Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The MINDD Foundation is Built on Shaky Ground

By John McLennan

A forum held at The University of NSW, but not endorsed by it, has highlighted the spurious credibility that university settings give to groups making unsubstantiated health claims.

The MINDD Foundation was established in 2005 by Leslie Embersits as a result of her quest for “more informed health care for children”. Embersits has argued that it is legitimate for parents to follow other families’ advice rather than medical advice as the government’s research agenda was “locked in the behavioural paradigm”. She insists that funds should be directed towards studies of nutritional treatments.

MINDD is an acronym for metabolic (M), immunologic (I), neurologic (N), digestive (D) and development (D). The Foundation’s mission statement indicates that it promotes integrated healthcare that “offers real solutions for the whole family by combining diet, nutrient therapy, structural support, energy medicine and lifestyle to restore the body’s natural ability to grow, heal and prevent disease”. There is a focus on diseases of childhood, in particular ADHD, autism and allergies.

MINDD has a board (only one member has a medical qualification) and a list of “ambassadors” (none of whom is medically trained). The ambassadors include Patron Marcus Blackmore, whose company manufactures and supplies a huge range of vitamins and supplements through a business model that controversially suggests that true “wellness” is available for those who use his products. Recently his company purchased a firm that makes Chinese medicines. Other ambassadors include Costa Georgiadis(host of the ABC’s Gardening Australia) and controversial celebrity chef Pete Evans, who is widely criticised for his anti-scientific nutritional advice. Many of the MINDD practitioners and ambassadors have a clear conflict of interest, promoting products, including publications, in which they have a commercial interest.

The Australian Medical Association has accused Evans of endangering lives with his unscientific advice on fluoride, calcium and sunscreen. In an interview on Seven’s Sunday Night current affairs program, the co-host of Seven’s My Kitchen Rules repeated his claims that dairy strips calcium from bones, fluoride does not prevent cavities, and sunscreen is toxic. “What do you need a qualification for to talk common sense?” Evans said when asked why he gave medical advice when he had no qualifications. “Why do you have to study something that is outdated, that is industry-backed, that is biased, that is not getting the results? That would be insane to study something that you’re gonna waste your time with? That’s just crazy, it’s just crazy.”

The activities of MINDD involve the promotion of therapies that include chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, kinesiology, biomedicine, a variety of diets, naturopathy and detoxification. Integrative medicine, functional medicine and health coaching are also promoted. It presents a newsletter, seminars and an international forum. While this was held this year at the University of NSW, the meeting was not endorsed by the university, which has blocked further use of the campus for MINDD activities.

Despite its emphasis on health and diet, and its keenness to be seen operating within a university setting, an obvious deficiency on the MINDD website is the lack of endorsement by an academic institution. Research sites are provided including instructions on how to use PubMed. The sites, however, focus on “green” or integrative medical information rather than providing balance. There is a clear anti-medical feel to the GreenMedInfo site, to which MINDD provides a link, including many articles highlighting the side-effects of immunisation without mentioning any benefits.

In summary, MINDD is a marketplace for alternative medicine, promoting theories and practices for most of which there is no credible scientific evidence for effectiveness. There is a nub of logic for some of the ideas but, as is often the case with alternative medicine, there is a leap from theory to reality and then on to management, all based on insubstantial evidence.

For example, many of the diets described are consistent with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Dietary Guidelines. They recommend a largely plant-based intake that is low in salt and refined carbohydrates. Evans’ paleo diet, however, also recommends meat intake in amounts considered unhealthy by the NHMRC. Bone broth is featured prominently on the website with no documentary support for any health benefit.

Dietary treatment is fundamental in a number of diseases such as diabetes, proven allergies and autoimmune diseases (e.g. coeliac disease). However, diet as the main treatment for other diseases, such as cancer and inflammatory diseases, lacks scientific support and has been exposed to exploitation (e.g. Belle Gibson).

Many of the listed therapies are implausible and lack scientific validity, such as homeopathy and the subluxation theory of chiropractic. The site carries a disclaimer but does not attempt to provide critical evaluation of the information provided.

Should parents be looking for “more informed health care” for their children, there are many helpful, evidence-based sites and resources promoted by hospitals, universities or governments, such as The Raising Children’s Network, Autism Victoria and Monash University’s Act-Now Fact Sheets on autism.

Dr John McLennan was a consultant paediatrician in Bendigo for 34 years, a Lecturer at Nottingham University and Senior Lecturer at Monash University.