Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Chinese Herbal Therapy

One of the more amusing points that many conforming MDs make is that herbal therapies do not work and any improvement in condition is a mere coincidence stemmed from the disease running its course. How quickly they forget the Foxglove-Digitalis connection or, more recently, Eli Lilly's use of tropical periwinkle in the development of the anti-cancer drugs Velban and Oncovin. Often times it seems that nothing is ever effective until it can be patented for profit (as a side note, I recently learned that the reason a lot of drugs are coming out with extended-release versions because the patent has run out and it is a method to continue having people buy the name-brand). It also seems many resort to amusing derogatory sound-bites rather than genuine research and a treatment of their own. Despite their claims of voodoo and kitchen witchery, the naysayers will always have a problem convincing those who have personal empirical evidence that Chinese Medicine works.

CHINESE MEDICINE GAINING RESPECTABILITY IN WEST FDA support for testing of botanical drugs helps boost credibility of ancient herbal treatments
Suzanne B. Thompson, Eugenia Chien, Special to The Chronicle
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Weary and frightened after 10 years of fighting a losing battle against bronchitis, Sheila Cohen turned two years ago to traditional Chinese medicine. A practitioner from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at UCSF prescribed herbal pills and teas, as well as deep tissue massage, to boost the 58-year-old's immune system.

Since then, Cohen has been gaining the upper hand on her fight against her chronic problem. Her bronchitis used to flare up at least monthly; now it strikes every eight weeks or so. "That's an accomplishment, and we're going to keep pushing to make (the period between relapses) longer," said Cohen, a San Francisco resident.

UCSF, Kaiser Permanente and Stanford University Medical Center are among a growing number of medical institutions that offer traditional Chinese approaches such as acupuncture, tai chi chuan and meditation as evidence mounts of their effectiveness. Hundreds of studies show clinically significant results with these treatments, including a 2002 review from Harvard Medical School that concluded that acupuncture can safely ease chronic pain as well as nausea caused by chemotherapy and pregnancy. A 2004 Tufts-New England Medical Center review of 47 studies on tai chi found the Chinese discipline of meditative movements promoted cardiovascular fitness in people with chronic conditions.
Studies like these have persuaded medical directors at hospitals to introduce traditional Chinese medicine treatments to their patient services.

"What we have to look at is safety and effectiveness and then integrate it into the system," said Dr. Harley Goldberg, a physician who directs the complementary and alternative medicine program for Kaiser's Northern California division.

One-fifth of the nation's hospitals offered complementary medical services in 2004, more than double the number in 1998, according to the American Hospital Association. Complementary medicine combines the therapies and philosophies of conventional medicine with those of alternative medicines. Influencing this trend is the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, which was founded in 1999 to facilitate the integration of alternative medicine into American institutions and now includes 32 member medical centers, such as Harvard and Columbia universities.

"The cynics say this is all voodoo medicine, and it's placebo," said Dr. Bradly Jacobs, an internist at UCSF's Osher Center. "In my opinion, this is based on empirical experience of what's worked for millennia. There's something to be said for that."

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