A Skeptical Look at Deborah E. Banker, M.D.


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
June 26, 2020

Deborah Ellen Banker, M.D. (1952-2007), was an ophthalmologist who died of breast cancer [1] during a period when the Medical Board of California was questioning her fitness to practice. The DrBanker.com Web site, which has been maintained by one of her long-time associates, describes her this way:

In The Field of Ophthalmology and Regenerative Nutrition For The Eyes, Dr. Banker recognized that the health of the entire body, as well as nutrition and attitude, has a great deal to do with vision, energy of the body and the aging process. Dr. Banker’s non-invasive approach to vision improvement combines techniques of Western, Oriental and Holistic medicine. Dr. Banker’s approach to Non Surgical, Alternative Eye Care integrates modern medicinal understanding of optics, refraction and anatomy along with ancient techniques such as Yoga, Chinese Acupressure, Tai Chi, Ayurveda, Tibetan eye exercises, Japanese Shiatsu, Chinese Medicinal Herbal Eye Care Supplements, and more—along with classic Western Orthoptics and Holistic Ophthalmology. Dr. Banker’s associates work with people both on an individual basis and in group sessions and classes offered several times per year. Dr. Banker’s personally trained associates will guide you through Self Help Vision Improvement exercises for your body and eyes originating from all over the world, such as Bates, Ballet, Kinesiology, Polarity Therapy, Reflexology, Auricular Therapy, Energy Healing, Anti-Aging Techniques, Manual Energy Transfer, Massage and more. Called a “Modern Galileo” by the National Health Federation, Dr. Banker lectured throughout the country crusading for Electromagnetic Medicine and Natural Vision Improvement [2].

The Web site describes Banker’s “electromedicine” this way:

For more than 100 years, electromagnetic medicine has been used to treat various diseases of the body with great success, especially those for which there have been no cures. But little is known to the general public. Electromagnetic medicine dates back as far as 1882 to the work done with batteries by Dr. S.E. Morrill M.D.

Dr. Banker has incorporated twenty years of scientific research on the human electromagnetic field into her specialty of regenerative medicine for the eyes. This knowledge led to the creation of her patented SEEDS machine. Dr. Banker employs electromagnetic medicine or microcurrent stimulation as an integral part of her unique treatment program along with other traditional healing methods and alternative modalities. She uses a microcurrent stimulating device she invented, SEEDS (subtle electromagnetic energy device system), to stimulate energy and life force into damaged or traumatized nerve cells and tissue. In many cases, the nonfunctioning nerve is swollen, not dead, and can be reactivated.

We see tremendous results using the SEEDS system on degenerative eye diseases such as Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Retinopathy, Vascular Retinal Disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Glaucoma and Blindness. Besides improving many forms of progressive blindness, the SEEDS machine helps to reset the autonomic nervous system, boosts the immune system, has brought people out of comas and helps reverse many types of degenerative eye diseases. Dr. Banker has thousands of case studies showing miraculous improvements with diseases formerly considered incurable. Some of the “Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation” (TENS) devices currently used in the medical treatment of neurological eye diseases are the SEEDS System, the Electro-Acuscope 80, the Micro Stim 100 and other microcurrent systems [3].

Although she claimed to have done research, I was unable to locate any research reports published under her name in a scientific journal or elsewhere. Nor could I locate any details about the SEEDS device.

Her 286-page book Self-Help Vision Care [4] contains hundreds of recommendations for exercises, dietary systems, dietary supplements, Bach flower remedies, and herbal products, not just for eye problems but for dozens of other ailments. Most of the recommendations were useless but physically harmless, but her recommended dosage of vitamin A (25,000 to 50,000 IU per day) was high enough to cause liver toxicity and some of her dietary suggestions could led to dietary inadequacy.

Her acupressure recommendations illustrate her extreme departure from rational medical care. The chart below from page 6-5 of the book is followed by a 3-page table that says which points should be pressed or “shaken” to treat astigmatism, blurry vision, cataract, colds, color blindness, conjunctivitis, diabetes, dizziness, dry eyes, excessive tearing, facial paralysis, facial paralysis, farsightedness, glaucoma, headache, infantile convulsions, insomnia, jaw spasm – grinding teeth, macular degeneration, nearsightedness, night blindness, optic atrophy, pain/swelling, retinitis pigmentosa, sinusitis, tooth problems, twitching eyelids, and several other conditions.

To use the book, she recommends that you try what seems to suit your needs and personality and “check your vision before and after your exercises or methods, to see which ones improve your eyes the fastest and stick with these the most, but do all of them periodically.” A more appropriate title for the book would be Delusional Medicine: A Handbook for People Who Are Clueless.

People who wanted more guidance could order Banker’s Self Help Vision Care Kit—which included a workbook, five tapes, a vision game, and laminated charts—or could purchase phone consultations, self-improvement classes, or a week of treatment (approximately 30 hours) at the Malibu Life Center, which cost $4,000 in 2002 [5].

