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FOOD VS. MEDICINE – AND SO MUCH MORE!

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Monday, August 18, 2014
I recently received an email in my inbox from a follower and admirer of my blog posts.  She was from the website www.bestmasterofscienceinnursing.com, and was presenting me with a link to an educational infographic entitled, Food versus Medicine.  I present you with the link to it below:
I believe that I had received solicitations from this organization before to do blog posts on the educational infographics they forwarded to me, and this one was one of the best I have received yet.  It is important, and deserves to be read and pondered, because of its core message:  Most people in the modern world rely far too much on medicine, and not enough on making healthy and constructive changes in their diet and food intake.  And it makes me happy that conventional medicine is finally coming around to the “you are what you eat” line of thinking, and starting to realize the importance of food and a healthy diet in health maintenance and disease prevention.
Indeed, a healthy, balanced diet of pure, natural food should be the foundation or cornerstone of anyone’s health regimen.  But it shouldn’t stop there; this is only just a beginning.  It’s true that diet is the foundation and single most important building block towards better health, and its importance is vastly underestimated by the vast majority of Americans and others in the modern world.  A healthy diet would have gone a lot further in the days of our grandparents or great grandparents, when the natural environment was a lot more clean and pristine, but today we are faced with a vast, bewildering array of complex and difficult health challenges, some of which pertain to the health issues and conditions discussed in this infographic.  Not only are we faced with monumental environmental pollution just as a consequence of the toxic byproducts of our modern industrial civilization, but even beyond this, so much of the environmental damage and derangement that we are seeing is caused by man’s inhumanity / insanity towards man and Nature.
What about herbs?  This infographic, entitled, “Food versus Medicine” could be considered a bit misleading and incomplete in its presentation, as an “either / or” choice between one or the other.  More perceptive readers might be able to figure out that it is not exactly as black-and-white as it seems; it could also be read, “Food before Medicine”; in other words, before you resort to medicine to solve your health problems, why not do everything you can to solve them through food and diet?  But what I am getting at here, and what every holistic and natural healer knows, is that food versus medicine, which this infographic takes to be pharmaceutical drugs, are NOT the only two options we have before us; herbs are natural medicinal substances, mostly of botanical origin, which occupy a vast middle ground between food on the one hand and pharmaceutical drugs on the other.  And so, we go from an either / or choice to a continuum with food on one end, pharmaceutical drugs on the other, and a vast middle ground between the two, which is medicinal herbs. 
 
Medicinal herbs can be differentiated into two broad groups, according to their basic mechanisms of action.  First, there are herbs whose therapeutic benefits are mainly derived from the vital nutrients they contain, such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and other phytonutrients; in today’s holistic health jargon, these herbs function mainly as superfoods.  Examples of such herbs and other natural medicinal substances are Nettle leaves, Spirulina, Parsley leaves, Sea Buckthorn berries and Bee Pollen.  The reason why they are so important today is that the foods that are available to us today are quite nutrient depleted, compared to those same foods back in our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ day.  To remedy these nutritional shortcomings, herbal superfoods are quickly becoming an additional essential food group.
In contrast to the nutritionally oriented superfood herbs, there are the medicinal herbs proper, or herbs whose main therapeutic actions are derived from the natural medicinal phytochemicals they contain, which adjust or manipulate key bodily organs and functions in various ways in order to bring the organism back to a state of balance and homeostasis.  By and large, these medicinal herbs work with virtually no negative side effects when used correctly due to two main reasons:  1) they work with Nature and not against it;  2) they are generally gentler and milder than pharmaceutical drugs in their mode of action.  Many of these medicinal herbs, especially the more tonic ones, areamphoteric in nature, in that they can balance or optimize key bodily functions, up-regulating them if they are too low, and down-regulating them if they are too high.  Examples are Garlic’s regulation of blood pressure, and Reishi’s effect on immune function.
It must also be remembered that these two basic modes of action – nutritional and medicinal – need not be exclusive to each other in the herbal kingdom; many herbs have properties and healing virtues of both, although one or the other is usually dominant.  You could actually see herbs as a whole continuum that lies in between food and medicine, or pharmaceutical drugs.  Towards the food end of the spectrum lie the nutritional superfood herbs, while towards the medicinal end of the spectrum lie the medicinal herbs.  Truly, herbs, both nutritional and therapeutic / medicinal, greatly expand the vast palette of therapeutic options that we have to choose from to improve and maintain our health.
I was considering naming this blog post “Food versus Medicine – But What About Herbs?” but chose the above title because of what I read that touched on other important health and environmental issues today, which I spoke of earlier as man’s inhumanity / insanity to man and Nature.  And by this, I am specifically referring to GMO foods and the health problems that are associated with them.  One of the dietary options mentioned in this infographic is following a gluten free diet for those with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, and – lo and behold – the rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease quite closely parallels the introduction and rise of GMO foods in the marketplace.  These conditions, as well as many other food allergies and intolerances that are proliferating wildly today, stem from a condition that holistic health practitioners call leaky gut syndrome.  In other words, proteins from partially or incompletely digested foods from the GI tract are leaking into the bloodstream via lesions in the intestinal walls to derange our immune systems and provoke allergic responses.
One of the main GMO varieties of corn is genetically engineered with a gene from Bacillis thuringensis, a soil bacteria, which acts as an insecticide, causing the intestinal walls of insects to explode and dissolve, killing them.  Now, if this Bt toxin has the ability to kill insects like this, don’t you think that it might be able to poke a few holes in your gut and cause it to leak?  These health and environmental issues are detailed and explained more thoroughly in Jeffrey M. Smith’s excellent book, Seeds of Deception.  I highly recommend that you read it.  Holistic health practitioners who have been around for several decades will have to agree with me that, before GMO foods were introduced into the marketplace, gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome were quite rare; now it’s very commonplace.  Instead of seeing the whole gluten intolerance phenomenon as another great opportunity for a commercial bonanza by the health food industry, we must look more deeply into the root causes of such conditions; most corn consumed in the US today is genetically modified.  Although herbs are definitely able to help heal and regenerate the intestinal walls and counteract a lot of the damage of leaky gut syndrome and gluten intolerance, nothing beats getting rid of the cause.
Another nutritional issue that is brought up in this infographic is the connection between increased levels of Sodium intake and high blood pressure.  This is somewhat misleading – instead of branding Sodium, a naturally occurring and essential mineral, as the “bad guy”, why not be more open and direct, and say that the real bad guy is excess intake of table salt, or Sodium Chloride?  Not all Sodium is bad; for example, Celery is rich in natural Sodium salts that will not raise blood pressure; another example is Dandelion.  Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the Sodium that most people in our modern world consume is in the form of table salt, or Sodium Chloride.  Instead of table salt, why not use Dulse flakes, a natural sea vegetable loaded with natural organic salts, and having a naturally salty flavor, to salt your food with?  Or use Sea Salt, which contains many other natural mineral salts besides Sodium Chloride.
Sea Salt is another excellent example of misleading labeling and miseducation of the public on health matters, which is often done with the collusion of the FDA and other government agencies.  I once saw a very misleading label on a carton of Sea Salt, which read, “This Sea Salt does not contain Iodide, an essential nutrient.”  I felt like scribbling below this label on the carton, to provide the missing half of the story:  “However, it is an excellent source of Iodine, which fulfills the exact same nutritional function.”  You see, the FDA, in putting that label on the carton of Sea Salt, was colluding with the iodized salt manufacturers to discourage consumers from buying this alternative form of salt, which is actually healthier than the iodized variety of common table salt, because it contains a broader, fuller spectrum of natural salts, not just Sodium Chloride, by getting them to think that, nonetheless, it was inferior to the iodized table salt.  It turns out that table salt is iodized with Potassium Iodide, which is carried on potato starch, to remedy for the salt’s lack of this essential mineral.  The salt iodizers colluded with the FDA to get them to change the laws and regulations to make us, the unwary consumer, feel that Sea Salt is nutritionally inferior when, actually, if the truth were told, it is not, and the reverse is the case – the inferior salt is actually the iodized table salt.  Some Sea Salts are now iodized these days in response to that erroneous and misleading label, but this is totally unnecessary, and actually nutritionally redundant.
The bottom line is that this is a complex modern world that we live in, and the health conscious consumer can’t always trust the governmental and health care authorities to look after their best interests.  You have to take it upon yourself to get educated and do your homework if you’re going to steer clear of the numerous nutritional and health scams that are out there, and get what is actually best for you.  And these deceptions and misleading statements can even come in the form of omissions or half truths – you have to research not only what they tell you, but also what they DON’T tell you!

THE MYSTERIOUS SPIKENARD OIL AND AROMATHERAPY IN HERBAL MEDICINE

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Friday, May 2, 2014

All four of the Christian gospels tell the story of the anointing of Jesus’ feet with precious Spikenard Oil, or ointment.  Here is the version from the Gospel of John:

Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.  There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 

Then took Mary a pound of Ointment of Spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. 

Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

Then said Jesus, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.  For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.”

                                John 12: 1 – 8

From this passage, we know that the Spikenard oil or ointment was very costly, was very fragrant and aromatic, and that Jesus’ feet were anointed with it as a kind of ritual to prepare him for his burial, and the ordeal on the cross that he would shortly face.  The whole episode presages Jesus’ impending crucifixion, death and resurrection.

But what exactly is this mysterious Spikenard Oil?  And can it still be obtained today?

Nardostachys_grandifloraThe Spikenard that was the base for this fragrant or aromatic ointment is known to be Indian Spikenard, also called Indian Valerian, which goes by the name of Jatamansi in Indian Ayurvedic medicine.  The botanical name for this herb is Nardostachys jatamansi.  In Chinese herbal medicine, it goes by the name of Gan Song, which literally means, “Sweet Pine”.

However, this is not the only plant that goes by the common English name of Spikenard.  There is American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), which is a close botanical relative of Ginseng.  Similarly, American Spikenard has adaptogenic and energy tonic properties like Ginseng, and helps the body’s immune system to throw off colds and respiratory infections as well, but its medicinal and therapeutic properties are far removed from those of Indian Spikenard.  American Spikenard is moderately aromatic, but not nearly to the same degree as Indian Spikenard.  This is just one example of how common English names for medicinal herbs can be misleading.

Indian Spikenard does indeed have a strong fragrance or aroma, and a musky odor quite similar to that of the more common Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), but rather more pleasant, while still being earthy and woodsyIt also has similar sedating and relaxing qualities, but according to Indian Ayurvedic medicine, whereas Valerian is more Tamasic in nature, and dulling to the higher mental and spiritual faculties and perceptions, Jatamansi does not have these drawbacks.  Instead, it is a mood elevator and enhancer that calms anxiety and heals emotional and psychological trauma and pain.  Its calming, soothing and mood elevating qualities were used to help Jesus prepare himself spiritually for his upcoming ordeal on the cross, and his subsequent death and resurrection.

Source:  http://blog.younglivingcircle.com/2010/04/07/12-oils-of-the-bible-spikenard-part-12/
The Indian Spikenard or Jatamansi herb could have been the only one used to medicate and perfume the ointment or scented oil that anointed the feet of Jesus, or it could have been combined and enhanced with other sweet smelling fragrances, like those of Cinnamon and Cardamom.  You see, like Valerian root, Jatamansi or Indian Spikenard has a very heavy, musky odor that is, by itself, not that pleasant.  But when combined with other aromatic herbs and spices, its strong musky odor has the property of being a fixative, or an aromatic ingredient that strengthens the odor, strength and staying power of the other aromatic ingredients in the ointment.  In return, these other sweet smelling aromatic herbs and spices transform the strong odor of the Jatamansi or Indian Spikenard into something much more pleasant.

A common vernacular name for both kinds of Valerian, Indian and otherwise, is Musk Root – a name which is due to its strong, musky odor.  True Musk, however, comes from the scent gland of the Musk Deer, which is also highly valued, both as a perfume and as a medicine.  Substances which are strongly aromatic, such as Musk, have the medicinal ability to revive and resuscitate consciousness, much as Sal Ammoniac or Smelling Salts were used at the turn of the previous century.  These super aromatic substances, like Musk and Camphor, also have the ability to penetrate and open the vital and sensory channels and orifices in heart and circulatory conditions, as well as convulsions and seizures, when skillfully used and combined with other medicinal herbs.

