed, Seattle Weekly ran a profile of Karen Labdon, who suffered a stroke while enduring a decidedly invasive, non-gentle alphabitoic treatment at the bruising hands of practitioner John Brown.
Rather than questioning the claims Labdon made against him, Brown merely said that the accompanying investigation by Washington state officials violated his religious freedom. He further described himself as a minister in what’s called the Alphabiotic Church and he stated he was performing a sacrament on a parishioner. He compared his technique not to a chiropractor but to a Pentecostal performing a laying on of hands.
Whatever Brown was doing, Labdon ended up suffering extreme vertigo and violent vomiting as a result, and Brown was prohibited from practicing for 10 years and fined $30,000. In the end, while alphabiotics purports to be both a medicine and a religion, most available evidence points to it being neither.