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At Your Own Risk:
The Case Against Chiropractic

Chapter 7: The House That Leo Built
© 1969, Ralph Lee Smith

"PAIN OF ARTHRITIS CONQUERED BY NEW DISCOVERIES! "Research at Spears Chiropractic Hospital has opened the door to health for thousands of sufferers who have been led to believe there was no relief."

"MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS? Research at Spears Hospital has further added to the effectiveness of Chiropractic's attack on this crippler."

"CEREBRAL PALSY? Spears researchers have developed corrective methods for the treatment of cerebral palsy, mental deficiency, epilepsy and kindred afflictions of children."

These are excerpts from newspaper ads for Spears Chiropractic Sanitarium and Hospital published between 1964 and 1966. Even claims of this kind were not on my mind, however, as I walked up the path to the hospitals main entrance in Denver. I was thinking of the documents I had been poring over just an hour before at the Denver Better Business Bureau. They showed that a number of persons whose testimonials had been published by Spears as having been helped or cured were actually dead. Some had died before their testimonials were published.

Inside the attractive lobby I told the receptionist that I had some personal medical problems and wished to make an appointment for a physical exam. I actually did not intend to take an exam, but was seeking only an opportunity to see the hospital without arousing suspicion, We made an appointment for me to come in the next morning, and I then asked if someone could show me around today while I was there. "Of course," the receptionist said.

In a few moments a lady came to the lobby, identifying herself as a member of the hospitals public relations staff. She was a short, energetic woman who said she was once a newspaper reporter. As we toured the building she told me an extended tale of how chiropractic had cured her of her ailments.

First we paused to look at a portrait hanging in the lobby. "That's D. D. Palmer," she said reverently. "He's the great doctor who discovered the chiropractic method of healing." In this portrait, I noted, he looked even glummer than usual.

We then crossed the lobby and stopped in front of a silver metallic bust of a beaming, bald, cherub-like man with the initials LS in fancy script on his necktie. "That," she said, "is Dr. Leo Spears himself -- the man who healed so many people, and who founded this hospital. I knew him when he was alive."

"He must have been quite a man," I said.

"Oh, he was!" she exclaimed,

The lady then took me through two floors of patient rooms, solariums, wards, and treatment rooms. I saw many patients-perhaps as many as seventy-five.

"What diseases do they have?" I asked after we had left a room full of crippled men.

"Well, it varies," she replied. "At the moment about 40 percent of the patients have muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis."

When we went back downstairs the lady said, "I'm sorry that we can't go up to the children's floor. It's lunch hour and they can't be disturbed.

"What types of disease do most of them have?"

"Many are cerebral palsy patients. We have a special program here at Spears for cerebral palsy. We believe that it is caused by a misshapen skull that pinches the brain. Our treatment consists of remolding the shape of the children's heads. It has to be done while the skulls are still soft, I know that you'd be fascinated and I'm sorry that we can't go up."

Other treatments offered at Spears, I found, included colonic irrigation ("Colonic irrigation is a hangover of a theory of 'auto-intoxication' that was popular fifty years ago," says the Arthritis Foundation. "It was discarded years ago."), "special diets," "scientific fasting," and a treatment called "nerve and cell goading," which "enables us to relieve most types of pain and force nature to speed up her healing."

At the basis of Spears treatment chiropractic reigns supreme. My guide and I entered a treatment room containing two adjustment tables, each with several sets of independently adjustable red cushions. "This," she said, placing her fingers gently on one of them, "is the heart of the chiropractic treatment of disease. It is the chiropractic adjustment table. All other treatments are strictly an adjunct to this. The true cure of human illness is chiropractic adjustment of the spine."

As we left she gave me a large packet of literature -- booklets, flyers, and a hospital newspaper called the "Spears Sanigram," all filled with testimonials of patients allegedly helped or cured. Three of the booklets dealt, with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy, three diseases featured in the Spears newspaper ads cited at the beginning of this chapter.

The booklet on arthritis says that "long years of research at Spears on thousands of patients have shown the following to be among the 'usual causes':

"Pressure on nerves and blood vessels by slightly displaced or misaligned bones of the spine-and possibly the bones of the other joints also.

"Excessive, or diminished, activity of hormone-producing glands.

"Toxins from frequent or long-standing infections.

"Improper metabolism when foods are not properly burned, or oxidized; and sometimes from excessive ingestion of improper food combinations."

Dr. William S. Clark, president of the Arthritis Foundation, says, "We have absolutely no evidence that any of these factors is involved in the cause of any of the forms of crippling arthritis."

The booklet on multiple sclerosis states:

Our experience with thousands of cases at Spears Hospital indicates that the basic cause of multiple sclerosis is usually an injury to the spine and spinal cord, which results in cord and nerve pressures and impingements. These pressures interrupt the flow of nerve energy and of nutritional elements to the muscles. Robbed of their normal nutrition and nerve supply, the legs and arms weaken, become unresponsive and often are subject to muscle spasms.

