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Eminent Herbalist's Article on Bias at the Economist Magazine

This is a direct repost of famous herbalist Michael Tierra's weblog in which he slams Dr. Edzard Ernst on his recent Economist article which both lumps all non-Western medicines together as 'alternative' and then bashes them. In it, Tierra expresses exasperation at this bias and points out a few of the errors in that article:

A recent article published in the Economist entitled “Think Yourself Better” claims that all alternative medical treatments are mere placebos . . .

The article is based on the single opinion of a Dr Edzard Ernst, who retires from his 18-year professorship at Peninsula Medical School in southwest England in May. Described by the author as the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, it seems that all Dr. Ernst can say to sum up his findings is that nearly all alternative medicine -- indiscriminately lumping the entire kit and caboodle including acupuncture, herbal medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, crystal healing, reiki, and flower essences -- are mere placebo.

It is a well-known fact that 40 to 60 percent of medical procedures and drugs is claimed to be due to placebo. In light of this, it seems reasonable that one would prefer to “think him/herself better” with herbs, acupuncture, homeopathy, TCM or Ayurveda that has a long, sound record of safety and efficacy unmatched by invasive medical procedures and drugs that are extremely expensive with a high probability of adverse reactions.

For example, statin drugs taken to lower cholesterol cause a high number of people to develop symptoms of rhabdomyalgia, chronic acute muscle pain caused by a breakdown of muscle fibers. Instead, one might avoid such a horrible side effect by taking the Ayurvedic herb guggul or a garlic supplement. If necessary, red yeast rice lowers cholesterol with no adverse reactions.

Or, perhaps in lieu of an open heart bypass surgery, one might take hawthorn and/or arjuna herb supplement. Many of you might think I’ve taken things too far with this one. I refer you to an article by Dr. Jonathan Wright published in January 2004, reporting that Dr. Henry McIntosh, a highly respected cardiologist at Baylor University, observing the results of heart bypass surgery over the course of 15 years, said, “Despite a low operative mortality and rate of graft closure, available data in the literature do not indicate that myocardial infarctions, arrhythmias or congestive heart failure will be prevented, or that life will be prolonged in the vast majority of patients.” Similar opinion is shared by Dr. Howard H. Wayne M.D. of the Non-Invasive Heart Center in San Diego, California, and the same sentiments were reflected in an article in a July, 2008 article in Business Week Magazine entitled “Is Heart Surgery Worth It?”

Would you rather relieve back pain with acetaminophen, the OTC drug that is known to injure your already beleaguered liver, or with turmeric or willow bark which relieves inflammation and pain with no side effects? You should know thatacetaminophen drugs such as Tylenol send 56,000 people to the hospital emergency ward with a reported 458 deaths a year caused by liver failure.

Finally, did you know that correctly prescribed medical treatment and pharmaceutical drugs are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., with up to 106,000 deaths a year? The third leading cause is blatant medical malpractice, according to the prestigious Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA).

I don’t want to make this an either-or, bash the medical establishment article, but when a leading magazine publishes such poorly considered schlock, I think we need to speak up for our side -- a side, by the way, that much of the medical profession is slowly coming to validate.

For the remaining unbelievers, following are a number of randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind studies for herbs, acupuncture and homeopathy that Dr. Ernst should have come across during his 18 year spot as professor of complementary medicine – but as we now know, he didn’t.

Herb studies:

Tripterygerium wilfordii, a.k.a. Thunder god vine, for rheumatoid arthritis

Buckwheat for leg edema

Lemon balm for Alzheimer's disease

Ginger for nausea in pregnancy

Celandine and angelica for IBS

Andrographis for colds and upper respiratory infections

Chinese herbs for atopic dermatitis in infants

Chamomile and fennel for infant colic (this is published in a respected and credible journal dedicated to phytotherapy research)

Chinese herbal formula Rehmannia Eight for senile dementia

Chinese herbal formula Free and Easy Wanderer for depression and bipolar disorders

Passionflower for post-operative anxiety

Common sage for Alzheimer's

Milk thistle for diabetes

Acupuncture studies:

Acupuncture helps with fibromyalgia symptoms – Mayo clinic:

Acupuncture relieves back pain – University of Maryland study

Acupuncture for the immune system study

Chinese Medicine for depression and anxiety

Homeopathy research studies:

Allergies, hay fever

Face lift bruises

Eczema and homeopathic medicine

For numerous other homeopathic research studies go to the National Center for homeopathy: http://bit.ly/lp3SaA

Mark Reese