Medical Board Actions

Dr. Banker received her premedical training at the University of Colorado and obtained her medical degree in 1978 from the University of North Dakota. She completed a residency program in ophthalmology at the University of California, Irvine, but did not become board-certified. She had additional training in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. She became licensed in Colorado in 1988 and practiced there, but failed to renew her license in 1997. In 1998, the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners charged her with unprofessional conduct and summarily suspended her license. The board was concerned that she was (a) practicing after her medical license had lapsed, (b) treating macular degeneration patients with electrotherapy, massage, and other nonstandard modalities, and (c) prescribing controlled substances after her narcotics license had expired. A few months later, the matter was settled with an agreement under which she was not found to have engaged in unprofessional conduct but would never apply for reinstatement of her Colorado license.

After leaving Colorado, she began practicing in California, which had licensed her since 1989. However, based on what had happened in Colorado, the California Medical Board wanted her competence evaluated. In 2000, she signed a stipulation under which she was reprimanded, was assessed $2,000, and agreed to complete the Physician Assessment and Clinical Education (PACE) Program at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. However, she did not complete the program and told the board:

  • She could not afford the cost of the program because her income was low and the Internal Revenue Services, to which she owed $100,000, had seized money that she was saving to pay for the program.
  • She could not study adequately for the assessment because her vision was impaired.
  • She was concerned that she would not pass the tests given to PACE participants because they were based on Western medicine while most of her medical practice is grounded in alternative medicine.
  • She did not want to undergo a physical and mental examination at PACE because her physical and mental states were never at issue in either the Colorado or California disciplinary action.

In 2006, after additional proceedings, the board placed her on probation for a minimum of two years and indicated that failure to complete the PACE program within a year would be considered a violation of her probation. She was also ordered to pay $$6,706.75 for prosecution costs and was banned from practicing medicine from home [6]. It would be interesting to know whether or not PACE’s examiners would have judged her mentally competent to return to practice, but she appears to have died before they could do so.

Current Promotion

Banker’s methods and products are now promoted by John Monroe, of Boulder, Colorado, who describes himself as a “Natural Vision Educator.” In a recent podcast, he said:

I met Dr. Banker back in the early ’90s like ’91, and I started working with her full time in 1993, so I’ve been doing this over 20 years now. She developed the Self-Help Vision Care Kit. It’s basically used for improving nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, which is trouble reading small print. We also use it for amblyopia, lazy eye. It’s also used to help get more energy and blood circulation to the eye which can help with eye diseases like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa. We also work with glaucoma and cataracts.

We’ve had people who are children, adults, seniors. People in their 80s and 90s work with this. We also use attitude changes, lifestyle changes, environmental changes. We also go into diet, nutrition, supplements, herbs, vitamins, Chinese herbal medicines that we’ve been using for years. We’ve helped reverse eye problems and halt the progression of them. If we catch these problems in early stages, the eye diseases and things, it’s a lot easier to reverse them. And then, depending on how strong your prescription is on your glasses and contacts and bifocals and readers, that determines how long it will take to eliminate your need for the glasses.

Among other things, Monroe claimed that exercise can strengthen and improve circulation in the muscles that control the eye, which can help improve such problems as macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetic retinopathy [7]. DrBanker.com still markets Banker’s book, herbal products, supplements, and “Natural Vision Improvement Workshops.”

Potential Danger

The idea that exercise can improve vision was popularized in the early 1900s by William Horatio Bates and thoroughly debunked by the scientific community [8]. Banker wrote that Bates was correct but said that other techniques she had added improved on what he advised [4]. I believe that for most people, following her advice would be a waste of time, money, or both. But for those with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it could prove dangerous. In the most serious form (called wet AMD), blood vessels behind the retina grow and leak fluid, which distorts the retina, causes scarring, and interferes with central vision. If detected early, the growth and leakage can usually be controlled by periodic injections into the eye of a drug that stops the abnormal blood growth [9]. If not treated, most of the person’s vision will be lost. The earlier that treatment is started, the better the outcome will be, which means that delaying treatment by pursuing ineffective methods—in some cases, even for a few days—can have serious consequences.

Dr. Banker was only 55 when she died of breast cancer. It would be interesting to know whether her negative feelings about standard medical care influenced her survival time.

References
  1. Obituary: Deborah Banker. The Malibu Times, May 30, 2007.
  2. Deborah E. Banker, M.D.: ophthalmologist / general practitioner, internationally known lecturer in health and vision improvement. DrBanker.com Home page, accessed November 30, 2019.
  3. Research. DrBanker.com, accessed June 26, 2020.
  4. Banker DE. Self Help Vision Care: The Best Preventive Eye Care of Western, Oriental and Wholistic Medicine. Printed by Malibu Life Center Foundation, Malibu, California, March 1994.
  5. Products. DrBanker.com, archived Dec 9, 2002.
  6. Decision after nonadoption. In the matter of the accusation against Deborah Ellen Banker, M.D. before the Medical Board of California, Case No. 16-1999-95260, Dec 14, 2005. (Includes all the previous regulatory documents to which the article refers.)
  7. Monroe J. Healthy eyes and ears. Aging Info Radio podcast, Jan 17, 2016.
  8. Pollack P. The Bates system. In Pollack P. The Truth about Eye Exercises, Chiulton Co., Philadelphia, 1956.
  9. Barak Y and others. The past, present, and future of exudative age-related macular degeneration treatment. Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology 19:43-51, 2012.