Dr. James Q. Simmons, Jr., director of medical programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says:

The scientific evidence available to us does not support this statement by Spears. Unfortunately, the cause and cure of multiple sclerosis are both unknown. The disease is often characterized by remissions, so that, in any group of patients under observation, 50 percent or more appear to improve. This makes multiple sclerosis a fruitful field for unproven theories and treatments. We receive letters at the Society from victims of the disease and their families who are prepared to pay over their savings and even mortgage their homes, to make the journey to Spears for treatment. However, we have no indication that Spears has knowledge of the disease that is unknown to medical research. Neither has Spears demonstrated to the scientific community that it has methods of treatment superior to, or unknown to, persons working in established channels of therapy and rehabilitation.

The booklet on cerebral palsy confirmed what my guide at Spears had told me about the hospital's theory and treatment. The most frequent cause of cerebral palsy, the booklet said, is "a flattened or otherwise distorted skull, creating pressure on the brain."

For many years it [was] believed that cerebral palsy resulted from brain injury. Something happened to the brain that prevented its normal functioning. However, it was not until Spears researchers launched an intensive study of skull patterns that the real or prevailing causative factor was revealed. They found that the bony structure of abnormally shaped skulls pressed against tender and highly sensitive brain tissues.

The treatment was called Spears Skull Remoulding. "The one way to rid the brain of pressure is to correct the cause. The only way to eliminate the cause, when skull distortion is a factor, is to remould the skull to its normal shape."

Children should be put into treatment as early as possible, the booklet says, since skulls are easiest to mold when the patient is very young. "If not too severe, maximum correction of the cause can frequently be-made in two to six months when the patient is less than one year old; in three to twelve months up to the age of three; six to eighteen months of intensive treatment for those of five years or less. Excellent results have been obtained in many cases five to seven years old; and some good results are "even Possible at more advanced ages."

Dr. Brewster S. Miller, director of research for the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, says:

I know of no scientific evidence from any source which gives validity to the claim of the Spears Chiropractic Hospital that "cerebral palsy is caused by a flat or otherwise distorted skull, creating pressure on the brain." I must say that the Spears system of reshaping or remolding distorted skulls in babies is frightening to contemplate.

Another Spears pamphlet available in the early 1960's was on cancer. It consisted of a question-and-answer interview with the late Dr. Leo Spears himself. Cancer, said Dr. Spears, is caused by "interference with nerve supply to the area affected," and "body wastes-poisons resulting from poor elimination from one or more of the eliminative organs." The cure included "spinal adjustments, which relieve nerve pressures and reestablish control of nerve energy."

Dr. Roald Grant, vice-president for Professional Education of the American Cancer Society and co-author of the society's publication Unproven Methods of Cancer Treatment, says, "There is absolutely no scientifically valid evidence that 'interference with nerve supply or 'poor elimination from one or more of the eliminative organs' causes cancer, or that Spinal column manipulation or 'adjustments' to 'relieve nerve pressures and re-establish control of nerve energy' has any beneficial effect in the treatment of cancer."

Dr. Leo Spears was a 1921 graduate of the Palmer School. His chiropractor's license was revoked in 1924 for "dishonorable, immoral and unprofessional practice" but was later restored. In 1943 he began construction of the Spears Chiropractic Sanitarium and Hospital. Under his leadership it mushroomed into a multimillion-dollar operation that has treated over 100,000 patients and has become the Mecca of chiropractic. Dr. Spears became the personal chiropractor of U.S. Senator William Langer and rose to national prominence. Chiropractors from all over the country refer their patients to Spears, and the Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation suggests that they hang a framed picture of the hospital in their reception rooms.

Dr. Leo made his big name on cancer. Spears literature on the subject blanketed the country. One booklet said on its cover, "Chiropractic Answer to Cancer...Sensational Guarantee...Cancer Relief or Money Back! Inside, the booklet said, "Happy results on thousands of cancer patients treated at the Spears Chiropractic Sanitarium and Hospital indicate that our researchers have found the major causes of cancer." Cancer patients beat a path to the hospitals door, and the hospital published reams of testimonials of those who bad been supposedly helped or cured.

In April, 1954, the federal government seized three devices called Neuromicrometers from Spears Hospital charging that they were misbranded. Dr, Leo was belligerent. "If you take these machines," he told the U.S. marshal making the seizure, "there's going to be trouble." Spears Hospital, he said, had found the causes of cancer, and "will continue to do our work here despite outrages such as this." When the court hearing came, however, Spears was more compliant, and consented to a decree by which the machines were condemned.

Dr. Leo was often in court suing people. In 1943 a Denver doctor wrote on the death certificate of a Spears at she had died as a result of neglect at Spears. Leo sued the doctor for $300,000, but lost.

