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Alternative Medicine Surges

The use of alternative medicine is rising dramatically as the new century approaches. The number of Americans who use alternative therapies at least once a year increased to 42% in the 1990s, according to a new study by Harvard Medical School researchers published in a special issue this autumn on alternative medicine in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The number of total visits to alternative medicine practitioners rose 47% in the same period to 629 million, thereby exceeding the total visits to all U.S. medical doctors. Expenditures for alternative services increased 45% and were estimated at $21.2 billion a year.

The new study came as Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (formerly the Office of Alternative Medicine ) and more than doubled its annual budget to $50 million.

Compared to the United States, recent surveys have found that 15% of Canadians have seen alternative practitioners in the past year; 10% of people in Denmark; 33% in Finland, and 49% in Australia.

The 16 therapies included in the Harvard study included a lifestyle diet such as macrobiotics or vegetarianism; prayer or spiritual healing; energy healing techniques such as laying on of hands; and relaxation techniques such as meditation or the relaxation response. Visits to massage practitioners and chiropractors constitute nearly half of all visits to alternative therapists.

Use of herbal remedies increased 380% since 1990 and high-dose vitamins 130%. “Use of alternative therapies in 1997 was not confined to any narrow segment of society,” the researchers reported. However, it was more common among women (49%) than men (38%) and less common among African Americans (33%) than other racial groups. People aged 35 to 49 reported higher rates of use (50%) than either older or younger people. Use was higher among those who have some college education (50%) than with no college education (36%) and more common with those with annual incomes above $50,000 (48%).

Noting that alternative therapies are only infrequently included in insurance benefits and that a majority of users do not disclose their use of alternative therapies to their physicians, the researchers concluded that “the current status quo, which can be described as ‘don’t ask and don’t tell,’ needs to be abandoned. Professional strategies for responsible dialog in this area need to be further developed and refined.”

The JAMA issue also published the results of several randomized clinical trails that evaluated the use of alternative medicine therapies for treatment of common clinical conditions. Researchers found that:

  • Moxibustion (stimulating an acupressure point by heat generated from burning mugwort) is helpful for correcting a breech presentation in late pregnancy.
  • A Chinese herbal medicine compound improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Yoga-based intervention helps relieve some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

JAMA also reported that claims against chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists generally occurred less frequently and involved less severe injury than malpractice claims against medical doctors.

In an accompanying editorial, the editors of the journal called for further research, including priority funding for alternative medicine, and increased dialogue between the conventional and complementary communities. “Ultimately, answering fundamental questions about efficacy, safety, appropriate clinical applications, and meaningful outcomes for all medical therapies, including those considered alternative medicine, requires critical and objective assessment using accepted principles of scientific investigation and rigorous standards for evaluation of scientific evidence.”

Reprinted from the Winter 1999 One Peaceful World Journal, © 1999, all rights reserved.

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A Visit to South River Miso

We are fortunate to be close enough to take Kushi Institute Level students for a visit to South River Miso to see how miso is made. Below Senior teacher and well-known macrobiotic author Edward Esko writes about a recent trip.

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In May, a group of students from the Level I Leadership Program and I took a tour of the South River Miso Company located nearby in Conway, Mass. South River has been producing high quality handcrafted organic miso for over twenty years.

Founder, Christian Elwell guided our group on a tour of the facility. Aside from traditional barley and brown rice miso, Christian introduced the students to several new varieties developed uniquely at South River, including chickpea and azuki bean. He explained the process of making miso from beginning to end, and how miso is a living food and an essential part of a healthful diet. 

Growing Rice in Massachusetts!

A high point of the tour was when Christian told the group about his success in growing rice on the property. Beginning with rice seeds from Ukraine, Christian has succeeded in planting and harvesting a small plot of organic rice. I had the opportunity to taste the South River rice on a previous visit and can vouch for the fact that it was quite delicious.

Christian explained how the rice paddy is a complete eco-system, home to a myriad of life forms, from dragon flies to tiny frogs. Everyone was inspired by the creativity, commitment to the health of our planet, and harmony with nature exemplified by South River Miso.

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Diet and Pancreatic Cancer

In a study of risk factors for pancreatic cancer, researchers found that mortality from this disease was associated with increased consumption of meat, the smoking of cigarettes, and alcohol intake.

Source: W. Zheng et al., “A Cohort Study of Smoking, Alcohol Consumption, and Dietary Factors for Pancreatic Cancer,” Cancer Causes and Control 4:477-82, 1993.