Besides the scent gland of the Musk Deer, the scent glands of other animals were also used medicinally, as well as in perfumery; these include the beaver, from which we get Castoreum, as well as the wild Civet Cat.  Way back in the eighties in the Chinese herb stores of southern California, authentic Musk from the Musk Deer was still available.  I remember, as a newly licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Oriental Medicine, treating a young lady who had a kind of epileptic condition in which she was prone to periodic fits of drooling, spasms, catatonia and seizures with an herbal formula I made up which contained Musk from the Musk Deer.  It worked surprisingly well in ameliorating and managing the young lady’s symptoms, although I would not call it a complete cure.  There was also a kind of herbal patent medicine that was available back in those days, called Da Huo Luo Dan, or “Great Activating the Channels and Collaterals Pills” which contained many aromatic ingredients, including Musk; it was used for a weak heart and circulatory problems, and to revive the Vital Spirits.

In Aromatherapy, it is well known that natural fragrances and essential oils have a powerful effect on the mind and Spirit.  This is because the sense of smell is our most primitive sense; anatomically, the nasal chambers lie directly beneath the frontal lobes of the brain, affecting the latter by their sheer proximity.  Powerful fragrances also have the ability to awaken long lost memories and emotional associations, which can be either pleasant or unpleasant, depending upon the particulars of the aroma, and its associations in the individual’s past.  As proof of the ability of scents and aromas to exert a powerful effect on the mind and consciousness, not only within the human species, but in other species as well, we need only think of how cats go crazy for Catnip.

Aromatherapy usually involves the inhaling of fragrant essential oils for their scent, and the power that various natural scents have on our vitality levels, moods and emotional states.  Yet there are other ways to use fragrant or aromatic natural substances medicinally, and these involve their topical application in ointments, liniments and massage oils, as well as their internal ingestion in the form of teas and powders, pills and capsules, or even in the form of medicinal pastes, or electuaries, commonly called Majoon in the Middle East.  What are the basic properties of aromatic medicinal substances like Indian Spikenard, which enable them to exert their medicinal effects?

First of all, aromatic substances are penetrating and volatile.  This penetration and volatility enable them to penetrate and open the pores and channels of the body, both subtle and gross, to break up congestion and stagnation, and their volatility stimulates the circulatory and metabolic processes of the body and the parts into which they penetrate to disperse that stagnation, blockage or congestion.  In the skin, essential oils and oleoresins that are exceptionally light and volatile can open the pores to induce sweating where that is desired in the process of detoxification, or to sweat out a cold or respiratory tract infection.  In the digestive organs, aromatic substances can break up congestion and blockage, and stimulate digestive metabolism and functioning.  In the musculoskeletal system, aromatic essences can penetrate tense, tired or inflamed muscles to soothe and loosen them, having a relaxing and antispasmodic action, and in the process, they can also relieve pain and soreness.

The Indian Spikenard ointment that anointed the feet of Jesus had a relaxing, loosening and antispasmodic action to soothe pain, relax sore, tired muscles, and to help him let go of his suffering and attachment to the physical body and its inevitable traumas in preparation for the transformation and metamorphosis that he was about to undergo.  Topically, the essence of the Spikenard penetrated into his muscles and tendons, and aromatically, its scent had a soothing, relaxing, mood elevating effect on Jesus.

Another interesting property of aromatic medicinal substances is that they are antiseptic, helping the body to fight off infections and sepsis from pathogenic bacteria and microbes.  The way that early healers  discovered this property was very direct and experiential.  They saw that putrefactions and sepsis, whether occurring inside the body or outside of it, as in spoiled or rotten food, invariably produced a foul, rotten odor; for a woman, a good example would be a vaginal yeast infection.  What better way to fight a rotten smelling infection than with sweet smelling aromatic substances?

Some of the strongest natural infection fighters we have are aromatic essential oils that are distilled from medicinal herbs.  Of these, Thyme Oil, followed by Oregano Oil, are two of the strongest.  Even Cinnamon has a beneficial antiseptic effect on many morbid or pathological microbes, while promoting the growth of friendly ones.  And Indian Spikenard or Jatamansi Oil has the ability to fight off fungal infections, just as its botanical relative, Valerian does.  Garlic was used by the English in World War II to fight infections, since the supply of antibiotics ran low during the war.  Garlic, Valerian, and to a lesser extent, Indian Spikenard, don’t have aromas that are that pleasant, but they are indeed strong and powerful.  Perhaps their smell is so strong that it overwhelms or overpowers the pathogenic microbes, which flee in terror!

Yes, aromatic medicinal substances such as Spikenard Oil are legendary, and have a long history of use in medicine, both ancient and modern.  In the ancient world, the Egyptians were especially famous for their use of aromatics, both in perfumery and in medicine, and in the embalming of their mummies.  The Spice Trade between Europe and Asia that went through the Middle East and along the Silk Road was not just for gourmet cooking use, but more importantly for medicinal use, and many old medicinal formulas contain many aromatic herbs and spices as ingredients.  Just about every balm, unguent, ointment or aromatic substance that you can find in the Bible, or in other hallowed scriptures or manuscripts from antiquity can be traced down and found today with enough patience and persistence, as well as the proper insight and guidance to discern its true identity.

THE MARCH OF MEDICAL PROGRESS – BUT TO WHERE?

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Diogenes

The evolution of medicine and healing down through the ages, and through various civilizations, cultures, and traditions is indeed a spectacular and panoramic thing to behold.  It is forever spurred on by man’s persistent drive to find new ways to relieve suffering and disease, and to heal the afflicted.  One can only marvel at the amazing ingenuity and resourcefulness of man in his attempts to find new cures and treatments for old, and even new, diseases and infirmities.  Almost everything you could imagine has been used as a medicine or therapy.  Some of the avenues pursued, and some of the things tried, have turned out to be misadventures or blind alleys, and others have turned out to be real winners – and many things have even fallen somewhere on the broad spectrum in between these two extremes.  Hopefully, being Homo sapiens, or Man the Wise, we hold on to that which works, and discard or toss out that which doesn’t – or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Yes, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and the way that many apologists for modern medicine would have you believe.  These apologists for modern medicine paint such a dark and gloomy picture of pre-modern medicine that you sometimes wonder how the human race ever survived; then, in contrast, they paint a rosy and upbeat picture of the progress of modern medicine.  If you listen to them, a doctor’s office before the twentieth century was a pure disaster zone, and it’s a wonder that anyone ever got out alive.  People lived woefully short lifespans – some have said 45 years or so, others have said even as low as 25!  Then we hardly had any grandparents at all back then?  And how is it that Hippocrates ever, as it is written, lived to a ripe old age, dying in his nineties?  And if the medical profession was such bad news back then, how could doctors have ever made a living, or how could they ever have had a new generation who would have considered it worthwhile to learn the knowledge they had to pass on?  Surely, only the very naive would believe such a simplistic portrayal of things, yet it does seem to have become incorporated into modern mythology and popular “wisdom”.

A particularly fertile era that these apologists for modern medicine like to mine to buttress the points they are making is the nineteenth century, and perhaps back into the late eighteenth century as well, which could be seen as the transitional period towards modern medicine.  Modern orthodoxy in medicine had not gelled yet, and there was a lot of wild experimentation in the air.  Society at large had not yet come to a firm consensus as to which drugs it would approve of, and which would become illicit, and so, opiates like Morphine and Laudanum were even in things like babies’ teething lotions and cough syrups; Cocaine, which had its staunch advocate in none other than Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychiatry, was touted as a great tonic, stimulant and pain killer.

Even worse than this, perhaps, was the love affair that the conventional doctors of the day had with Mercurials like Calomel, which would now make one shudder.  Even I, as a child, had over thirty Mercury amalgam fillings in my mouth, which I had all removed and replaced with plastic composite resin back in my thirties, thank God!  All that Mercury has definitely taken its toll on my health, and it has also probably been the cause, or at least a co-factor with, my immunological sensitivity to Thimerosal, the Mercurial preservative commonly used in vaccines, as well as my immunological intolerance of every metal used in dentistry except Titanium.

Thank God that modern dentistry has now found filling materials that are relatively biocompatible and nontoxic to replace Mercury amalgam fillings!  Mercurial compounds like Thimerosal in children’s vaccines have been linked to autism spectrum disorders, but this continues to be controversial, with opposing camps, or schools of thought, battling fiercely back and forth.  Obviously, not all children who get vaccinated develop autism spectrum disorders.  Could it be that only the children who have an immunological reactivity to Thimerosal develop these disorders?  It would be a relatively simple matter to give children serum antibody reactivity tests for Thimerosal before vaccinating them, and to withhold vaccination from those who test positive, or give them Thimerosal free vaccines.  But the medical authorities insist on taking a “one size fits all” approach.  Is this “Man the Wise”?  Or Man the Compassionate?

The whole “Thimerosal wars” over childhood vaccinations could be resolved fairly easily by simply having every child undergo a serum antibody screening test for immunological tolerance and reactivity to Thimerosal.  Yet the two sides of this war continue to “duke it out”, with each side refusing to budge, and  above all, the medical and pediatric establishment refusing to yield or give an inch on anything that would put a chink or a dent in what they feel is their armor clad entitlement to their professional “gravy train” of profits via forced mass vaccinations.  It seems like the people involved, mainly young children, have taken a back seat to the profits that can be made off of them.  The Thimerosal wars could easily go the way of the Mercury amalgam wars, and the march of medical progress could take a heroic step forward, but as it is, everything is stuck in gridlock.  Just as the multinational oil corporations want to squeeze every last drop of oil out of the ground in their own mad drive for maximum profit, so does the medical establishment want to squeeze every last penny of profits from vaccinating as many children as possible.

Traditionally, the medicinal herb Mistletoe (Viscum album), which is one of Nature’s finest anticonvulsants, has been used to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders.  In fact, Mistletoe is so efficacious and effective for this that, in 18th century England, it was a standard medical treatment for epilepsy, according to Mrs. M. Grieve, in Volume 2 of her book, A Modern Herbal, on page 548.  Mistletoe is a very potent medicinal herb, and should only be prepared and taken under medical or professional supervision; when this is done, the treatment is safe and effective, producing virtually no negative side effects.  Another thing that should be paid attention to is that the European Mistletoe is taken, and NOT the American Mistletoe, which has totally different properties and effects entirely.

So, here we have a traditional or pre-modern medical treatment for a rather serious and difficult condition, namely epilepsy and seizures.  I decided to see what modern medicine has to offer for treating the same condition, and found that the main older medication for treating it was Dilantin, but nowadays, doctors are turning more to newer medications like Keppra.  I decided to look up Keppra’s negative side effects online, and found that a full listing of them numbered, in my estimation, around a hundred, including the very seizures they were supposedly taken to treat!  And as I scrolled down and down through the voluminous listing of negative side effects, a pop-up window appeared from the side of my computer screen, with a friendly and obliging pharmacist – or more precisely a pharmaceutical pimp and drug pusher – trying to initiate a live chat with me to get me to place my order for this pharmaceutical crap!

With modern, state of the art science and technology to back them up, and all the latest scientific equipment, it’s a real wonder that the modern pharmaceutical industry has not found anything better to treat epilepsy, or a whole host of other medical conditions, for that matter, that work any better than they do.  Let me just put it plain and simple – if most other major industries or businesses tried to sell products that had as many major defects – and I am counting negative side effects as defects – as modern pharmaceutical drugs, they would be laughed out of town, and no one would buy their junk!  But the pharmaceutical industry, in collusion with the governmental powers that be, have so perverted things and rigged the system that this is simply shrugged off as being normal!

