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Archive for Integrative medicine

Dr. Paul Offit, the Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at
 Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
 has authored a new book, Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine (Harper, 2013) Now on the stump, he encourages thinking more critically about health care treatments. Too bad his is a one-sided view. And that his intended audience is unlikely to be convinced because health information has been increasingly available over the last twenty-five years. Nor do many physicians and prominent medical organizations subscribe to his views (although a few legislators do.) Read More→

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Who’s Afraid of Taking Action for Health?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

We can proclaim the joy of eating healthy, and meditate our stress away. But when it’s time to take action to change policies that affect the health of millions, the response is: Who me? Read More→

Radio Show: Integrative Pediatric Care

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

On this program, Alison Rose Levy interviews Dr. Lawrence Rosen, MD, a board certified pediatrician committed to holistic child care. Dr. Rosen runs the Whole Child Center in New Jersey and serves as Medical Advisor to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology. With the health difficulties that Read More→

How Can You Be Healthy in an Unhealthy World?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Can you be healthy in an unhealthy world? It’s something we prefer not to think about.

Yes, it’s inconvenient to worry about how what we buy in the hardware store (or food market, beauty counter, pharmacy, doctor’s office, flooring, or furniture store) affects our family’s health. It’s easier to choose to eat organic than to think about the health impact of what we can’t control: the brew of interactive, toxic chemicals which the exterminator, house painter, road repair team, farmer, fish farmer, agribusiness, local industry, hospital, manufacturer and gas driller infuse into our air, water, land and food supply. Read More→

Last week, 60 Minutes reported on David and Susan Axelrod’s search for a cure for epilepsy prompted by their two decade plus experience of the ailment, which their adult daughter has suffered since infancy. But while Katie Couric admiringly covered the researchers seeking to find Read More→

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In following the vaccine debate, I’ve observed what seem like two completely different versions of reality. For those perplexed by this, here’s a brief guide to a basic issue underlying this long-standing controversy: biological individuality. If properly understood Read More→

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Robert Thurman: The Sacred Cows in the Health Care Debate

Sunday, August 16th, 2009
Studies show that over half of all Americans are interested in promoting wellness and preventing disease. But some people are terrified that the food Nazis will come running after them and force feed them spinach. Read More→
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Day of Reckoning in Health Care

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The unspoken corollary of the old adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it..” is:

“If it is broke, we better fix it..”

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Fix Your Mood with Brain Food

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Have you noticed? A lot of people are feeling funky lately.

With over $1.9 billion spent annually on antidepressants, and sixty million Americans (26% of the adult population) experiencing either depression or anxiety, Americans are not a happy bunch — happiness prescriptions aside. If you or someone close to you is suffering, you may have wondered what, apart from prescription meds, can be done?

Undoubtedly a wide range of external stressors (like a Humpty Dumpty economy or an explosion of international war zones) contribute to nose-diving moods — as do emotional factors, such as psychological traumas, turmoil, and work, health, or relationship tensions. All of these, alone or in combination, can stretch you to the limits of your coping and beyond.

But along with all the external triggers are internal, biochemical factors that most people aren’t aware of, says Dr. Mark Hyman, author the newly published, The UltraMind Solution, (Scribner, 2009.) In this book, Hyman, director of the UltraWellness Clinic and author of the bestseller,UltraMetabolism, shares the tools he developed as a self-described “accidental psychiatrist.” A medical doctor, Hyman practices Functional Medicine, an integrative approach that aims to balance bodily biochemistry through the use of targeted nutrients.

Though Hyman never trained as a psychiatrist nor considered psychiatry his specialty, brain fog, depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and even dementia were so prevalent among his clinic patients that he began to apply the same integrative principles and techniques which he used to treat (merely) physical problems — and that’s how he discovered that mental problems are also physical. Hyman believes that we’re in the midst of a veritable epidemic of what he calls “broken brains,” nearly all with some physiological imbalance at their foundation. (His website, has more info.)

While Hyman does not minimize (and in fact he encourages) the use of relaxation, mind-body techniques, and psychotherapy, he maintains that people stand a better chance of improvements from those approaches, when their brain biochemistry is balanced first.

And that’s why he recommends fixing our moods by feeding our brains the foods they need.

For those who haven’t learned their grey matter’s nutritional preferences, this book is a veritable cookbook of recipes for brain balance.

Like the rest of us, our brains need:

• Healthy fats to keep their cell walls integral but permeable — such as omega-3 fats, and phosphatidylserine and phosphatidyl choline, available from foods and supplements

• Protein building blocks, such as the amino acids, tyrosine (to improve focus), 5-HTP (for mood uplift) and taurine (for relaxation). Obtainable from foods and supplements

• B vitamins that function as co-factors for nerve and brain function

• Minerals, like magnesium and zinc

In the book, Hyman offers both a series of concise short tests that help to identify potential areas of brain imbalances by assessing the most common symptoms. Do you have sufficient levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine which governs the capacity to focus — but lower levels of serotonin, the contentment neurotransmitter?