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Diet and Leukemia

In one of the first studies of the relationship between diet and leukemia, researchers found a strong correlation between total caloric intake and both lymphoid and total leukemia incidence, especially among males. “The findings from this rigorous analysis of international data strengthen and expand the hypothesis based on previous simple correlation analyses and animal experiments that an underlying biological relationship exists between diet, particularly energy intake, and international variations in the incidence of certain types of human leukemia.”

Source: S. D. Hursting et al., “Diet and Human Leukemia: An Analysis of International Data,” Preventive Medicine 22:409-22, 1993.

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Fruits and Vegetables and Cancer

In a review of 200 studies that examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and cancer at selected sites, researchers found that consumption of these foods offered a significantly protective effect in 128 of 156 dietary studies in which results were expressed in terms of relative risk. For lung cancer, these foods were protective in 24 of 25 studies after control for smoking in most instances. Fruit was protective for tumors of the esophagus, oral cavity, and larynx in 28 of 29 studies. Vegetables and fruit were protective in 26 of 30 studies for the pancreas and stomach, as well as in colorectal and bladder cancers (23 of 38 studies). For malignancies of the cervix, ovary, and endometrium, a significant protective effect was shown in 11 of 13 studies. In breast cancer, a protective effect was found to be strong and consistent in meta-analysis. Overall, the relative risk of cancer was about twice as high for those eating few fruits and vegetables compared to those who ate plenty of these foods.

“In 1854, John Snow stopped a cholera epidemic simply by taking the handle off the pump. The research presented above suggests that consumption of fruits and vegetables may be a handle that, if manipulated by public policy, clinical advice, and public education, could have a substantial impact on a wide range of cancers,” the researchers concluded.

Source: Gladys Block et al., “Fruits, Vegetables, and Cancer Prevention: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence,” Nutrition and Cancer 18:1-29, 1992.

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Vegetables and Bladder Cancer

In a case-control study in Hawaii, researchers reported a decreased risk for bladder cancer among women who consumed vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, cabbage, and oranges, and among men who consumed dark green vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, and spinach.

Source: A.M.Y. Nomura et al., “Dietary Factors in Cancer of the Lower Urinary Tract,” International Journal of Cancer 48:199205.

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Soy Sauce and Cancer

The high rate of stomach cancer in Japan caused some Japanese scientists to speculate that a diet high in soy sauce might be a factor. However, researchers at the University of Wisconsin observed just the opposite. In laboratory tests, mice given fermented soy sauce experienced 26 percent less cancer than mice on the regular diet. Also soy-supplemented mice averaged about one-quarter the number of tumors per mouse as the control group. Soy sauce “exhibited a pronounced anticarcinogenic effect,” the researchers concluded.

Source: J. Raloff, “A Soy Sauce Surprise,” Science News, 139:357, 1991.

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Broccoli and Cancer

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported that they had identified the ingredient in broccoli that worked as a powerful anticancer compound in laboratory experiments. The chemical, sulforaphane, boosts the production of an important enzyme known to neutralize carcinogens before they trigger tumor growth. In addition to broccoli, sulforaphane is found in bok choy, ginger, scallions, and other vegetables.

Source: Paul Talalay, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 16, 1992.

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Cholesterol and Lung Cancer

In studies of men employed by the Western Electric Company in Chicago, researchers reported that men who ingested 500 milligrams or more of dietary cholesterol a day faced almost twice the risk of lung cancer as those who ate less than that amount. Eggs were cited as the chief cause.

Source: R. B. Shekelle et al., “Dietary Cholesterol and Incidence of Lung Cancer,” American Journal of Epidemiology 134:48084, 1992.

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Chewing and Cancer

An Indian cancer researcher concluded that thorough chewing lowered the risk of cancer. “The proper chewing of meals ensuring that mucous-rich saliva mixed with the food seemed to be protective factors.” Cancer also appeared to be more prevalent in South India where white rice and considerably more fat, oil, and spices are used in cooking than in Northern India where whole-grain chapatis and thick dal made with lentils are the staple.

Source: S. L. Malhotra, “Dietary Factors in a Study of Cancer Colon from Cancer Registry, with Special Reference to the Role of Saliva, Milk and Fermented Milk Products, and Vegetable Fibre,” Medical Hypotheses 3:122-26, 1977.

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