Put another way, is it really medical progress to abandon a natural treatment for a medical disorder like epilepsy that works very well and satisfactorily in favor of a synthetic drug with a hundred-odd negative side effects?  Heck NO!  Yet the spin masters of the pharmaceutical industry’s PR team, in collusion with government regulatory agencies that they have subverted, and with doctors and pharmacists standing by to fill your order, are trying to convince you that somehow, indeed it is, and are really anxious to sell you the stuff.  If we were really interested, as a society and as a nation, in true medical progress, and serving the needs and quality of life of the patient above our own profits, we would be investing everything we could in further refining and upgrading many of these traditional treatments and therapeutic protocols, like Mistletoe for epilepsy.

The degree to which drugs and medicines that are so obviously full of negative side effects as the one I just cited, and which are somehow shrugged off as being normal, or even desirable or in demand, is a good reliable indicator of the degree to which our medical establishment, and our whole society and its governmental system, have become corrupt and self-seeking.  And so, I will echo the words of the old philosopher and cynic Diogenes:  Is there an honest man left out there?

SOURCES:

A Modern Herbal, Volume 2 by Mrs. M. Grieve, page 548.  Copyright 1971 by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY

http://www.drugs.com/sfx/keppra-side-effects.html

Greek Medicine for the Greeks? What a Novel Idea! After Its Long Odyssey, Will Greek Medicine Finally Come Back Home?

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Friday, March 14, 2014

the thinkerOver the years here at GreekMedicine.net, I have heard from various people in Greece, and many of them were seeking to revive or resurrect, in one way or another, various aspects of Greece’s glorious past and hallowed wisdom and traditions.  Most recently, I heard from an American expatriate living in Greece who was interested in starting a healing center on the island of Kos, which is where the great Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, and the Father of Greek Medicine, lived and taught.  It would be a center for spa treatments and medical tourism to awaken interest from abroad in Greek Medicine and its ancient healing traditions, and it would also be an educational center for conducting seminars and retreats, to educate both foreign tourists, as well as practitioners from both Greece and abroad.  And by reviving traditional Greek healing knowledge and practice, it would also be serving the health care needs of the local Greek people.

Jesus once remarked that a prophet is seldom recognized in his own country.  Many times, people take for granted and fail to adequately appreciate what is their own, while clamoring for what is new, and what seems to sparkle brighter, from foreign lands.  In music, I have heard that many Europeans have a deeper appreciation for American Jazz than most Americans do, for example.  And such may well be the case with Greek Medicine.

When I visited the headquarters of CCRUM (the Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine) in Delhi, India while I was in the process of putting up my website, there was a large mural on the wall entitled, “The Caravan of Greek / Unani Medicine”, depicting a grand odyssey that originated in the Greek homeland, on the island of Kos, but which grew over the centuries to span three continents, stretching all the way from Moorish Spain in the West to Malaysia and Indonesia in the East.  What if, after all these centuries of tireless wandering, Greek Medicine were to finally return home to its native Greece?  That would be a prodigal son story of epic proportions!

It turns out that Greek Medicine, as Unani Medicine (Unani is the Arabic word for Greek) really took root, flourished and continued to grow and develop in the Arabic, Persian and Muslim lands of the Middle East and South Asia, whereas  in Greece, and in the rest of Europe, traditional Greek Medicine became regarded as antiquated and outmoded, especially after the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.  But in countries like India, Greek Medicine, as Unani Tibb, continued to grow and progress, until today it is supported in its medical schools, research centers, hospitals and clinics by the Indian government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare alongside better known systems like Homeopathy and Ayurveda.  Unani medicines and treatments have won broad based popular support as being gentle yet effective, and modern clinical research has proven the effectiveness of many of these medicines and treatments.

India, as a developing third world nation with limited financial resources, has chosen, as have others, to continue researching and developing the healing resources and wisdom of her indigenous traditional healing systems, like Unani Medicine and Ayurveda.  Many treatments of these traditional healing systems are just as effective, but less costly, and have fewer negative side effects, than modern medical treatments for the same diseases and conditions.  If the access and availability of these traditional healing systems and their alternative treatments is improved, the nation’s health care dollar is able to go much further.

One of the first things a student of Greek Medicine notices is how absent Greek Medicine is from modern Greece.  On previous trips to Greece, I have met various individuals who had their own reconstructionist ideas of reviving Greek Medicine as a functional healing system, but no one had put together a complete, comprehensive system that really worked.  “Greek Medicine for the Greeks!” would be a nice slogan to emblazon on a tee shirt, for example, and one that is painfully obvious to anyone who has done a little thinking on the matter.  After all, Greece gave the gift of civilization to the whole Western world – and that includes its classical medical system – now why won’t they proudly reclaim their healing heritage?

Of course, the natural place for a revival of classical Greek Medicine would be, above all places, the Aegean island of Kos, which was home to Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, and his Koan school.  From this epicenter, the waves of new and revolutionary ideas that he set in motion regarding the theory, philosophy and practice of medicine would spread to some of the farthest reaches of the world.  Before this American expatriate lady contacted me with her idea, her vision, for a healing center on Kos, that whole idea had been nothing more than a nebulous generality to me.  But now I think that it is an idea whose time has come.

What makes this an idea whose time has come?

Before the recent financial meltdown, Greece enjoyed a public health care system that was modeled along the lines of those of Western Europe, which functioned quite well.  But financial pressures and cutbacks coming in the wake of her recent economic meltdown have led to the crumbling and degeneration of Greece’s health care system, to the point at which many Greeks now find themselves slipping through the cracks, and unable to afford and receive the medical treatment they need.  Using real life examples of cancer and cardiac patients, the following article explains what has happened to Greece’s ailing health care system:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/world/europe/greek-unemployed-cut-off-from-medical-treatment.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Why doesn’t Greece now do as India and other developing nations have already done – to integrate the cost effective treatments from her traditional or classical healing system into her present day system of health care?  The realities of Greece’s broken health care system are, in many ways, similar to those faced by the US, to which it is often compared – runaway costs, poor affordability, and too many people left uncovered and falling through the cracks.  But in the US, such medical experts as Integrative Medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil have advocated the integration of complementary and alternative medical systems, including those of traditional healing systems like Greek Medicine, as a way to lower costs and improve affordability, while also, in many instances, reducing negative side effects and improving patient health care outcomes.  Since India is where Unani Medicine, which is the heir to the healing tradition of classical Greek Medicine, is the most highly researched and developed, Unani Hakims (physicians) from India could serve as consultants and advisers to the Greek government if it wishes to improve the cost effectiveness of the Greek health care system through the integration of traditional Greek and Greco-Arabo-Persian medicine back into its overall regimen of health care.

Obviously, such an effort would require a mass movement and persistent efforts at organization and reform that would be far greater than any single individual could bring about.  Such a national effort would involve scientists, doctors, researchers and experts in both modern medicine as well as traditional Greek / Unani medicine to decide, for each disease or disorder, what the best and most cost effective treatment, traditional or modern, would be, and how best to incorporate traditional Greek and Unani medicine into the nation’s health care system for the best cost effectiveness and patient outcomes.  In such a process, clinical results would be the bottom line, the final determining factor.  This reform process would also involve persistent and sustained political effort and consensus building by legislators and public health experts as well.

For medical tourists visiting a healing center or spa on the island of Kos, or elsewhere in Greece, the historical authenticity of the cleansing, detoxification and restorative treatments they receive would spark international interest and tourist draw, while bolstering the national pride of the Greeks themselves in being the fathers and progenitors of the healing art in the Western world.  For health care providers to the Greek people, clinical results, cost effectiveness and patient outcomes will be the central concern in the healing of Greece’s broken health care system.

The Herculean task of actually mending and reforming Greece’s broken health care system will have to be undertaken as a mass collective effort by the Greek people themselves, in whatever way, or to whatever extent, they feel inclined and able to do so.  All I can do from this virtual forum, and with this blog posting, is to put forth the vision, and sit back to see how it will be received and implemented by the Greek people.

Superfood Scammers – You Know Who You Are!

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Friday, March 8, 2013

Over the years, I have examined various multi-level or network marketing opportunities in the booming health and wellness industry to see if there were any ones that were worth getting involved with, and more importantly, if there were any ones that I, as an herbalist and licensed acupuncturist, could, in good conscience, get involved with.  Sure, the money, and the enviable opportunity to build a hefty residual income, looked good, and was very alluring.  But all too often, I have found significant faults with these multi-level marketing schemes – not so much with their business models and compensation plans, but with the products they were selling, upon which the marketing plans were based.  Basically, my personal experience in evaluating their product lines has shown me that there are two major potential problem areas:

1) They may be selling and promoting products as universal panaceas which are uniformly effective for everyone, when they actually aren’t.  The truth is, when you are mass marketing a product line, you have to design it to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people in your target market, and also take care that, although it may not have the same level of effectiveness for everybody, or may even be ineffective for some, that at least it won’t wind up hurting anyone.  But because network marketing products aren’t personalized, you probably won’t get a product as specifically tailored and targeted to your needs as you would if you went to have a personal consultation with a qualified holistic practitioner or herbalist, often with a corresponding compromise of overall effectiveness.

2)  In order to afford the money to make the generous payouts to the downline sales networks, there is a great temptation to cut corners and skimp on the overall quality, potency and often, on the resulting effectiveness of their products as well.  To compensate for this inherent lack of quality and effectiveness in the products themselves, many network marketing product formulators are then tempted to lace their products with cheap stimulants like caffeine or guarana to keep their sales networks all fired up and ready to sell, sell, sell.  The degree of personal integrity and conscientiousness that network marketing organizations and their product formulators have displayed in this delicate balancing act between product quality and value on the one hand, and the financial bottom line on the other, has spanned the whole gamut, from a genuine desire to give the consumer something truly worthwhile in terms of health and nutritional benefits, to out and out swindling and sacrificing all considerations of quality and value to the almighty dollar.

The first consideration I have outlined above has led many network marketing companies involved in the health and wellness industry to turn to more universal considerations that apply across the board to everyone, like basic nutrition; this is actually a wise and realistic move, since so many people in our modern world are overfed, but undernourished.  The body’s own innate healing wisdom then assimilates these vital nutrients and decides how and where to use them for optimum healing effectiveness.

And the latest buzz word in the health and nutrition industry is superfoods, which are natural botanical or herbal sources of concentrated, potent nutrition.  This idea of superfoods actually isn’t anything new; even Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, working in ancient Greece some four hundred years before the birth of Christ, used superfoods like Fenugreek seed or the Sea Buckthorn berry, which are now being touted by leading health experts like Dr. Oz.  The use of herbal superfoods is even advocated by the book of Genesis in the Bible, in which God tells the first man and woman to eat the fruit of the tree for food, and take the leaf of the tree for medicine.  The important herbal truth contained in this biblical passage is that herbal superfoods span the gap between food and medicine, and can be used as both.  After all, Hippocrates said, “Let your your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”

I was recently invited by a friend of mine who I had met a few months back to come and get in on yet another multi level marketing opportunity, marketing a line of health and wellness products based on an herbal superfood that has recently been making the headlines.  I was frank and up front with her in our initial phone conversation when I told her that, in light of my past experience with multi level marketing organizations, I would make my decision as to whether or not to become a part of it on the products themselves, and what my conclusions were, as an herbalist and natural healer, as to their overall level of quality, potency and effectiveness.  She offered to give me some samples, and I told her that I would take them for a few days, and report back to her on how I felt.

Before I could meet with her, I decided to make the rounds of local health food stores and see what kinds of deals were out there on this particular herbal superfood, and what regular retail marketers of the stuff were offering in regards to overall quality and value.  I found out that the stuff definitely wasn’t cheap, but when I took out the intensely green capsules and chewed into them, I found that their color, taste and aroma were quite strong, and remarkably similar to that of wheatgrass, another superfood made famous by Ann Wigmore and her Hippocrates Health Institute.  And when I read the nutritional stats of this superfood, I was truly amazed: ounce for ounce, the same calcium as four glasses of milk; the same amount of Potassium as 3 bananas, the vitamin C of 7 oranges, etc…  And the immediate and well-grounded energy boost that I was getting felt like a nutritional blood transfusion; no doubt that this was a truly potent superfood, since I had only taken two little capsules of the stuff – less than a gram’s worth.

