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If you're feeling well,
just stay away from the doctor.
-- Eugene Robbins, MD,
Professor Emeritus, Stanford Univ.
There is probably only one consensus regarding modern health care: The system is in crisis. The crisis lies not in the need for more or cheaper doctors and drugs, but in the flawed precepts of modern medicine. It is this deep conceptual fault that is challenging both our financial and physical well-being.
Death by Prescription
More than 50 percent of the average American diet consists of processed foods that contain some 3,000 different food additives. The typical American ingests fifteen pounds of these food additives each year. Every hour 660,000 animals are killed for meat in the United States, and every three days the average American consumes a pound of white sugar. In 1982, the National Research Council determined that diet was "probably the greatest single factor in the epidemic of cancer, particularly for cancers of the breast, colon and prostate."
Despite an all-out war on cancer over the past 20 years,
people are developing malignancies
at a higher rate than ever before.
-- SCIENCE NEWS 1994
The currently prevailing health-care system is unfortunately incapable of changing this direction. Instead of remedying the underlying reasons why so many of us are sick, the system is structured simply to bandage the problem or manage disease.
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Studies show that more doctors or more physicals are hardly the answers. The Kaiser Permanente Health Group in California reported no significant difference in death rates for people who did or did not receive physicals.
We certainly don't need more surgery. More harm than good has been demonstrated by many commonly performed procedures. For example, men who receive radical prostate surgery experience incontinence and impotence rates from the surgery itself of 30 and 90 percent respectively. Men who avoid this surgical procedure are found to benefit more from "watchful waiting." The researcher, Dr. John Wasson, concluded in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that "we have, in essence, an epidemic of treatment and no scientific proof that it's valid. The take-home message is that we don't know what we're doing, but we're doing a lot of it."
Last, no one really believes we need more prescription drugs. By the time we Americans are age fifty, almost one out of three of us will be on eight or more prescription drugs and, according to recent figures cited in JAMA, between 60,000 to 140,000 of us will die each year from adverse reactions to these drugs.
51.5 percent of drugs approved by the FDA have serious
post-approval risks including heart failure, birth defects,
kidney failure, blindness and convulsions.
-- 1990 GAO REPORT
The Money Pit
To add irony to agony, our current disease-care system is killing us financially. Our total health-care bill is a staggering $3 billion daily, the highest of all industrialized nations. Included in this bill is an excessive 800 percent markup for the pharmaceutical industry's adverse-effect-riddled drugs.
The consequences of maintaining this faltering system are already devastating to business and middle-class America. Health-care costs are the leading reason for bankruptcy, and one million Americans earning $25,000 to 50,000 annually lost their health insurance last year alone due to inflated premium costs.
Recognizing the peril of this crisis at a conference on health care, President Clinton banged a table with his fist and told the 300 participants that "the cost of health care is a joke. It is going to bankrupt this country." Considering the tragic fact that among industrialized nations, we place close to the lowest in life expectancy (fifteenth) and highest in all cancer and heart disease rates, it is painfully obvious that our national health system is chronically ill -- not to mention a very bad investment.
We don't know what we're doing in medicine.
Perhaps one-quarter to one-third of medical services|
may be of little or no benefit to patients.
DR. DAVID EDDY, DIRECTOR,
DUKE UNIVERSITY HEALTH POLICY RESEARCH
Milligrams of Hope
The evidence is accumulating that people who are taking
an antioxidant of some sort seem to have
a high degree of protection from coronary heart disease.
DR. CLAUDE LENFANT, DIRECTOR OF
THE NATIONAL HEART, LUNG AND BLOOD INST.
When considering this nation's and more broadly the world's health-care crisis, our story on ginger is seemingly insignificant. But, when appreciated for its far-reaching healing and political potential, this report takes on fantastic proportions. Ginger, at once common and superlative, can trigger a dramatic change in the way the industrialized world views medicine. This change would take the form of a renewed look at the thousands of years of medical tradition and, specifically, the enormous potential that less invasive natural healing modalities offer. Clearly, there are signs that this transformation is beginning to happen, and the time and conditions could not be more ripe.
While we are getting poorer and probably sicker as a nation, there are flickers of hope. New doors are beginning to open in the renowned edifices of the U.S. health-care establishment. The most respected medical journals are now acknowledging that simple changes in diet and the mere addition of milligrams of dietary supplements hold the potential for drastically improving the nation's health.
Recently published studies proclaim that we can conceivably disarm two of our greatest killers, heart disease and cancer, by simply adding to the diet food constituents like antioxidants, beta carotene, and vitamin E. Researchers are going so far as to suggest that dietary supplements like vitamin E could lower the risk of heart disease, independent of other risk factors by as much as 40 to 50 percent.
