Ear Candling: Sure, It’s Waxy, But Is It Good?


Dear Dr. Kinsler,

What do you think of ear candling?  My sister swears by it but I’m skeptical.


Cleveland, OH

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… 

A guy walks into an alternative medical provider’s office.

AltMed Guy: Can I help you?

Guy: What?

AltMed Guy: Can I help you?

Guy: I can’t hear so well.


Guy: I heard what you said.  I think I’ve got wax in my ears.

AltMed Guy: Well allow me to stick this cone in your ears and light it on fire to draw out the wax using negative pressure.

Guy: Hahahahahahahaha

AltMed Guy: What’s so funny?

Guy: I thought I heard you say you were going to stick something in my ears and light it on fire.  Wow, my hearing must truly suck!

AltMed Guy: Actually, that’s what I said.

Guy: Oh, okay.  Well, while you’re doing that, could you poke something into my eyes and set that on fire, too?   

You’ve heard of this I’m sure.  Ear Candles. Also known as thermal-auricular therapy.  A hollow candle is placed in the ear and the end sticking out is lit on fire.  Supposedly, the heat from the candle creates a vacuum thus drawing out wax in the ear.  The proof is in the formation of a dark residue inside the candle.

Only, it’s not proof because ear candling is crap.  And dangerous crap at that.  In fact, studies have shown that ear candling not only doesn’t create negative pressure…the same junk is found inside the candle whether or not it’s lit inside someone’s ear. candlecompare

Sounds like it’s a better idea to just light money on fire and see if that helps your ears.  Except the danger from ear candling isn’t limited to its scamminess.  There have been reports of serious damage from the practice.  Hmm…fire near the face inside an opening of the skull…nope, I don’t get it.  Hot wax placed next to the eardrum?  No, I still don’t see the issue.  Open flame and hair?  I just don’t see what you’re driving at.  Anyhow, I’m not sure where the danger comes from but nonetheless I must recommend against this one.

Bottom line: ear candles lack any evidence of efficacy for any condition and do more harm than good.  Period.

Say what, now?

Dr. Brett L. Kinsler is a Rochester, NY chiropractor and produces the skeptical podcast On The Other Hand.


One Pill Makes You Larger And One Pill Makes You Lie


A person critical of chiropractic recently told me he believed the only reason chiropractic showed any effectiveness was entirely placebo effect.  He was wrong.  I’m not getting into that in this article.  However, it looks like he could have made a similar statement about many medical practices and not been too far off the mark.

It turns out, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), almost half of U.S. medical doctors use placebos with their patients.

If your doctor has prescribed antibiotics for the flu or told you to try B-12 vitamins for fatigue, those treatments were just a placebo — an unproven therapy offered with the hope you would feel better if you took something…anything.

Treatment with placebos is far more common than you might think, according to the national survey about 58 percent of U.S. physicians admitted using placebos regularly. Only 5 percent said they tell patients explicitly that they are doing so. The survey was sent to 1,200 internists and rheumatologists with a response rate of about half of them. 

Classic examples of placebos are sugar pills, saline injections and other treatments that seem to inspire confidence even though they are inert. But the physicians surveyed were far more likely to use active agents as placebos, including over-the-counter painkillers, vitamins, sedatives and antibiotics.  What classified them as placebos was the context. If the recommended treatment hasn’t been shown, physiologically, to work for the condition in question, then it was a placebo.

Two years ago, the American Medical Association said it was wrong to use placebos without a person’s knowledge.  But some make a case for what they call “benevolent deception” — letting a patient believe she’s getting a useful treatment because, paradoxically, it might work.  I think that when placebos involve medications like antibiotics and sedatives there is a line that has been crossed.  Furthermore, when the AMA code of Ethics states that “a physician shall … be honest in all professional interactions” I don’t see the wiggle room in there to tell Mrs. Smith that the garlic tablets you gave her will have a chance at curing her cancer.

So what’s to be done with patients who insist on a prescription for something they don’t need?  I say, educate them, don’t lie to them.  Tell them why they don’t need an antibiotic, give them a lollipop and send them home.

What do you think?

X-rays: Is seeing the only way to know?

There are so many myths about chiropractors I have a hard time finding a starting point.  Let’s address one of the more harmful myths in today’s column: x-rays.  I recently heard the proposition that “a thorough chiropractor is one who takes x-rays on every patient before he touches them.”  I actually hear some variation of this quite a bit from new patients.

It is simply not true.  The chiropractor who x-rays every patient is no more helpful than the medical doctor who gives every patient an antibiotic.

A thorough chiropractor is one who takes a complete medical history, carefully examines the patient and formulates a logical diagnosis and treatment plan.  As part of the work-up, the patient may require diagnostic imaging such as x-rays or an MRI.  Patients in certain profiles, with specific medical problems or history of certain types of trauma absolutely require x-rays.  X-rays are used to rule out some types of medical problems, congenital conditions and deformities.

Routine x-rays of all new patients is not a thorough practice — it is criminal, a waste of money, time and needless exposure to radiation. 

You certainly may need x-rays…but if you come across a chiropractor whose practice is to x-ray all patients, you are probably in the wrong office.


Dr. Brett Kinsler is a chiropractor in Rochester, NY who does not routinely x-ray his patients – even if they ask really, really nicely….only if they need it.

Do Detox Foot Pads Really Work?

I have been asked a few times recently about these detox foot pads.  They are supposed to rid your body of heavy metals, parasites, toxins, chemicals, etc, etc. In short, I really do not think these things will work as advertised.  The second part to the short answer is that these things are a scam.  In fact, Dr. Ed Zimney, in his “Dr. Z’s Medical Report” , stated in no uncertain terms, “This is such a blatant scam that it gives other scams a bad name! “


You see, substances placed on the outside of the foot and substances circulating within the body will not flow freely from one side of the skin to the other. The skin is simply not a semi-permeable membrane.  Even if it was, this would not remove “toxins” from the body. Real detox occurs in the liver and then the blood if filtered by the kidneys.  The skin has no involvement in the process of detoxification any more so than the eyes are involved in urination. As far as the reflexology tie-in, the entire premise is crap.  Most nerves in the body do not actually end in the foot, and there are no anatomical pathways between the foot and internal organs as depicted in reflexology charts. Moreover, there is no physiologic mechanism whereby stimulating the foot can influence the health of internal organs. What a load of nonsense.


As far as the pads turning colors when left on the foot, there are some demonstrations circulating on the Internet that show the pads turning brown simply with the addition of water.  Reminds me of a similar scam – ear candling.  While these pads can’t pull the toxins from your body, if you are allergic to your money, you can easily have that pulled from your wallet.


I have also learned that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on one supplier, Kinoki, whom they indicate has made false and misleading claims about their products.





Dr. Brett Kinsler is a chiropractor in Rochester, NY who tells it like it is and doesn’t recommend goofy, unscientific treatments like detoxification foot pads.



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