Then, later on that afternoon, I met with my friend to receive samples of her company’s product line.  I took out my glasses and started to read the lists of ingredients on the containers she gave me.  I noticed that one of the products contained a large amount of sugar, which I kept quiet about for the time being, although it distressed me.  I then pointed to the substantial levels of caffeine listed on another product, and she assured me that she had checked with her doctor on that one, since she was also sensitive to caffeine, and her doctor had told her that the “natural caffeine” in this product was OK to take.  She also left me with some samples of a couple of capsules which were supposed to be taken in the morning to get you going for the day, and another pair of capsules which were supposed to help you relax and unwind, to get to sleep at night.  She also offered to give me samples of a product to loosen up the bowels if I needed it; I politely declined her offer, thinking to myself, “Boy, they have their reps programmed with products they gotta take all throughout the day, whether they’re coming or going!”

As soon as I got home, I promptly opened one of the packages, from which I was to make a nutritious instant drink, which supposedly featured the superfood.  To my great disappointment, the color of the powder wasn’t anything like the bright green I had seen in the capsules of the superfood I bought at the health food store, but rather, it was basically white, tinged or dusted with flecks of green and grey.  And when I tasted it, it didn’t have the wheatgrass – like flavor I was expecting from the capsules I had taken earlier, but rather, it was insipidly sweet, not unlike instant Koolaid or tropical fruit punch.  Overall, the product’s appearance was remarkably like a white, sweet food staple commonly available at your local supermarket, and its granular texture sure resembled that staple.  In other words, it was mostly granulated white sugar, laced mainly with citric acid and assorted flavors, and only lightly dusted with the highly touted superfood.

The other drink, the energy drink, was similarly white, granular and intensely sweet, but it gave me quite a bit of a buzz, which made it almost impossible to nap afterwards.  And I had only tasted a bit of it!  Yep, it sure went heavy on the caffeine, in addition to the sugar and other cheap, empty stimulants.  I then bit into one of the capsules to be taken at bedtime, and from the taste of it, it seemed to be almost entirely made up of the concentrated extract of a certain relatively cheap Ayurvedic herb which is commonly used to powerfully lower blood sugar.  In other words, after taking those drinks and being high on a sugar rush all day, the sugar levels had to be brought down for bedtime so that one could sleep; and then, upon awaking, take the AM capsules for a kick in the pants to get you going, because there sure as heck wasn’t anything of any nutritional value in the drinks to truly nourish and sustain you throughout the day.

My heart sank when I thought of my friend, and of others in her sales network who felt really jazzed and excited about what they were taking and selling.  I didn’t have the heart, and I didn’t quite know how to break the terrible news to her that at least ninety percent of what she was selling was sugar and empty stimulants like caffeine, supplemented by herbal supplements that would give you a jump start in the morning and wind you down at night.  It was all those nutritionally worthless ingredients in the stuff she was taking, all those cheap, empty stimulants that had her so energetic and jazzed up, and NOT the superfood!  I reflected back on prior experiences I had had, when I was called on board to be part of the product formulation team for a dubious herbal multilevel startup venture:  “Let’s ‘bless it’ with this, let’s ‘bless it’ with that”, they said.  And anyone in my friend’s sales network who was exclusively counting on the products they were selling to fulfill all their nutritional needs, and who had serious hidden or underlying nutritional deficiencies, was doomed to see their health come down, crashing and burning, sooner or later, I realized.

My friend, when I had met her that afternoon, boasted that she was feeling so much energy, and that she had also lost quite a bit of excess weight.  The highly touted superfood, which was, in fact only a minor ingredient in the products she was taking, indeed had a solid reputation as an aid in weight management, from all that I had read about it; and according to the studies conducted, it reduced the superfluous food cravings that led to undue weight gain in a sound and natural manner, by providing concentrated, optimal nutrition.  But this crap she was taking was only working to help her loose weight because the caffeine and other empty stimulants in it are powerful appetite suppressants.  Sooner or later, if she kept this up, she would wind up critically underfed and undernourished, which in many ways, is more dangerous, especially over the short term, than overfed and undernourished.

Heck, I don’t know if it was the caffeine, the sugar, the empty stimulants, or exactly what it was in the stuff she gave me, which I had only tasted, not taken, but I had a hard time getting to bed that night.  I was really worried for my friend, and that she had fallen for this scam.  And for the many like her, who were either so ignorant and unaware of matters pertaining to herbs, nutrition and health; or blinded by the placebo effect and the sugar and empty stimulants; or, totally mesmerized by the financial payoff and under the seductive spell of making a whole kit and caboodle of cold, hard cash.  Or, all of the above.  Phantasmagoric apparitions of many of the heroes and role models I have had, some living, some dead, and some heroic, iconic historical figures, taunted me in my dreams to speak up, so I felt moved to come out and tell the truth in this blog post.

My dear, beloved father, now dearly departed, a diplomat who served his country well, would definitely stand up to this scam if he were me.  When I grew up during the Cold War, and our country was involved in the fight against communism, there was a slogan involved in our national and diplomatic efforts which rings true, regardless of what your conclusions are as to the worthiness of that fight:  “All that is necessary for evil to win in the world is for good people to do nothing.” In other words, I don’t want to be the one who, when the superfood scammers finally came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Jesus also showed up, telling me, “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” And I thought of all those who had sacrificed their better judgment and their God-given conscience on the altar of the almighty dollar in the mad, soul-less pursuit of profit.  “The Truth will set you free!”, he proclaimed.  “Let all who have eyes to see, see, and let all who have ears to hear, hear!”, to which I might add, “Let all who have tongues to taste, taste!”

Hippocrates also checked in, with the high ethical and moral standards he set, not just for the medical profession, but for all involved in health and healing, and the health and wellness industry.  “First do no harm!”, he told me, but these nutritionally worthless products being touted as a miracle superfood were definitely harming people nutritionally.  No doubt, Hippocrates is turning over in his grave about this.

The great Lakota Indian chief Sitting Bull came riding in as well, reminding me of what he said about the White Man:  “Love of possession is a disease with them!”  And I thought of all those superfood hucksters who were riding this gravy train for all it was worth, so blinded by their own personal greed and avarice that they were either unable or unwilling to open their eyes and taste buds and do the simple tests that I did, and come to the blatantly obvious conclusion that the emperor was, in fact, wearing no clothes; or because they really didn’t care or give a rat’s derriere about the true worth of what they were selling, cynically seeing it as only a means to an end.

Then came good ole Honest Abe Lincoln, the man whose head is on the penny, who once walked miles through the frontier woods to return to a customer a few pennies that he had overcharged him while working at the country store.  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”, he reminded me.  But by Jove, how many people have been fooled and taken for a ride by this crooked venture!

And finally, the spirit of Dr. Kim, who exerted a very formative influence on me in acupuncture school, drew near.  Perhaps what left the deepest impression on me regarding all the things he said was that the health and healing knowledge of Oriental Medicine had true value in its own right, and would prove itself worthwhile in the great value and happiness it added to one’s life, even if one didn’t make one red cent with it.  He reminded me of the simple truth that the primary exchange between those providing a health oriented product or service and those on the receiving end was the gift of health and healing, and that all else, and all considerations of profit or loss, were secondary.  These multilevel superfood scammers were definitely putting the cart before the horse, or the cart instead of the horse!

The offenses committed by this latest multilevel scam operation that I have uncovered are by no means unique; however, in my experience, they far exceed, by degree, those of any other multilevel company that I am aware of.  I do not wish to resort to the tiresome and redundant task of naming names here, but I do invite others to open their hearts, minds and senses, as I have done, and examine the evidence with an open mind, as I have outlined for you above.  And if you should find that the shoe fits, don’t wear it – discard it, and renounce any ill-gotten gains that might have been had.  And although I have not named any names, anyone with sufficient intelligence and objectivity can piece together the clues and information that I have given are free to do so, and will probably arrive at the same conclusions as I have.

And so, like Diogenes, I am holding up my lantern and asking if there is any honest man left, if there are indeed any truly honest and worthwhile companies and ventures left in the multilevel health and wellness industry who are truly offering their customers products that are of real value and worth for their hard earned money, and which are truly free of the faults and shortcomings I have cited in this posting. If you are out there, and are conducting your multilevel health and wellness business in a truly honest and ethical manner, and are truly offering something of value to your customers, I would love to hear from you.

THE SUMMER WANES

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Sunday, August 21, 2011

The ancient Greek philosopher Democritus wrote that nothing is constant in this universe, that all is ebb and flow.  The Moon waxes, and then wanes in Her monthly cycle, and so do the seasons of the year, as the Sun’s light and heat first waxes, and then wanes.

Summer, which once seemed so blazingly hot and overpowering, is now on the wane – at least in the northern hemisphere, where I and most of the world’s population live.  The seasons are doing a critical shift, which presents us with some new health challenges as the organism strives to adapt.

In the middle of Summer, the heat was overpowering, and never really went away, as scorching days turned into warm and sultry nights.  The body was geared to hot weather full time, 24 / 7.  Appetites waned in the peak heat of Summer, because blood flow was diverted away from the digestive organs in the body’s interior to the capillaries and sweat glands at the periphery.  In addition, care had to be taken to adequately hydrate the body, to protect it from dehydration.

But now, the days are growing noticeably shorter, and the nights longer.  Although the days can still be intensely hot, the nights can be, by contrast, quite cool, especially after midnight in the wee hours of the morning.  And so, the body must struggle to adapt to these more extreme swings and fluctuations in temperature.  You can go to bed with your bedroom window open and wake up with some sniffles and a scratchy throat because it got quite cool at night, after you had thrown the covers off.

Or, you may hike up to a mountain top, or even to the top of a high hill, offering a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.  It may be quite warm and sheltered down in the valley, and you dress very lightly.  As you do the long hike up to the summit, you sweat quite profusely, and your pores open at full throttle.  But then, when you reach the summit, where the cool breezes blow, you may catch a chill, which could precipitate a late Summer cold.

This may not yet pose critical or extreme challenges for your health, as the more severe cold snaps of Fall will.  But if the necessary changes are made to adapt to the milder cooling of mid August, or early fall, the body will be more prepared for the bigger climactic challenges to come.  This is not too difficult if you follow a few sensible guidelines.

The first guideline is this:  Eliminate or greatly reduce your intake of ice cold drinks, and cooling foods and beverages. Don’t eat ice cold foods straight from the refrigerator.   Most people in our modern world are totally unaware of the full extent of the insidious damage and injury to our bodies and their vital functions by excessive or indiscriminate cold.  Ice cold drinks, ice cream, and the like may feel very good in the heat of midday, but they make you more vulnerable to colds and chills when the cool nights come.  Cold can linger in the body, and not be noticed, for a lot longer than most people realize.

The ancient Greek physician – philosophers reasoned that Hot or heating influences on the body were inherently less risky to the organism and its homeostasis than were Cold or cooling ones because Cold is basically contrary or inimical to Life.  Living bodies all generate heat, whereas dead bodies are cold.  And so, it is especially important that we do not overindulge in cold, especially when the seasons start to change.

The ancient Greek philosopher – physicians also categorized all foods, herbs and medicinal substances as being either heating or cooling in nature.  Heating or warming foods and herbs add to, or build up, the inherent metabolic heat, energy and vitality of the body, whereas cooling foods and herbs disperse it, and thereby deplete it.  The prevailing seasonal changes that are taking place are moving towards increasing coldness, which will require increasing inherent metabolic heat and energy to withstand.  In accordance with the prevailing direction of seasonal change, we must abandon an overindulgence in Cold or cooling foods and herbs, and concentrate on warming, or at least neutral or temperate, foods and herbs.