Noting that heart attacks alone kill 600,000 Americans annually, this safe and easy prescription could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year. Considering that more powerful antioxidants than vitamin E naturally occur in herbs like ginger, and that many of these herbs are proving therapeutic potentials transcending those of our most powerful drugs, a profound possibility is waiting to be tapped.
Last, rating perhaps as the most positive development, is the recent opening of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is hard to believe that the NIH, a bastion of conservative allopathic medicine, has actually opened an office to examine the efficacy of alternative forms of health care like herbal medicine and acupuncture. Although the budget for this office is only one-five-thousandth of that of NIH as a whole, it is a promising sign of events to come.
Herbs like ginger and the traditions of thousands of years of natural healing modalities will never be fully understood, appreciated or allowed to fulfill their mission unless major problems are identified and eliminated in our current healthcare system. Needless to say, whole books are written trying to diagnose and answer these problems.
I would not be so foolish or unrealistic as to suggest eliminating the doctors or the drugs or the governmental establishment that has evolved to support them. Rather, I would like to expose a few problems with these modern icons which I label as the roadblocks and propose the most basic and simplest of solutions. Acknowledging the considerable risk of being labeled oversimplistic, I hope there will be some value in this exercise.
Unfortunately, the agency given the authority to dictate what information is disseminated to the public on foods, drugs and general health claims -- the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- has held a long bias against preventive health and the natural-foods and dietary-supplement industry.
What is the physiological effect of prunes? How about coffee? Is ginger good for digestion? When I ask these questions of an audience, without exception everyone knows the answers. Strangely and disturbingly, as of this writing, if this truthful information is placed on a product label or even in a brochure, the FDA has determined it to be a violation of the law.
The government agency brings its bias a step further by promoting the notion that herbs and other dietary supplements are inherently dangerous. The FDA refers to safe and soothing teas made with herbs like chamomile as "unknown brews" implying that there are perils lurking within them. The FDA Consumer, the agency journal, absurdly depicts herbal teas with a skull and crossbones. Considering that three of the top four causes of lethal poisonings in the U.S. are FDA-approved drugs and that a toxicity category is virtually nonexistent for herbal dietary supplements, the skull-and-crossbones symbol is clearly misplaced.
To make matters worse, the agency has for the past twenty years continuously attempted through wily, circuitous and one-dimensional arguments to regulate virtually all traditional medicinal or tonic herbs out of the U.S. marketplace, thus threatening both national health and medical freedom of choice.
The FDA should appoint a panel of experts who are open-minded and aware of alternative health-care modalities. Fair and clear guidelines should be given, actually encouraging the use and development of safe and inexpensive dietary supplements and traditional medicines. This age-old therapeutic class truly deserves its own regulatory category free of the draconian impediments of modern drug classifications. Also, the structure of the process that results in drug companies spending up to $359 million for drug approval and marketing should be reevaluated. It is hard to imagine how traditional health remedies will be integrated as long as drug companies are spending these huge sums of money.
The pharmaceutical industry is arguably the most serious obstacle to progress in our health-care system. Being the most profit-oriented segment, it will therefore be the hardest to change. As difficult as it is to defend this industry, part of its problem lies in the regulatory structure for drug approval and the bloated $359 million it costs to develop and market drugs. These enormous expenses drive prices into the stratosphere and foster greed.
The most frightening aspect of the pharmaceutical industry, however, is its relationships with the nation's health-care providers, our medical doctors and the FDA. Within the hundreds of millions of dollars behind each drug lie regulatory jobs at the FDA and a $5,000 promotional allowance for the nation's 479,000 doctors. In an expose published in Time magazine some of these benefits to physicians were detailed. Wyeth Ayerst, for example, has offered to doctors 1,000 points toward American Airlines travel for each patient put on the hypertension drug Inderal, and Ciba-Geigy has given free Caribbean vacations to physicians for simply attending lectures on Estraderm.
The Task Force (FDA) considered many issues in its deliberations including to insure that the existence of dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and other) on the market does not act as a disincentive for drug development.
The only way change will occur in this industry is through consumer awareness and diligence on the part of medical ethicists. Government should offer incentives for drug companies to develop less expensive, safer and more natural medications while still allowing free enterprise to smaller purveyors of traditional medicines. This is certainly a Sisyphean task in itself.
The Food Industry
Among life's great dichotomies: Kids like junk food,
but their parents want them to eat right.
The folks behind the food are betting the kids win out ...
Companies are appealing to a fertile audience:
Children ages six to fourteen spend $7.3 billion a year
and influence family buying of more than $120 billion a year.
SELINA GUBER, PRESIDENT,
CHILDREN'S MARKET RESEARCH INC.
How will we ever be healthy if our food is laden with chemicals and depleted of its life-giving values? The problem with the food industry is epitomized in the above statement by Selina Guber.