Although anyone already on prescription meds should remain on their medication until they can undertake this program with medical supervision, if you haven’t yet taken the plunge into prescription drugs, trying this program first makes sense–particularly since a recent study found that antidepressants are mostly ineffective except for those with the most severe depression. Hyman is no fan of indiscriminate medication use — because he’s found it’s more effective to treat the causes of brain imbalances with targeted nutrition and supplements. However, as an MD, he’s also wisely included in his book assessments to help you determine when you can safely use self-care, and when it’s necessary to consult a physician.

His six week program (and follow-up recommendations) contain invaluable, practical advice on the little known art of feeding your brain to optimize mood, energy, and function. By nourishing the brain with the right nutrients, supplements, and supports, you can strengthen your ability to remain centered, alert, and content — whatever life dishes out.

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Do You Believe in Objective (Ha! Ha! Wink, Wink!) Science?

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

As confidence in authorities plummets, one cherished bastion remains: the hallowed halls of medical scientific research. There we picture white-coated scientists making objective research determinations. Upon that bedrock, we make health decisions.

But does our image correspond to reality?

“The pharmaceutical companies say they’re about the science, but they’re really about marketing,” Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds, told Bill Moyers on television last night.

A former New York Times reporter with privileged entrée into the pharmaceutical world, Petersen, over eight years of research, sought to find just one scientist, who was not on a drug company payroll and could validate research science. None could be found. The so-called independent and objective experts were all in pharmaceutical company employ.

The “trustworthy expert” is a PR fabrication, first developed back in the 1930’s by Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, who applied Freudian psychology to mass media marketing. According to Trust Us, We’re Experts, Bernays’ time-tested formula (still used today) was hiring seemingly independent experts (and front groups) to manufacture the illusion of credibility in order to sell product.

“Whether a medicine helps or hurts is secondary to profit,” says Petersen. “A lot of money is spent selling drugs that don’t work. The FDA found that 100,000 people die annually from drugs correctly prescribed and taken. That’s a life and death matter.”

But doesn’t research, conducted by qualified independent scientists, weed out harmful or ineffective drugs”

Not necessarily, says Petersen. “The ad agency writes the study, and then hires doctors to put their name on it as authors,” she told Moyers. “They put their words in the mouths of someone who looks independent.”

Studies can also be manipulated, says Petersen, so that the outcomes will demonstrate greater efficacy or safety. Whenever research results favor the drug tested, the companies will “get that research published over and over in many journals,” Peterson found. “But if another study produces unfavorable results, that study will disappear. That’s why some scientists view the medical literature as “propaganda.”"

Where are the gatekeepers? Doctors are on the payroll with research monies, junkets, and cash fees. Peer-reviewed journals rely on pharmaceutical advertising. Companies pay the FDA huge sums for drug review, so that the regulators are beholden. Drug company lobbyists outnumber Congressmen by two to one. And then there’s the media.

TV advertising of pharmaceuticals:

First, allows PR firms to medicalize often minor health problems and “rebrand” them as worrisome new conditions, requiring drugs.

Second, undermines the media’s independence to question science (or report objectively on lower cost options.) Drug companies are big advertisers.

The net effect? Yes, it’s rising health costs and people taking pills in record numbers. But it’s also lack of critical reporting and information. How can people make the right health care decisions in a muddle of misinformation? How can we can consider all available health options in the divisive and opinionated environment created by a profit dominated health sector?

Last winter, I reported on a study finding that, for the majority of people, taking antidepressants was no better than taking a placebo.

“Placebo” is biological science’s term for the effects of psychology, belief, emotion, and conditioning on biological parameters. In pharmaceutic dominant research, placebos are deemed unworthy of study. But on the other side of the hallway, in the Marketing Department, accessing the placebo effect to influence people’s feelings and beliefs about health is the name of the game.

We have yet to study how drug advertising conditions its audience. Manipulating you to make you believe you’re sick? That reminds me of Charles Boyer in the film, Gaslight. No, thanks! This is an instance of the “nocebo effect,” the negative impact of words and images on one’s health. Ingrid Bergman may have cowered in the corner, but I prefer to change the channel the moment a drug ad appears.

What happens when we all submit to powerful images telling us to trust so-called experts? What’s the health impact of repeated messages that we suffer from mysterious and newly minted “health conditions?” How does the sum total of all this market-driven entree into the hearts and minds of our nation, influence our health status individually and collectively? The U.S. currently ranks below all other developed nations. Can we still afford to believe that this is objective science?

There’s no doubt that some drugs are beneficial and even life-saving, but there’s no way to know which ones are truly effective or necessary until all the real outcomes — biological, psychological, economic, and sociological — are considered. And until the independence of science, free of vested interests, is restored.

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Follow Alison Rose Levy on Twitter: @AlisonRoseLevy

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