Start to rebuild the nutritional status of the organism, and its immunity. The constant, overwhelming heat of mid Summer is now gone, that oppressive heat that stifled the appetite and digestion, and we are now free to eat more copiously of heavier, more nutritious foods, especially in the cooler evenings.  Luckily, Mother Nature has provided us with some great foods and herbs for rebuilding our bodies and their immunity:

Pumpkins, squash and yellow vegetables: These are all rich in carotenes and vitamin A, which increases the health and immune resistance of the body’s mucous membranes in preparation for the coming Fall and Winter.  They are also a rich source of caloric energy and complex carbohydrates.

Whole grains: These are also harvested in the late summer or early Fall, and are an excellent source of high quality nutrition, with B vitamins, vitamin E, and plenty of fiber.

Dark Forest Berries: These include Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Grapes and Black Currants.  They are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants to strengthen vascular and connective tissue and, with their rich vitamin C content, to boost circulation and immunity.  Whereas mid Summer has dilated and expanded the peripheral capillaries, the mildly astringent nature of these dark forest berries restores their normal tone and equilibrium.

Lately, there has been a lot of scientific research into the health benefits of red grapes and red wine for maintaining cardiovascular health.  This is primarily due to the influece of a flavonoid pigment that red grapes contain, called resveratrol.

In closing, I wish to leave you with a couple of beneficial herbs to use to boost immunity for the coming Fall and Winter.  These are both herbs that are native to Greece and the Balkans, and healing plants that date all the way back to Hippocrates and beyond.

Olive Leaves (Olea europea): The powers of the leaves of this ancient tree of Greece, the Mediterranean and the Holy Land to boost immunity and fight infection are legendary.  Due to the action of Oleuropein and other flavonoid antioxidants contained in the leaf, Olive leaves have a broad spectrum antimicrobial activity against many types of bacteria, molds, yeasts, fungi and viruses.  Olive leaf tea can be drunk freely instead of water, and is quite pleasant tasting, somewhat like Green Tea, only more aromatic.  Or, you can go to your local health food store and get capsules of Olive Leaf Extract, which provides the essence of the herb in its most concentrated, and tasteless, form.

Besides building our immune resistance to infections, Olive Leaves are also quite useful for relieving other health conditions.  The flavonoids they contain dilate and tone the blood vessels, protecting against hypertension and cardiovascular disease.  The beta Sitosterols in the leaves help to lower blood cholesterol.  The flavonoid compounds in the Olive Leaf also have a hypoglycemic effect that lowers blood sugar in those who have problems with high blood sugar.  And finally, they have a beneficial protective effect against upper respiratory tract infections and allergies.

Sea Buckthorn berries and oil (Hippophae rhamnoides): The late Summer and early Fall is also the time of year when the Sea Buckthorn berries ripen.  Mother Nature, recognizing this as the season for building immunity, has made the Sea Buckthorn berry a nutritional powerhouse to do just that, packing them chock full of important nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin C, flavonoids, vitamin E, carotenoids, phytosterols, B vitamins, Iron, and much, much more.

Sea Buckthorn berries can be taken in many forms.  You can take the juice concentrate or syrup, or the oil.  Or, you can grind the dried berries into a powder in an electric coffee grinder, and mix them with honey to make a delicious medicinal paste, or electuary.  Any way you take them, Sea Buckthorn berries provide wonderful nutritional and immune protection against the coming cold season.

Mother Nature, in Her infinite healing wisdom, practices preventive medicine by providing us with the foods and herbs we need, all in the right time and season, to prepare us for what lies ahead.  All we need to do is to partake of Her healing bounty.    

The Dog Days of Summer

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Well, well, my readers, the Summer Solstice was just yesterday, and in Redlands, California, where I live, the heat was quite oppressive, and almost unbearable!  At least in the Northern Hemisphere, we have summer from around June 21st to September 21st.  During Summer, the Sun transits through the tropical zodiac signs of Cancer, Leo and Virgo.  The first two of these signs, Cancer and Leo, are ruled by the two luminaries – the Moon and the Sun, respectively, and when the Summer season is at its peak, so is the power and blazing heat of the Sun, which is in its domicile sign of Leo in Summer’s middle month.

Ancient Egyptian priests and astrologers noted that at the advent of Summer, Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, rose in the East with the rising Sun.  From this observation comes the expression, “The Dog Days of Summer”.  In the dog days of Summer, you sweat like a dog, pant like a dog, and may even die like a dog if you don’t take measures to protect yourself from sunstroke and heat exhaustion.

In Greek Medicine, the inherent temperament of Summer is Hot, Dry and Choleric.  The heat of Summer, soaring upwards from the moderate warmth of Spring, has gotten so extreme that it has evaporated all the residual moisture of the previous season, leaving the climate Hot and Dry.

And if you yourself don’t take sensible measures to prevent it, you too could dry up inside, and succumb to heat exhaustion and dehydration.  Fluids sweated out in the hot weather must be replenished, and you must keep yourself well hydrated.  This is especially true if you are not only out in hot weather in the summertime, but also like to stay active and exercise.  So, drink at least eight full glasses of water daily in the summertime.

Always take along a lot of water when you go hiking, or are in the outdoors during the Summer, and drink and hydrate yourself often.  That’s because dehydration can creep up on you without your knowing it – until you start to experience the first symptoms of weakness, giddiness and light headedness.  Even if you have usually handled the Summer heat quite well, extreme conditions could still creep up on you unawares.

Summer is inherently Hot, Dry and Choleric in temperament, making it identical in its basic qualities to that of the Choleric humor, also called the Bilious humor, which is Yellow Bile.  And so, the inherent qualities of Summer have a tendency to aggravate the Choleric humor, or Yellow Bile.  Physically, we may feel weakness, malaise, or may be feverish; we may sweat profusely; or we may feel a bit nauseous and giddy.  Psychologically, with Choleric aggravation, we may get angry or irritable, get red, sore eyes or headaches, and be on a short fuse as our tempers flare.

The Choleric temperament and its predominant humor, Yellow Bile, have long been associated with boldness, contentiousness and audacity.  We speak of “the pure, unmitigated gall” to do so and so.  Historically speaking, many nations, such as the United States and France, had their revolutions in the Dog Days of Summer.  The people got bold and feisty, couldn’t take it anymore, and decided to do something about it.

Those of a Choleric temperament usually have the hardest time in Summer, and weaken a lot in the intense Summer heat, sweating profusely and getting all hot and feverish.  They may experience headaches, sore eyes, liver problems, and fevers, as well as toxemic and inflammatory conditions.  These are mostly the manifestations of aggravated Yellow Bile.

Conversely, those of the contrary Phlegmatic temperament, which is Cold and Wet in its basic qualities, generally has the easiest time dealing with Summer – provided that they are basically healthy, and not too overweight, as those of a Phlegmatic temperament often struggle with excessive weight gain.  If excessive weight gain or obesity should be a problem, then Summer becomes a difficult season even for Phlegmatics, since the external body armor of fat or adipose tissue acts much like a heavy overcoat, holding body heat in, and not allowing it to vent or escape properly.  So, besides wanting to cut a superb figure when you slip into that sleek bathing suit or skimpy bikini, here is another reason why you want to lose weight in preparation for Summer.

Another important physiological response of the organism to the extreme heat of Summer is for the body to shunt blood and its circulation outwards towards the periphery in order to dissipate a lot of the internal heat that has built up in the body’s interior.  The capillaries open and flush, and you start to sweat profusely.  The shunting of blood towards the external capillaries alone will dissipate quite a bit of heat, but perspiration adds the cooling effect of the complementary Water element to quell the Fire of excessive body heat.  Just drink enough water and fluids to replenish that which is lost by sweating.

Sweating is good, sweating helps us release toxins that have accumulated in our bodies, which can come either from exogenous dietary or environmental sources, or from internal or endogenous causes, such as metabolic residues that have accumulated due to imbalances in digestion and metabolism.  In summer, deeply held accumulations of toxins also tend to arise towards the skin and surface of the organism, hopefully to be released with the escaping sweat.  But if too many toxins accumulate in the sweat as it is being released, the sweat can become toxic, with the main manifestations being either sweat that stinks or sweat that itches, irritates or burns excessively.  This latter manifestation can be a comon cause or aggravating factor in heat rash.

If these types of skin conditions should be a problem in Summer, it helps to cleanse your blood with herbs that are alteratives, or blood cleansers, combined with herbs that are cooling, sedating diaphoretics. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Neem leaves (Azadirachta indica) are a frequently recommended blood cleanser in hot natured skin rashes and eruptions.  In Western herbal medicine, Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) are a commonly recommended dynamic duo of blood cleansers that can help.  In Greek and Unani herbal medicine, the miracle herb for skin eruptions and rashes is Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis).

If you would like to make an herbal formula composed of alteratives and cooling diaphoretics that is good for handling Summer skin rashes and eruptions, the following would be good:
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Goldenseal herb (Hydrastis canadensis)
Echinacea herb
(Echinacea angustifulia, E. purpurea)
Red Clover flowers
( Trifolium praetense)
Burdock root
(Arctium lappa)
Elder berries
(Sambucus nigra)
Figwort herb (Scrophularia nodosa)
Fumitory herb
(Fumaria officinalis)
Fennel seed
(Foeniculum vulgare)
Mix the above herbs together in equal parts and grind to a powder in an electric coffee grinder.  Make this powder into an infusion or tea by steeping one rounded teaspoon of the powder in one cup of boiling water.  Let steep and cool down to room temperature.  Drink as needed for skin rashes, irritation and eruptions, or as a preventive medicine against this condition in summer.  You may sweeten this with a little lemon and honey if so desired, but stay away from sugar.  You can make as many cups as you want to have on hand; you can even store it in the refrigeator, but don’t drink it when it is too cold.

If you are sweating profusely when you’re out in hot Summer weather, this is all normal, provided that your strength and vitality are up, and you don’t feel too weak, giddy or lightheaded.  Sweating is good, since it releases toxins.  But if the sweating should get too thin or furtive, or should disappear altogether in hot Summer weather, this is a cause for concern.  Generally, it shows that the body does not have enough fluid reserves to sweat properly, and indicates a need to consume more fluids to rehydrate the organism.

Another thing that a lot of people notice in the hot Dog Days of Summer is that their appetite often diminishes, and they don’t want to eat that much.  The reason for this is that, with all that blood circulation shunted outwards towards the external capillaries, quite a bit of blood is taken away from the body’s interior, which includes the digestive organs.  Also, if you are a bit dehydrated, and your fluid levels are low, the body may not have enough fluids to put into the digestive secretions of the GI tract, which require quite a bit of fluids.  And so, even though it’s generally not a good idea to drink too many fluids when you eat, drinking fluids while eating may actually be a good idea in Summer, especially if fluid levels are low, and may actually help your digestion rather than hurt it.

Because appetite levels often drop in Summer due to the above mentioned climactic and physiological conditions, in a lot of cultures around the globe, people have developed the tendency to eat light, easily digestible foods in Summer.  There’s nothing wrong with this, just as long as you’re consuming plenty of fluids, and are eating enough to keep your energy levels up.  Actually, many people tend to overeat anyways, and the Summer activities and “fun in the Sun”, combined with a lighter diet, may actually be a good thing, and do wonders for your health.

“But still”, you may be asking, “How do I really beat the Summer heat?”  Of course, you can be a party pooper and hang out indoors, inside your comfortably air conditioned room all summer long, watching soap operas on TV.  But the natural answer, as provided by Greek Medicine and the world’s other great traditional healing systems, is to eat foods and drinks that are of an exceptionally cooling nature.  By this, I DON’T mean eating ice cold foods and drinks straight from your refrigerator or icebox; that is UN-natural cold that is too extreme, and therefore damaging to your health.  Even in Summer, normal body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius, or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite warm.  But eating and drinking foods that are of a naturally cooling, sedating and detoxifying nature will help your body FEEL a lot cooler and more comfortable, even in the blazing Summer heat.

Fruits are naturally cooling and detoxifying, and of these, Citrus fruits like Oranges, Lemons and Limes are a perennial favorite in things like Lemonade or freshly squeezed Orange juice.  In fact, Oranges and their juice can be used medicinally to bring down fevers.  But this is best, and the effects are most cooling and sedating to the organism, when the Orange juice is cut 50/50 with water.

