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Alternative Medicine by Shawn Proctor

Just a glance in most medicine cabinets is enough to make you wonder how humans survived for thousands of years without pharmaceuticals. We have treatments for practically every major and minor ailment. Americans rely on scores of pills to perk up, sleep soundly, combat depression and soothe headaches. These can be augmented by spoonfuls of syrup for colds and drops for blood-shot eyes.To go without our shelves of medication, pioneers of long ago must have been made of stern stuff. How did they maintain healthy lungs and clear breathing passages before the era of MDIs and hand-held nebulizers? They were likely aided by more than simple grit, according to Op Walker, DPh, PharmD. Many of the concoctions our ancestors used grew right in their gardens. Elixirs we now pass over in favor of chemical therapies served to keep them healthy or ward off illness."How did the pioneers live before antibiotics? Was it serendipity? I don't think so,"he said. "They ate right out of their gardens and received a lot of vitamins and minerals as well as roughage, natural antibiotics and anti-hypertensives that these vegetables contain."Dr. Walker was the twelfth child in his family and grew up in the Appalachian region using herbal medicines. Families used very little conventional medicine, he explained. "That stayed with me through the years. And when I became a pharmacologist, I thought: 'Is there any documentation out there that would verify or prove that some of these remedies I grew up with were indeed beneficial?'" CAM Usage His inquiries lead him to the German Commission E Monographs, originally released in 1978. The monographs explain why the United States got involved in alternative medicine in a big way, Dr. Walker said. "Up until then, most people looked at vegetables as just a food source. They didn't look at them as medicine." The book was a product of the German Federal Health Agency, which established an expert committee of physicians, pharmacists, pharmacologists, and toxicologists to evaluate the efficacy and safety of herbal medicines, also known as phytomedicines.With the subsequent publication of the Physician Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines in 1999, the U.S. attempted to incorporate herbs into conventional medicine. One year later, the FDA issued a 10-year dietary supplement strategy, which intended "to provide consumers with a high level of confidence in the safety, composition and labeling of dietary supplement products" by 2010. Even with evidence coming out to support the use of some plant based medicines, research continues at a relatively slow pace. "You won't find drug companies doing many studies on these things because they have no incentive," said Dr. Walker. For example, if a large company spent millions of dollars to research the health effects of cabbage, it would not yield any profits. Anyone could take the data and use it. Besides, vegetables like cabbage are available in every grocery store at a relatively cheap price. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use is widespread among the U.S. public, according to the Institute of Medicine. More than one-third of adults report using some type of herbal remedies and old-world therapies like acupuncture and Yoga.


Halfway through the 10-year FDA research project, a few vegetables are already proving especially beneficial, especially to the pulmonary and cardiac systems. Make room in your cart for three of the most famous vegetable in the world for medicine, Dr. Walker told ADVANCE. The Big Three are none other than onions, garlic and cabbage. Onions, for starters, contain thiosulphinate, an antimicrobial agent that kills E. coli and inhibits bronchoconstriction. "Onions also contain alkycysteine, and reducing bronchial asthma," said Dr. Walker. "Just eating onions will help an asthma attack." Garlic has the most medicinal attributes of all the vegetables. It strengthens the immune system, enhancing killer cells, and fights cancer, viruses, and bacteria. Garlic lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol and decreases the aging process too. The last of the big three - cabbage - is "the poor man's medicine." It protects against ulcers, gout and bladder cancer, according to Dr. Walker. "Cabbage is also excellent for treating asthma," he said. Other foods are showing promise as well. Celery, for example, helps treat anxiety, fights cancer and lowers blood pressure. "And when you reduce depression, of course, you can breathe better. It can also lower pulmonary blood pressure though," said Dr. Walker. Radishes work well as therapy for cold symptoms and coughs. Radishes are secretolytic and help break up secretions, promoting the expectoration of mucus. Green tea, which is gaining popularity among the health conscious, reduces lipid levels and reduces incidence of cancer. However, despite the hoopla, Dr. Walker cautioned some patients away from the eastern remedy. Pregnant women shouldn't drink it. And asthmatics should avoid the drink because it can lead to an asthma attack. NOTHING TO LOSE People on the go - that probably includes most of us - should consider buying a good juicer. Most foods can be consumed in liquid form, he said. "And it's a lot easier to drink a carrot than to eat one. You can juice and get your vegetable content in five minutes and then go about your business." Because most people do not eat a completely balanced diet, a good multivitamin can fill in the gaps. Make sure it bears the U.S. Pharacopeia (USP) seal, Dr. Walker advised. "If the USP approved it, then you know you're getting a good product." USP, a non-government organization, promotes the public health by establishing state-of-the-art standards to safeguard the quality of medicines. It ensures the product has the ingredients in the amount stated on the label, contains no toxins and will disintegrate effectively to release nutrients for absorption into the body. "I had a bottle of vitamins left over from yesteryear and I noticed it was made in China, "explained Dr. Walker. "I'm sure China can make a good vitamin, but that's outside the control of the USP. That unknown scares me." For a list of USP-approved supplements, visit http://www.uspverfied.org/ Therapists do not have to wait until 2010 to recommend the vegetables and vitamins above. Evidence already exists to support claims that a healthy diet designed to correcting imbalances can only benefit patients. "Don't just think in terms of breathing and lung health," Dr. Walker said. "Think of the overall relationship of the lungs to the entire body. We well know that the lungs and cardiovascular system depend on one another." If a patient is suffering from stress, which influences the body's overall health, then that patient might eat foods that work as anti-anxiety agents. "There's no harm in trying vegetables and herbal remedies, especially if they are non-toxic and have very few side effects," he said. "There's nothing dangerous about an onion. We have nothing to lose."


PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine, http://www.pubmed.com HighBeam Library Research, http://www.highbeam.com
United States Pharmacopeia, http://www.usp.org/

Source: The Nation's Physical Therapy Newsmagazine "Advance for Physical Therapists and PT Assistants" May 23, 2005 Vol. 16 No. 12

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