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Archive for Integrative medicine

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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Medicine for the Body (Politic)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Andrew Weil, MD, and Larry Dossey, MD. and four more of this country’s leading integrative doctors dialogued candidly among themselves over lunch. Read More→

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Pioneers of Integrative Health

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

For the wealthy, there are luxuries that millions can buy like vast properties and a life insurance deal. But when raging fires strike enclaves in Southern California, no matter how valuable your property or portfolio, you learn that money can’t buy you a stable environment. Nor can it buy you quality health care, some leading integrative doctors say– at least not in America.

“There’s a myth that we have the best medical care in the world. T’ain’t so,” Andrew Weil, MD told a group of physicians, thought leaders, and philanthropists, assembled at a symposium hosted by the Bravewell Collaborative, a foundation that promotes integrative medicine. “I’ve seen hospitals abroad that make the best American hospitals look second-rate. People are traveling to India or Thailand for hip replacements, or bypass surgery because there’s better care. You don’t get kicked out on the street prematurely,” said the bestselling author who founded and directs the Program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

The Bravewell Collaborative, a group of high-net-worth individuals marshaled by Christy Mack, the dynamic blonde wife of Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, is dedicated to bringing the best of integrative care to the forefront through a series of wide-ranging programs, including integrative health centers, integrative medical training, and other initiatives. Last week, Bravewell honored six leading doctors–they dubbed the Pioneers of Integrative Medicine at a black tie event in New York City.

This elegant crowd included event MC Mehmet C. Oz, MD, the leading surgeon, bestselling author, and Oprah regular (who with his striking wife Lisa was clearly in his element), designer Donna Karan (stunning in black with an armful of bangles) and many household name doctors from both coasts. As we dined on healthy herb-crusted halibut, I had to wonder: If these donors and prominent physicians are worried about America’s health care system, shouldn’t we all be? (For more on this issue:

With a procedure here, or a loved one’s health challenge there, the elite are clueing in to what everyone faces on a hospital visit: the risk of fatal staph infection, an overwhelmed staff, and the danger of slipping through the cracks, when most vulnerable and helpless. The difference is that once awakened to the medical reality, the rich have more resources for taking action–and some of them are. Because whatever your stock yields, you still enter the same hospital system, which many doctors at last week’s events decried as life-threatening–even for those with ample insurance coverage.

“Preventive medicine has to entail more than improving wellness. It’s about forestalling the need to enter the medical gauntlet where your risk of a lethal encounter has never been higher,” bestselling author and editor, Larry Dossey, MD, one of the award-winners, told the gathered guests.

“There are signs all over a major hospital I won’t name: ‘Don’t drink the water,’” said honoree Andrew Weil. When he relayed that “patients there are drinking and bathing in bottled water to avoid listeria contamination,” people gasped.

As hospital errors range from 225,000 to 600,000 per annum, (depending on how you calculate the numbers) hospitals themselves, now follow heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death. Weil, Dossey, and the other four pioneering integrative physician-recipients see a health-care system teetering on the brink of collapse.

“The death rates by medical error were published by the AMA. Why isn’t this a national scandal?” asked Dossey. “It’s never addressed and that reveals the endemic hypnosis in medical circles in this country.”

“There’s a real danger that on a collective level we are lying to ourselves about so much–denial is a polite way to say it,” offered Pioneer, James Gordon, MD, a psychiatrist, who serves as the Founder and Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC.

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Commonweal, and a Bravewell Pioneer who has lived for over five decades with chronic illness, told of her own recent encounter with the hospital system.

“Considering a minor surgery, I consulted a top surgeon who refused to operate unless one of my doctor students or friends agreed to stay with me in the hospital 24/7,” Remen confided to her fellow Pioneers.

Asked why these precautions would be necessary in a top-ranked hospital, the surgeon warned Remen, “Because you’re not safe here.”

“In 1965, when I was first in that hospital, no one would have ever dreamed of saying this,” Remen said in a hushed voice. “We’ve gone from model hospitals into a kind of dark ages.”

“It’s a symptom of societal crisis when you have physicians talking this way,” pointed out Pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the Founding Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts.

“When people recognize that this may be the first generation to live less long than their parents, it doesn’t matter if you’re red or blue, liberal or conservative–this is a human issue. And it needs a human solution,” said Dean Ornish

At a private lunch earlier, Ornish and his fellow honorees dialogued among themselves, circling around a diagnosis, like physicians on grand rounds, as I listened spellbound. But who was the patient–the health care system, the medical profession, the country?

“It’s not our diseases that are going to kill us, it’s our beliefs,” Rachel Naomi Remen told her colleagues.

Copyright, 2007, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

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