Melons are another perennial Summer favorite, and all your major Melons are really quite cooling in nature.  Cantaloupes and Honeydews are all quite cooling, as is Watermelon. Watermelon is a good diuretic, and is good for cleansing the urinary system.

The old Greeks and Romans used the fresh, green shoots of the Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra) as a cooling, sedating summer drink, prepared with honey to sweeten it in much the same manner as one would prepare Lemonade. To this day, such is a popular country custom in Romania, in the heart of the Balkans in Eastern Europe.  The Elder flowers bloom in mid June, and when they do, they must be picked and used quickly, as they fade and wither fast.

When one thinks of a cooling herb, the first one that usually pops into one’s mind is Peppermint (Mentha piperita), as well as its close botanical cousin, Spearmint (Mentha spicata). These form the basis for the ever popular drink, the Mint Julep, which is a perennial favorite of the Old South, in the USA.  But how many of these stately southern ladies and gentlemen know that their Mint Julep, and the Julep itself, was the invention of Arab physicians as a cooling, sedating drink to cool off the blazing heat of Summer?

Grapes are another cooling fruit of the Aster family, as is Lettuce, which is one of the most cooling of vegetables.  So, that’s why you like to eat a lot of salads in Summer – to cool your body off!  The great product and bounty of the Grape Vine is its Wine, which can be made into a number of tasty, refreshing, cooling drinks.  Just try making Red Wine into Sangria, by soaking it with fruits – some Citrus fruits like Oranges, Lemons and Limes, some Melons, or perhpas, if you want to be very herbally creative, some tender young Elder flower shoots!  And you can take that Wine or Sangria and mix it with some sparkling Mineral Water to make a Wine Cooler!

Yes, there are a number of different fun, creative ways to stay cool in Summer and beat the heat.  Just do so sensibly, to protect and preserve your health.

SPRING CLEANING AND DETOXIFICATION – AND PREPARATION FOR SUMMER

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Greek Medicine and other natural healing systems, the spring season is the time to clean house, and detoxify the body in preparation for summer.  During the previous season of winter, heavy, hearty and rich foods tended to be eaten, giving the body a lot of nutritional and caloric support to resist the cold temperatures and microbial assaults on the respiratory and immune systems.  These heavy, rich foods also tended to generate a lot of toxins and excessive morbid humors like phlegm or bile, which were held deep and dormant within the body because the metabolic processes of the body are not as active at bringing them up in the cold weather of winter.

But in the springtime, blood, the dominant humor of the season, rises up to the surface quite exuberantly, much like the sap rises to the leaves of the trees during this season. This increased activity and renewal of blood gives us a great opportunity to cleanse and purify it.  And since the metabolic processes of the body in ripening toxins and its potential in bringing latent toxicity to a crisis situation speeds up and increases in the summer, it’s also a good idea to clean your bodily house in the spring.

“Detox” is a hot and trendy buzzword amongst the health conscious today, but few people know that detoxification was also a key topic of concern amongst physicians and healers even way back in ancient Greece.  In fact, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, and of Greek and Unani medicine, had a lot to say on this subject, and his sayings and aphorisms on this are rich in healing wisdom.  When it comes to bodily cleansing and detoxification, there’s a right and responsible way to do it, as well as a wrong way, and Hippocrates helps us to differentiate between the two.

The vital need for bodily cleansing and detoxification is emphasized by Hippocrates in the following aphorism:

In bodies not properly cleansed, the more you nourish, the more you injure.
Aphorisms, II : 10

And so, one of the key indications for the need of a cleansing and detoxification regime is a digestive system that is chronically malfunctioning or out of sorts, with gas, distension, bloating, burping belching, or other reflux symptoms being commonplace after eating.  In such a state, your body can’t really assimilate and make use of the nutrients from the food you eat fully and efficiently, and food can stagnate and putrefy in the GI tract, generating toxins and superfluous morbid humors that further clog the vital assimilative channels of the body.

It’s like a cup or vessel, which cannot be filled with the new, fresh and vital if it still contains the old, morbid and stagnant.  So, if you really want to nourish and rebuild your body on a deep and fundamental level, it is often helpful to go on a sensible and moderate fasting and cleansing regimen beforehand.

The ancient Greeks were great believers in the curative powers of fasting.  When fasting, the body’s digestive, assimilative and metabolic organs are no longer burdened with the processing of new or considerable food intake, and can start to consume and metabolize that which is residual, morbid and superfluous in the body, especially toxins and morbid, superfluous humors.  That which is least essential and most superfluous and burdensome to the body is consumed and metabolized first.

A fast can be as short and simple as skipping a meal, like dinner, or it can last for a week or more.  It can also be a partial fast, or a restricted cleansing diet, or it can be a total fast, with nothing more than water or herbal teas consumed.  In undertaking and designing a cleansing regime or fast, one must take care to be prudent and cautious, so as not to undertake something which would be too challenging to your body and its healing resources.  To design the fast or cleansing regime that is right for you, both in terms of your natural constitutional makeup, disposition and temperament as well as the various health conditions or imbalances you may have acquired, it is helpful to consult with a physician or holistic healthcare professional.

As a general counsel, Hippocrates has some helpful aphorisms to guide those who are looking to detoxify their bodies through fasting:

Old persons endure fasting most easily; next, adults; young persons not nearly as well; and most especially, infants, and of them such as are of a particularly lively spirit.
Aphorisms I : 13

Hippocrates goes on to say that this is because growing bodies have the most innate metabolic heat.  Therefore, a greater heat or metabolic fire requires more food or fuel to feed the flame, otherwise, the body becomes wasted.  Therefore, fasting is most safely and responsibly practiced by those who are adults, and are no longer growing.

Besides generalized chronic toxicity symptoms like poor appetite and indigestion; gas, distension and bloating; chronic fatigue and devitalization; a bitter taste in the mouth; irritability, malaise and frequent headaches; etc… another prime indication for fasting or a cleansing diet is an acute healing crisis or fever.  Here, the body is intensively trying to cleanse itself of the offending morbid matter, and should not be burdened by a heavy or substantial food intake.  Hippocrates says:

When the disease is at its height, it will then be necessary to use the most slender diet.
Aphorisms I : 8

We must retrench during paroxysms, for to exhibit food would be injurious.  And in all diseases having periodical paroxysms, we must restrict during the paroxysms.
Aphorisms I : 11

So, forget the old wives’ tale you’ve heard about starving a cold and feeding a fever.  Starve them both!  In acute healing crises, a liquid diet of soups, teas, broths or light porridges at the most, is best.

Hippocrates, above all, was sensible and prudent in matters of diet.  He always argued on the side of balance and moderation, as in the following aphorism:

A slender and restricted diet is always dangerous in chronic diseases, and also in acute diseases, where it is not requisite.  And again, a diet brought to the extreme point of attenuation is dangerous; and repletion, when in the extreme, is also dangerous.
Aphorisms I : 4

In dietary therapy, when designing cleanisng or detoxification diets, we must differentiate between the best regular diet for the individual versus a therapeutic cleansing or detoxification diet.  The cleansing diet will be more slender and restricted, but is meant only to be undertaken for a short period of time, and for a specific cleansing or detoxification objective.  As for one’s normal, regular diet, it should be as broad and varied as the individual’s constitutional nature and temperament, and his or her acquired conditions, will allow.  Excessive or unwarranted nutritional restriction on a regular diet will bring grave health consequences.

Generally speaking, three or four days to a week at the most is the best length of time to go on a fasting regime or cleansing diet.  And having the guidance of a holistic healing professional is also very desirable in order to tailor the diet or regime to meet your healing and detoxification goals.

In the timing of detoxification diets and regimes, it is best to heed the seasons of the year and the phases of the Moon.  A cleansing or detoxification regime is best undertaken around the spring or autumn equinoxes, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, so the adaptive powers of the organism are not overly taxed.

Regarding the phases of the Moon, the waxing half of the lunar month is best suited for nourishment and building, whereas the waning half is best suited for cleansing and detoxification.  Ideally, a fasting or cleansing regime should be undertaken during the final week or last quarter of the lunar cycle, to be broken ( break the fast or cleansing regime slowly over a three day period) around the New Moon and followed by a rebuilding regime for a week or two thereafter.

Generally, various kinds of gruels or porridges, called ptisan in Greek Medicine, are the staple food during a cleansing regime or partial fast.  Ayurvedic medicine has itskitcharee, which is a porridge or gruel made from lentils or mung beans and brown or basmati rice.  Greek Medicine uses barley gruels in which various kinds of beans like mung beans, black beans or garbanzos can be mixed, as well as various green and / or root vegetables.  Sea vegetables are also very nice and nutritious.  Above all, the porridge or gruel used should be light and easy to digest.  Generally, the more frail or delicate the individual’s overall health condition, the lighter or thinner the gruel is made, so as to not overtax the powers of digestion and assimilation.

Regarding cleansing herbs that can be taken during a fast or cleansing regime, a distinction must be made between those that are mildy cleansing and detoxifying versus those that are strongly purging.  On this, Hippocrates offers a word of warning:

Purgative medicines agree ill with persons in good health.
Aphorisms, II : 37

In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Purgative medicines are to be used only in cases requiring them, which are generally of an acute and excessive character.  So, if you are basically in good health, and are not suffering from symptoms of acute excess or toxicity, then stay away from purgatives.

For example, let’s take cleansing the bowels.  Some examples of gently cleansing herbs here would be Chicory root, Yellow Dock, Goldenseal, Dandelion root, or Slippery Elm. Examples of purgatives would be Senna, Rhubarb root or Epsom Salts.

Many herbs that are gently cleansing help the eliminative organs of the body in their work of metabolizing excessive morbid humors and neutralizing toxins, often by stimulating the metabolic heat or fire of the organism to ripen them or burn them off.  That’s generally the best way I have found to detoxify, in my experience.  It’s slower and less dramatic than the rapid purge, but if you are patient with your body and its natural detoxification processes, I find that it works better.

Another downside of purging that must be taken into account is that purging the body with purgatives requires a considerable expenditure of the body’s inherent metabolic and vital energy, whereas the gently detoxifying herbs don’t.  That’s another reason why I prefer gently cleansing and detoxifying to purging.

A good detoxifying decoction can be made from the following heavier plant parts: Burdock root, Dandelion root, Gentian, Calamus root, Angelica root, Elecampane root, Valerian root, Licorice root, Ginger root, Prickly Ash bark, Wild Yam, Yellow Dock, Marshmallow root, Siberian Ginseng, Fenugreek seeds, and Elder berries. Mix these 16 herbs together in equal parts. Decoct slowly, in the ratio of one heaping tablespoon of the mixture per cup of water.  Those who smoke may wish to eliminate Calamus root, since many who smoke are sensitive to it.

A good detoxifying tea or infusion can be made from equal parts of the following herbs:  Dandelion herb, Hyssop, Peppermint, Olive leaves, Red Clover, Gotu Kola, Calendula flowers, Plantain, Yarrow, Echinacea herb, Goldenseal herb, and Fennel seed. Use a heaping tablespoon of the herb mixture per cup of hot or boiling water and let it steep for five minutes.

These teas can be taken along with the gruel or porridge.  Eat three medium sized bowls of the gruel or porridge per day, and accompany this by frequent glasses of herb tea, from three to six cups per day.  You may wish to augment this basic regime with morning enemas on the first three consecutive days of the cleansing regime for a fuller, deeper detoxification.

DISCLAIMER: The material in this article has been presented for educational purposes only, and is not intended to substitute for personal diagnosis and treatment from a physician or licensed healthcare professional.  The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek medical assistance if any medical condition or disorder develops or persists.

Reflections on the Sorry State of America’s Healthcare System

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Monday, January 10, 2011

Like many progressive people in the USA, I was extremely disappointed in the weak, watered down healthcare reforms that were passed by congress during this past year.  Even though it could be argued that the healthcare reform bill that was passed was a major step in ending the worst abuses of the private, for-profit health insurance industry, those same hopelessly greedy, corrupt and inflated private health insurance providers were left in place, with no new, government sponsored health insurance or healthcare alternatives for the public to turn to.