In 1951 he was cited in an article called "Cancer Quacks" in Collier's magazine. He sued Collier's for $24 million. During the trial he admitted that five out of six persons giving testimonials in a Spears cancer pamphlet were actually dead. It also came out that Dr. Leo did not recognize a malignancy in a child that was brought to the hospital; she was treated for rheumatism. He lost the case.

In 1954 he filed an $11-million action against the Denver Better Business Bureau, the Denver Post, the Colorado State Medical Society, and more than eighty other parties, alleging that they had been conspiring to damage his business.

In the ensuing court action, Denver Post reporter Robert M. Byers testified that, in working on a story on Spears' alleged discovery of an effective method for treating cancer, he had been given the records of eighty-three Spears cancer patients by Dr. Spears. Checking them out one by one, he found that sixty were known or strongly believed to be dead, and, of the twenty-three known to be alive, eighteen had been diagnosed as having cancer only by Spears Hospital, and none of the diagnoses was based on a medical biopsy.

On the witness stand, Dr. Spears was asked if he claimed that diabetes could be cured by a chiropractor, "We've had a good many cases in which the person so treated didn't have to take insulin," he replied. The defense attorney asked him if it were not true that he himself was a diabetic, and was taking insulin on the prescription of a medical doctor. Spears confessed that it was so.

He lost the case.

Spears wrote a number of books, including a novel called Hellcrest which was published in Denver in 1929, and a book called Sex Problems Solved. But his most substantial work was a book called Spears Painless System of Chiropractic (fifth edition, copyright 1950), which is still sold to chiropractors for $24 and to chiropractic students for $12. (In his deposition in the Denver Better Business Bureau-Denver Post libel action, Spears testified that the first thousand copies were sold for $100 each, after which the lower price was established. According to Spears records, the books cost $1.65 each to produce.) The book sets forth "unusually effective methods of treating and relieving such 'incurable' diseases as arthritis, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, infantile paralysis, diabetes mellitus [Spears apparently couldn't make his methods for this disease work on himself], cancer, rheumatic fever, heart ailments, etc." It also describes his "discovery that "infantile skull distortion, causing bony pressure upon the brain, is responsible for most cases of cerebral palsy and mental deficiency."

The book recommends that, the more desperately ill and weak the patient is, the more often he should be adjusted " . . . when a patient is critically ill," says the text, "instead of lengthening the period between adjustments because he appears weak, it is most usually necessary to increase the number of adjustments in proportion to his weakness. . . . Lockjaw, peritonitis, acute appendicitis, gallstone attacks, advanced pneumonia, advanced diphtheria, advanced scarlet fever, advanced typhoid and the like require close attention and adjustments sometimes as often as fifteen minutes to two hours apart." [When I read this, I recalled Edward T. Wentworth's comment cited in Chapter Three -- "Only a strong, healthy person can afford to indulge in chiropractic treatment." Dr. Wentworth's statement went on to say, "unfortunately, there are weak and unhealthy ones who use it."]

In May, 1956, Dr. Leo Spears passed on to whatever his reward might be, and the hospital was taken over by his two nephews, Howard and Dan, both chiropractors. Under their regime the hospital continued to offer treatment for almost every human condition. "Spears Hospital," says a booklet, "is equipped and staffed to handle practically every type of case and every known disease, including those problem cases that need specialized study and care; and cases with such stubborn conditions as cancer, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, mental deficiency, polio, epilepsy, rheumatic fever, arthritis, heart trouble, and other so-called incurable diseases which have not responded properly to treatment elsewhere."

While continuing to treat cancer, Spears Hospital became cagier in its claims. In November, 1963, Prevention Magazine, a publication interested in unorthodox medical and nutritional theories, published an article on the hospital. "Suppose a cancer victim presents himself at the Spears Clinic [sic], what can be expect?" the article queries. "When asked that question, both Dr. Howard Spears and Dr. Dan Spears were quick to insist that, we have no cancer cure. We just put the patient on a regime of chiropractic adjustments and introduce an internal cleansing effort, including fasts, if the condition permits, frequent colonic irrigation [enemas] and elimination of sweets."

"And this cures serious cancer conditions?"

"'We do not employ the term "cure" where cancer is concerned,' said Dr. Howard Spears. 'We only know that some patients with cancers, as diagnosed by their family physicians, come here as a last resort, and walk out, apparently free from cancer.'"

When asked exactly how the treatment at Spears affects the cancer his reply, according to the article, was, "We don't know. We just pursue the general chiropractic theory, with minor modifications for the individual, and watch for results."

Spears was finally put out of the cancer business in 1964, when the state of Colorado passed a law prohibiting chiropractors from treating cancer. But there have been consolations. Spears is opening up an even bigger field-chiropractic treatment for persons with mental and emotional illness.