The food industry is driven by market forces. Increased pressure by consumer groups should continue to force product development of healthier food choices.
The Medical Establishment
One of the most serious problems with the medical profession is highlighted in the following combination of facts:
1) Six of the ten leading causes of death among Americans are diet related, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes mellitus, chronic liver disease and atherosclerosis;
2) Data from the Association of the American Medical Colleges concludes that in 1992, only one-fourth of the 127 medical schools in the United States taught nutrition as a required course. The number of medical schools with a required course in nutrition has actually decreased in recent years.
Besides poor priorities, established from the very beginning of the medical education process, physicians face serious ethical issues which might derail a positive change in the health-care system. A recent report in JAMA highlighted this when it concluded that "requests by physicians that drugs be added to a hospital formulary were strongly and specifically associated with the physicians' interactions with the companies manufacturing the drugs." Also, what kind of ethical message is its representative body, the American Medical Association (AMA), sending to its constituents when a recent New England Journal of Medicine study concluded that the association financially supports the very positions it is supposedly working against (i.e., tobacco exports and lack of hand-gun legislation). The AMA actually gives more money to congressional members who oppose AMA positions on public-health issues than to those who support AMA positions.
How can our health-care providers truly help us if they can never really understand the problem? A drastic and immediate change should be called for in the basic structure of medical education in the United States compelling it to include extensive courses in both holism and the ethics of healing. Last, a proposal that is inconceivable but worth mentioning: It is well known that in certain Asian cultures, healers have only been paid if their patients were kept healthy. Who would doubt that if we could make such a visionary shift in remuneration structure here that focus on details like nutrition would be adopted overnight.
The Insurance Industry
The insurance industry has driven the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.
It is time for all Americans to stand up and say to the insurance industry:
Enough is enough.
We want our health-care system back.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Premiums for health insurance are like a spider's web directly tied into the escalating costs of medical technology. Not only can fewer and fewer Americans afford health insurance but even those with insurance find that when it is finally needed for a catastrophic illness, their coverage has been dropped through a loophole or technicality. Instead of dealing with the roots of why so many of us are sick, a large segment of the insurance industry has chosen simply to adapt by raising premiums and dropping coverage. Sadly, the industry actually denies reimbursement for lower-cost alternative health-care treatments that are currently defined as experimental.
Insurance companies started on the right track when they reduced premiums for nonsmokers. What about people who eat a whole-food diet, exercise, practice stress reduction or take dietary supplements? Also, why should a drug treatment for arthritis be reimbursed at $100 while a $10 alternative ginger treatment be disallowed? The insurance companies could at least offer the choice. A few companies like American Western Life Insurance and Mutual of Omaha are proving that it can be done.
Ginger Accepts the Challenge
Ginger by its very existence could safely, inexpensively and successfully challenge the foundations of some of the giants of the pharmaceutical industry and many of their flagship products totaling literally billions of dollars in annual sales.
Even more importantly, ginger might act as a representative of a limitless inventory of life-saving medicines. If spices like ginger can offer so many medical benefits, just imagine what other treasures might be waiting in the yet unexplored 99 percent of the world's flora.
\Considering that 25 percent of modern drugs are currently being synthesized or isolated from less than 1 percent of the world's flora, it is easy to understand why noted pharmacogonists like Dr. Norman Farnsworth have declared that there is a botanical treatment for every disease that faces humankind.
In our common spice ginger, we hold the promise of awakening our awareness to the vast potential herbs and natural healing modalities possess, a potential that can quite literally save our lives.
For every disease that afflicts mankind,
there is a treatment or a cure
occurring naturally on this earth.
DR. NORMAN FARNSWORTH, PHARMACOGINIST
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hohm Press. ©1996. www.hohmpress.com
Ginger: Common Spice & Wonder Drug
by Paul Schulick.
For thousands of years ginger has been one of the world's most favored spices and a major ingredient in Oriental remedies. Yet ginger's precious healing values are still virtually unknown and ignored in the modern world. This book proposes that your spice cabinet contains a healing substance that is beyond the therapeutic scope of any modern drug; a substance with the potential to save billions of dollars and countless lives. Calling ginger "the universal medicine," the author surveys the ancient claims of ginger's effective health usage as these are verified by international medical research. Supported by hundreds of scientific studies, this book leads the reader to discover the extraordinary personal and social benefits of using ginger. Among the medicinal uses of ginger are:
Info/Order this book. Also available as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Paul Schulick is an herbalist and advocate of personal choice in health care. His research extends from the therapeutic values of plants harvested from the seas to the healing powers of herbs commonly found in the spice cabinet. He lectures throughout the country on the health impact of herbs and natural foods. Visit www.new-chapter.com for more information on his work.