Once again, Americans, supposedly living in the land of the free, are left without a real, significant alternative to turn to when they are looking for healthcare.  And all this in spite of the fact that many of the founding fathers wanted assurances of medical freedom, and the right of the individual to decide what is done to or put into his or her body, written into the laws of the land.

Benjamin Rush, President George Washington’s personal physician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wanted a clause written into the US Constitution that would guarantee the individual’s medical freedom of choice.  And Thomas Jefferson supposedly said that to have the government decide or dictate to you what you could or couldn’t eat amounted to tyranny.  Yet the sad truth about American healthcare today is that the public’s freedom of choice and access to insurance providers and treatment options and modalities is still quite limited and circumscribed, and public health officials routinely interfere with an individual’s God given right to decide what they put into or do to their bodies.

Many modern day Americans, even those who consider themselves educated and enlightened, assume that there is nothing essentially wrong with the healthcare and medical treatment system in the USA today.  The only problem, as far as they can see, is that it costs too much, and that greedy, for-profit insurance companies capriciously deny coverage to those who need expensive medical interventions the most, because of their prohibitive cost vis-a-vis the insurance companies’ insatiable desire to boost their profits, and their bottom line.

But pioneering physicians in the field of integrative medicine, like Dr. Andrew Weil, have said that the popular assumption that we have the finest healthcare system in the world, and all that needs to be reformed is its financial infrastructure and accessibility, is erroneous.  We need fundamental reforms in the way medicine is practiced, on a disease by disease basis, towards more cost effective solutions and treatments that are genuinely in the best interests of the patient.  Where possible and advisable, we need a shift away from the expensive, invasive, high tech interventions of modern medicine, towards more natural, less invasive, and more cost effective complementary and alternative treatments and modalities.  And above all, we need to practice more preventive medicine, to catch and reverse incipient chronic degenerative diseases in their initial stages, before they demand expensive and invasive modern medical interventions.

To use a trendy modern buzzword, we need a major paradigm shift in our approach to medicine, and how it is practiced.  And there are already those on the cutting edge of integrative medicine, like Dr. Weil and others, who are doing their best to deliver the best possible healthcare to their patients, incorporating a diverse array of treatments and modalities, according to what is in the best interest of the patient.

The American public, this vast sea of healthcare consumers, is desperately looking for something natural, and will go to great lengths to get it.  This is evidenced by the enormous sums of money they are willing to spend on alternative and complementary treatments and medicines, including supplements and herbs, mostly out of pocket, without any financial help or assistance from the health insurance industry.  Without a doubt, this is because their own personal experience with these medicines and treatments has thoroughly convinced them of their worth.  And, best of all, these medicines and treatments are very user friendly, and have few, if any, negative side effects.  Without a doubt, these health conscious consumers of complementary and alternative treatments and medicines have appreciated the great wisdom of Hippocrates’ healing maxim, “First, do no harm.”

I often like to say that it’s amazing that, with all the latest, greatest modern medical technology and research facilities at their disposal, the pharmaceutical industry has not come up with medicines that work any better than they do, with their long lists of harmful and debilitating side effects that are often worse than the disease they are supposed to treat.  Why is this so?  Perhaps, just maybe, and let me play the devil’s advocate here, it’s because the human organism, having evolved for thousands and even millions of years in a natural environment, consuming plants, herbs, minerals and other natural substances, has acclimated itself to them.  And so, when any unnatural, synthetic drug or substance is administered, this violates the body’s own inherent healing wisdom, which is even programmed into its genetic material.  This, of course, deranges the immune responses, metabolism and natural humoral balance and homeostasis of the body, creating numerous negative side effects.

I am not saying that all modern synthetic drugs are harmful and unnecessary.  In many cases, powerful drugs have been developed which are real lifesavers, especially in acute medical emergencies where the patient’s life is in grave danger.  But when it comes to the chronic degenerative diseases that are the number one bane of modern man, and which consume the lion’s share of the healthcare dollar, synthetic pharmaceutical drugs are, more often than not, on more dubious and uncertain therapeutic ground.  Many are prohibitively expensive, are of questionable effectiveness and value to the patient, and have a whole host of harmful and debilitating side effects, many of which are potentially lethal, or are worse than the disease they are supposed to treat.

So why do the pharmaceutical companies persist in this single minded commitment to “better living through chemistry”, and why do they so relentlessly push their synthetic drugs, in spite of their numerous drawbacks?  In investigating this problem, as with so many other crimes, the general rule is to follow the money.  The drug companies want, above all, a substance that they can patent and own, and have exclusive control over – including the profits and revenue from its sales.  And to patent a drug, they have to invent it and synthesize it as a completely new substance in the laboratory.  And with herbs and other natural substances, God owns the patent, and He isn’t selling out!

Back in the good ole days, in your great grandmother’s time or beyond, most patent medicines were herbally based.  The manufacturer obtained a patent on the particular formulation of ingredients that was in his natural medicine, but this did not assure total, absolute control over his idea and the potential profits it could generate.  Another competitor could come along and, with a minor variation or adjustment to the original formulation, patent his own medicine that worked about as well as the original.

The great thing about herbs and the other natural substances that are used in the medicinal formulations of all the world’s great traditional healing systems, including Greek Medicine and Unani Tibb, is that these medicinal substances have been in actual clinical use on humans for hundreds, and even thousands, of years.  And so, everything that they do to people, and all their clinical and therapeutic actions and effects, be they good, bad or indifferent, are thoroughly known and tested already.

With synthetic pharmaceutical drugs, on the other hand, the opposite is the case.  When they are first synthesized, they are totally unknown substances, especially where their clinical and therapeutic effects on humans are concerned.  And so, to determine their safety and clinical effectiveness, extensive testing, first on lab animals, and then on actual human beings, must be done, which can be quite a long and expensive process.  And these costs are, of course, passed along to the consumer in the cost of the finished product as it goes to market.

When I was a student in acupuncture school, our professor of Western medicine was a licensed naturopathic doctor.  There were two sides to his podium as he lectured us on medicine.  When he stood on one side, he gave the conventional modern medical approach and perspective on various conditions and their treatments; on the other side, he would stand on his naturopathic “soapbox” and tell us all the flaws and drawbacks of the approach he had just explained to us.

One of the things that this naturopathic doctor liked to tell us is that about 80 percent of the pharmaceutical drugs in use today weren’t in use 20 years ago.  Why is this so?  Because, even with the best and most extensive animal testing and clinical trials available, not all negative side effects are uncovered.  One has only to think of the Thalidomide babies to know that this is all too often the case.  But also, many of the negative effects of new drugs that are put on the market are quite subtle, or may not show up until twenty or more years of regular use have gone by.  And the final possible reason is that in many cases, such vast sums of money are spent in the testing and clinical trials of a new drug that tremendous finanical pressure is brought to bear by the pharmaceutical companies, and research findings are corrupted and corners cut in the process of bringing their drug to market.

This brings one to a couple of sobering realizations that must be taken into consideration when or if you are deciding whether or not to use a particular pharmaceutical drug:

1)  That the blissfully unaware American public is, unknowingly to them, being used as guinea pigs in the vast, real life laboratory that is the American healthcare system.

2)  If you are truly concerned, first and foremost, about drug safety above all other considerations, that you are much better off going with an older drug that has been in actual clinical use for 20 years or longer, and ignoring all the hype about the latest “wonder” drug.  Not only are the older drugs safer, but they are also cheaper, and in many cases much cheaper, than the newer drugs, many of which can be prohibitively expensive.  That’s because their research and development costs have long since been recouped.

Our naturopathic Western medicine professor also used to like to tell us that if our country and its healthcare system were truly and sincerely interested, first and foremost, in helping the patient and providing him or her with the best, least potentially damaging or invasive healthcare possible, that our medical system would spend a lot more of its time, money and resources developing and perfecting natural and alternative modalities and treatments.  From the state of our healthcare system today, he would tell us, the only thing that a thinking and rational person can conclude is that patients and their welfare are definitely given a backseat to the medical profits made from expensive, invasive and often unnecessary drugs and treatments.

And surgery is another branch of modern medicine that can also be over-glorified.  Although surgeons are often seen as the demigods of modern medicine, historically, surgeons and their art have not been held in that high esteem.  In medieval and early modern times, barbers often doubled as surgeons; this surgical past is the reason why the revolving poles outside barber shops have red and white stripes: red for the blood, and white for the surgical bandages.  In the early, pre-modern era of surgery, the surgical option was often quite disfiguring and debilitating.

But with the tremendous advances in modern science and technology, great technical advances have been made in surgical materials and techniques, and modern surgery, where it is truly necessary and the best option, can do wonders.  Dr. Andrew Weil wrote in one of his books that, if he were hit by a truck, he would want nothing better than to be put back together again by modern orthopedic surgeons.

One of my friends in acupuncture school – or was it my naturopathic Western Medicine teacher? – once told me that you can think of modern MDs, especially surgeons, as “body mechanics”.  In other words, in their mechanistic, reductionistic view of the human body as nothing more than a very sophisticated machine, they view the body as something like your automobile, whose parts need repair or replacement after a certain amount of use or mileage has been put on them.

Greek Medicine and other traditional healing systems are, on the other hand, vitalistic in nature, in that they place great faith in the body’s own God given Vital Force, or Life Force, called Pneuma in Greek Medicine, Qi in Chinese Medicine, and Prana in Ayurvedic Medicine.  It is this indwelling Spirit, or Life Force, that endows the human organism with a natural biological intelligence and an ability to heal and regenerate itself.

Now surgery, however great its achievements or benefits might be, is probably the branch of medicine that places the least emphasis on the body’s ability to heal and regenerate itself.  When the body is physically or physiologically broken beyond its capacity for natural healing and regeneration, the surgeon fixes it either structurally or functionally, or both.  But even so, the natural healing and regeneration processes of the human organism are necessary to heal the wounds and trauma of surgery.

Continuing our analogy of surgeons to the mechanics who work on your car, it is also true that many surgeons, especially those who are out to make a quick buck, recommend surgical procedures that are unnecessary, simply to line their pockets.  In many cases in modern medicine, the way it is practiced in the USA and other technologically advanced Western nations today, surgeries are routinely done as the standard treatment procedure, even on diseases and disorders that do not absolutely require them.

In Chinese hospitals, gall stones are frequently dissolved with regimens of herbal decoctions, at only a fraction of the cost for the surgical removal of the gall bladder, which is the standard treatment procedure for this condition in the West.  This can be done even if the gall stones are larger than the bile duct, by slowly softening and dissolving them so that they can pass through.  It is even possible to embark on a regimen that enables you to do this at home, utilizing materials that are available in your local supermarket.  But, to be on the safe side, of course, I would do this under medical supervision.

Surgeons who are advocating gall bladder removal like to characterize the gall bladder as nothing more than an unnecessary, vestigial organ.  At best, they see the gall bladder as somewhat of a ticking time bomb that may go off at any moment, especially considering all the abuse that is heaped upon it by our modern fast food diet.

But the gall bladder is far from a vestigial organ; it is absolutely necessary for the proper and optimal digestion and metabolism of fats and lipids.  Most of those who have had their gall bladder removed are no longer able to digest and metabolize fats and lipids properly, and usually wind up becoming overweight or obese for life, suffering all the usual health problems and risks that go with it.

The gall bladder is just one example; there are many other organs that are routinely removed when they don’t have to be, when some less invasive, natural treatment can save them.  But this overuse of surgery is not just the fault of greedy or avaricious surgeons; surgery is also touted as the quick fix, and appeals to those who lack the discipline, patience and resolve necessary to go the natural route and take charge of their own health and wellbeing.  This reminds me of a radio show I was listening to in my car one morning.  They were interviewing a heart transplant recipient right after his surgery, and the first thing he wanted was an ice cold beer!