Among the materials I received at Spears was a mimeographed paper entitled "The Chiropractic Approach to Mental Illness," by L. M. King, a chiropractor associated with the hospital. "Various conditions within the spine, says Dr. King, "constitute the biggest single group of primary causes for depletion of nervous energy-directly or indirectly, that bring on mental as well as physical illness."

"The response of mentally ill patients to chiropractic procedures gives a firm basis for assuming some connection between cerebral blood flow and the mental state of the individual," the paper says. The thesis, in brief is that this blood flow is controlled by nerves, and these nerves may be impinged by spinal subluxations or misalignments. This will cause the nerves to function imperfectly, the flow of blood will be diminished, and mental or emotional illness could ensue.

For example, says Dr. King, "Far oftener than is generally realized, distortions in neck posture and alignment produce disturbances of the emotions persistent and severe enough to constitute mental illness. Should the doctor be unaware of the relationship that exists between personality disorders and postural changes in the upper spine, his efforts are apt to fall short of their intended purpose.

Bad posture, he says, is one of the villains: "Poor vertebral alignment, arising from postural abnormalities, can interfere with cerebral circulation sufficiently to lay the groundwork for mental illness."

"Effective techniques for restoring mental health," says the paper, include: "spinal adjusting," especially "Spears painless system of full spine adjusting"; "motorized intermittent spinal traction; and "colon irrigations."

As for benefits, Dr. King ticks them off:

Schizophrenia: "Results encourage the belief that chiropractic possesses the potential means for helping a greater percentage of those afflicted with this type of mental illness than is presently being done by any other therapeutic approach."

Involutional Psychosis: "The treating procedures of chiropractors restore the functional integrity of the nervous system. This restorative change holds prospects of affording relief that is more certain and permanent because it eliminates causes instead of suppressing symptoms."

The Neuroses: "The neuroses in all their many expressions respond equally well to chiropractic treatment. Most patients either completely recover or show improvement enough to be relieved of their most distressing symptoms. They are in effect enabled to achieve the cherished goal of a happier life aspired to by everyone,"

Mentally ill persons, says Dr. King, should be hospitalized -- at Spears, "The Spears Hospital he says, "has treated patients with all types of mental illness. It is ideally suited for this because the atmosphere of the entire hospital radiates friendliness and helpfulness so essential to the lessening of anxiety and fear. Only in surroundings conducive to cooperation can chiropractic work the magic on disturbed minds of which it is capable."

The chiropractic world is jumping on the bandwagon, The October, 1964, issue of the Journal of Chiropractic, published by the American Chiropractic Association, carried an article entitled "Psychological Research Project Is Being Continued" by Herman S. Schwartz, D.C., who is identified in the article as president, Council on Psychotherapy. The article says:

During the past year we have continued with our chiropractic psychological research project. We are of the strong opinion:

"that the public should be graphically informed that chiropractic can be of distinct benefit to the emotionally disturbed, and to the more than 10 million mental casualties that occur annually;

"that, when the chiropractor accepts such patients, he is definitely venturing within his rightful realm of endeavor;

"that, when we do help the patient with an emotional stress situation, we accomplish it because of the neuro-psychological implications within the chiropractic adjustment."

The paperback book Chiropractic: A Modern Way to Health by Dr. Julius Dintenfass, D.C. (New York: Pyramid Books, l966), devotes a whole chapter to "Facts about Emotional Illness." "Chiropractic clinical observations verify that emotional disturbances are often associated with chronic pain of the joints and muscles of the legs and arms, as well as the backbone. They clear up after the correction of the physical condition with chiropractic care."

As the juggernaut has beaded in their direction, medical and scientific workers in the field of mental health have looked on with dismay. Mrs. Winthrop Rockefeller, president of the National Association for Mental Health, spoke out at the Third National Congress on Medical Quackery, jointly sponsored by the American Medical Association and the National Health Council, held in Chicago in October, 1966:

A critical area for joint concern, both by the medical profession and our volunteer citizens' organization, falls under the general blanket or umbrella of treatment by people who are far beyond their skills or are simply not qualified and trained to deal with mental illness. For example, we all can look with alarm upon the growing participation of chiropractors in treating mental problems. I am not here to defend or condemn the field of chiropractics; this is already an area of professional concern and study by appropriate medical organizations. But I can unequivocally condemn the assumption by bone and joint manipulators of the psychiatric function. I think we can flatly say that the chiropractor has no business treating mental illness, and stand squarely on that statement.

Actually, if some chiropractors treat such conditions as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy under their present state-issued licenses, it is unlikely that they can be effectively prevented from carrying their adjustment tables into the field of mental illness.

And, as we shall see in the next chapter, there are other problems about which little can be done as long as chiropractors hold the status of state-licensed practitioners.

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