But the flip side of the quick fix is that you have to live with its consequences, that some important aspect of the body and its natural functioning has been lost or impaired forever.  With gall bladder removal, it’s obesity and cholesterol problems; with a hysterectomy, it’s going into instant menopause, way before one’s natural time.  With organ transplants, it’s massive immunosuppression to get the recipient’s body to accept the new and foreign organ.  But from modern medicine’s profit oriented perspective, this only makes more business for the prescription of statin drugs and  hormone replacement pills.

So many women, by the time they get into their fifties, have lost their uterus that sometimes it seems to me that women who are fifty – plus and still have their uterus must definitely be in the minority!  Yet there are natural treatments, using herbs and / or enzymes, that can slowly reduce or dissolve cysts and fibroid tumors in the uterus.  If more women were even aware that such natural alternatives existed, I’m sure that many would be inclined to choose them, even though it might take more effort, patience and persistence on their part.  And it would definitely save the patient, and our healthcare system, a lot of money in the process to go the cheaper, low tech route.

Another surgical procedure that is greatly glorified these days is the gastric bypass surgery, or what I like to call “stomach stapling”.  To forcefully, invasively and unnaturally reduce the amount of food that a seriously obese person eats, the stomach is stapled and greatly reduced in size.  This drastic and draconian surgical procedure is relentlessly pushed on TV, on “health” channels, where they dramatize that the patient has responsibly chosen this option after considering all the pros and cons.

But a chronically obese cousin of mine who had this procedure done, and who lived in Minnesota, died suddenly one frigid winter night, her  body quickly succumbing to pneumonia.  It seems as if the drastically restricted diet that her artificially shrunken stomach had reduced her to lacked the sufficient breadth and variety necessary to ensure a healthy, robust immune response and defenses, and her weakened body was unable to resist the sudden onslaught of pathogenic microbes to her respiratory tract.  And her case also makes me wonder how many other hidden downsides of the stomach stapling surgery were also carefully hidden from view in the TV docudramas on the procedure.

All too often, drastic surgery to, or removal of, an organ or body part is the final, last ditch effort for the survival of the patient after a long downward spiral of chronic and degenerative disease.  We definitely need to be more vigilant and watchful in our screening and detection of these chronic and degenerative disorders and catch them in their beginning stages, before the colostomy or the cardiac bypass surgery becomes inevitable.  And we should much more fully utilize and exploit all the healing resources that traditional, holistic and alternative modalities and treatments have to offer in the practice of preventive medicine, even for diseases that are considered to be incurable by modern methods.

Before deciding on undergoing a surgical procedure, one must carefully weigh all the pros and cons, and be thorough in one’s research to uncover all the cons and downsides of the procedure, even ones that may not be readily apparent, as well as to uncover any natural, non surgical, less invasive treatment options that might exist.  What is the prognosis or natural progression of the disease or disorder you are facing if the surgery is not undertaken, and can you live with it?  And will the quality of your life after the surgery is done really be enough of an improvement, all things considered, to warrant the expense and the potential drawbacks of the surgical solution?  It must also be remembered that all surgery involves  a certain amount of trauma and wounding, and enough time and leisure must be allotted after the surgery to enable the body to heal properly and sufficiently.

To conclude, there are a lot of things that are wrong with the American healthcare system today, from a variety of different perspectives – financial, legal, medical and patients’ rights, to name a few.  As a progressive, I believe that universal, guaranteed healthcare should be a basic human right, not a priviledge accorded only to the wealthy.  And as a believer in, and practitioner of, natural medicine and preventive healthcare, I believe that preventive medicine and more natural, less invasive and less costly treatment options should be more fully integrated into our healthcare system, and that no truly satisfactory, permanent resolution to our current healthcare crisis is possible without this happening.

With “Obamacare” or the recent health reform legislation passed in the US, especially considering how limited and watered-down it truly is, it never ceases to amaze me how crazy, stupid and paranoid all this right wing resistance to it is.  And how based in fear, and even outright lies, this resistance is.  The biggest lie about it is that it is a government takeover of healthcare, when nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, it actually leaves exclusive dominion of our healthcare system to the private health insurance mafia, and the foxes are still in charge of the henhouse, with no real viable alternative to this closed shop monopoly.

The sad truth is that the USA still lags way behind the other advanced nations of the world, most of which have some version of universal healthcare.  And all this despite the fact that it has been a fight, a cause or crusade, that has been going on in this country for about a hundred years.  But when you get right down to it, universal healthcare is by no means a new or modern idea; even the ancient Romans had their own version of it, and considered a healthy populace to be a universal benefit accruing to the overall wellbeing of the empire.  Healthcare should be a universal human right, and not just a privilege awarded to the lucky few who can afford it.

STARTING THE NEW YEAR OFF RIGHT – THE GREEK MEDICINE WAY

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Friday, January 7, 2011

The New Year is the time for making all your resolutions to improve your life.  And especially, for the New Year, people resolve to take better care of their health.  Health and fitness club memberships skyrocket, and everybody really goes at it, and hits the weights, or the treadmill, or whatever it is that they’re into for exercise, really hard.

But within a few weeks, many have fallen by the wayside, and the great resolve with which they began the New Year has all but petered out.  Why? Of course, there are those who, through some inner defects of character and persistence, find it hard to keep any New Year’s resolution.  But far too often, their New Year’s health and fitness resolutions fail because they have set unrealistic goals for themselves which are unattainable, or unmaintainable.  If they are not under the guidance of an expert physical trainer, and suddenly embark on a regimen of exercise that is too strenuous or unbalanced, they may even wind up injuring themselves, and putting themselves out of commission for quite a while.

In Greek Medicine, resolutions, or efforts we make to improve our health, fall under the heading of the Six Hygienic Factors. Hygiene is the art of health maintenance and self care, and concerns six different areas that we must keep an eye on if we are to improve our health:

1)  Ambient Air
2)  Food and Drink
3)  Exercise and Rest
4)  Sleep and Wakefulness
5)  Retention and Evacuation of Wastes
6)  Perturbations of the Mind and Emotions

Notice that, built into many of these Six Hygienic Factors is the idea of moderation and balance.  Exercise and physical activity must be tempered with, or balanced by, rest.  A good night’s sleep is one of the most important things to get if one is to have good health, but even sleep, when carried to extremes, becomes somnolence, which is a destroyer of health if it is not balanced or complemented by a good healthy dose of purposeful and dynamic wakefulness, or waking activity.  And even the organs of elimination must maintain a healthy and appropriate balance between retention on the one hand, and evacuation on the other.

The ancient Greeks were great ones for moderation and balance in all things.  Aristotle said that the foundation of all personal happiness was contentment with the Golden Mean in every area of life.  The Greek God of health and physical culture, Apollo, had two great mottos:  Know Thyself; and Nothing in Excess.

Knowing oneself includes, of course, knowing one’s own limitations, whether it be in terms of exercise and physical activity, diet, sleep, or any other health concern.  It also means knowing your body’s needs, and what is good for it, and what is harmful.  In Greek Medicine, knowing oneself means knowing one’s constitutional nature and temperament.  By knowing one’s individual constitutional makeup, one knows one’s inherent strengths, as well as one’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and how to take care of oneself in such a way that one cultivates the former and compensates for or remedies the latter.

So, here are examples of New Year’s health resolutions that pertain to each one of the Six Hygienic Factors:

1)  Ambient Air: Cleaning house more often, and keeping it cleaner does a lot to improve the quality of the air we breathe, and eliminates potential pathogens from our environment, such as dust, mold, mildew or bacteria.  Getting outdoors more often, taking in more sunshine, or even moving to a healthier climate for you will also make a great difference in your health.  If you live and work in a polluted city, and can’t do much about the rather poor air quality, at least you can do pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises; the deep and vigorous breathing will cleanse all the stagnant tidal volume of air out of your lungs, and promote a sense of greater energy and alertness, as well as a feeling of wellbeing.

2)  Food and Drink: Obesity is probably the #1 health problem in the USA, as well as in many other countries around the world.  And so, many people are often going on a diet.  But all too often, these starvation diets are doomed to fail, because they are too extreme or unbalanced.  Simply cutting out offending items of junk food is often a good start, and will do much more than expected to help you feel better and get you closer to your ideal weight.  Or even becoming more aware of the food you are eating and its effect on your health by listening to your body and how it is reacting to what you eat is a good start.  Greek Medicine recognizes that moderation and the Golden Mean are essential in the domain of diet, and food should be healthfully yet tastily prepared.  Over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates, the founding father of Greek Medicine, warned against diets that were too restricted or extreme, and now, modern medicine and nutritional science fully accept the wisdom of his sage advice.

3)  Exercise and Rest: For most people, this means hitting the health and fitness clubs and getting back into an exercise regimen or routine.  But, particularly if you are in middle age or beyond, you should be cautious about pursuing an exercise regimen, and err on the side of caution and moderation, especially if you have been excessively sedentary, and have gotten yourself out of shape.  In addition to balancing exercise and physical activity with rest and recuperation, which also includes things like yoga stretches to wind down after a workout, every effort should be made to make the exercise routine as enjoyable as possible.  As with diet, exercise regimes that are too spartan, stoic or self denying are bound to fail over the long term.

4)  Sleep and Wakefulness: The great American statesman and founding father, Benjamin Franklin, coined the wise proverb:  Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.  And so, going to bed earlier and keeping more regular, disciplined hours will go a long way towards improving one’s health and feeling of wellbeing.  The ancient Romans said, “Carpe Diem”, or “Seize the Day”, and going to bed and rising early helps you do just that.  But even if you are an incurable night owl, there are still ways that you can find to make your daily routine more disciplined, efficient and productive, which will go a long ways towards increasing your feeling of self worth and self esteem.

5)  Retention and Evacuation of Wastes: Of course we need to exercise enough control over the functioning of our eliminative organs to urinate and defecate at the right times, and in this way, maintain a healthy and appropriate balance between the retention and evacuation of wastes.  But when it comes to the chronic degenerative diseases that modern man is so prone to, these are most often caused by what Hippocrates called autointoxication, which is the excessive retention of wastes in the body, which goes on to slowly poison the whole organism.  And so, going on fasts or cleansing diets, or taking herbal teas to cleanse and detoxify oneself, periodically, when there is a need for it, is a good New Year’s resolution to make if you want to increase your general level of health and wellbeing.  In undertaking such a cleansing and detoxification program, it’s always best to be under the guidance or supervision of a holistic healthcare provider.

Ayurvedic medicine is famous for its Pancha Karma, or Five Cleansing Actions, or therapies.  Greek Medicine goes one better, and utilizes Six Hygienic Purification Therapies.  These are:

1) Diaphoresis:  sweating
2) Diuresis:  urination
3) Emesis: therapeutic vomiting
4) Purgation:  evacuating the bowels through laxatives, purgatives, enemas
or colonics
5) Venesection:  bloodletting
6) Derivation:  drawing out toxins through the skin

Again, I would advise you to stick to the milder forms of cleansing therapies, and err on the side of caution and moderation, and only use the more radical or extreme therapies under the guidance of a holistic healer or physician who is trained in their administration.  In my experience, there is a lot of good cleansing and detoxification that can be accomplished just through the regular and sustained use of gentle cleansing herbs and dietary measures.

6)  Perturbations of the Mind and Emotions: New Year’s resolutions in this area can often be quite subtle, or require a degree of self control or self abnegation that can be quite a challenge for the individual.  Everyone knows that it’s all too easy to slip back into  bad emotional, mental and behavioral habits.  Curbing one’s anger would be a good example of a New Year’s resolution in this area which, if implemented successfully, would go a long way towards raising one’s level of mental peace and wellbeing, which would then have far reaching positive repercussions on one’s health.  Because behavioral resolutions of this type can be so hard to implement and stick with, I suggest that you find a counselor, therapist, or a support group that can guide you and help you find better ways of implementing the desired changes.  Other examples would be resolutions to seek more happiness and fulfillment in certain areas of life, such as one’s marital relations.

So, that’s it – these Six Hygienic Factors cover just about every way in which hygienic measures can be used to improve one’s personal health and wellbeing.  I wish you good luck in this coming New Year in finding health resolutions to adopt, and to follow through with them.