When he was dean of Harvard Medical School during his final address to just qualified medical students, Dr. Burwell informed them as follows.
“Half of what you are taught as medical students will in 10 years have been shown to be wrong. The trouble is, none of your teachers knows which half.”
While modern medicine is often effective in its management of acute illnesses such as diabetes and antibiotic sensitive infections, it is less effective with chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer. In spite of unremitting research, heart disease and cancer remain the prime causes of morbidity. Is it probable that this lack of medical progress is the result of inappropriate research and of researchers asking the wrong questions?
As Edward de Bono, the original lateral thinker stated,
” You cannot look in a new direction while looking harder in the same direction.” (1)
In 2007, David Rose wrote in The Times that nearly 3000 patients had died in the United Kingdom over the previous three years as a result of taking prescription drugs, and thousands more had been hospitalised because of the side effects of prescription drugs. He also reported that the number of adverse drug reactions (ADR) had increased by 45 per cent over the previous ten years. Drugs most commonly implicated included low-dose aspirin, diuretics, the anticoagulant drug warfarin, non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs, which can cause fatal gastrointestinal bleeding and proton pump inhibitors (e.g. omeprazole and cimetidine to suppress stomach acid) , which can lead to fatal gastrointestinal infections (2).
During December 2008, a memo from the EU commission in Brussels stated, “It is estimated that 5% of all hospital admissions are due to adverse drug reactions (ADR), and that ADR are the fifth most common cause of hospital death”(3).
A problem with modern medicine began with the discovery of wonder drugs such as penicillin and quinine. Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has become fixated on the notion that there should be a magic bullet for every medical condition, that should be discoverable through conventional research.
To begin to understand why modern medicine is ineffective in treating chronic disease, it is helpful to review contributions from the some of the pioneers of modern medicine.
In Europe during the first half of the nineteenth century, the maternal mortality from puerperal (post-natal) fever was often as high as 16%.
A Hungarian obstetrician, Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865), while working in Austria, noticed that the death rate in the doctor run obstetrics ward in his hospital was twice that of the midwife run ward. He did some detective work and noticed that the doctors often carried out post mortem examinations on the cadavers of mothers, who had died as a result of ‘puerperal fever’, and that they then proceeded immediately to deliver babies from living mothers in their obstetrics unit. Semmelweis therefore ordered all the doctors and medical students in his department to disinfect their hands with chlorinated lime before delivering babies, and as a result, the deaths from puerperal fever in his department were all but eliminated.
His medical colleagues ridiculed him, as they were not prepared to accept that they had been responsible for most of the maternal deaths. Then as now, medical doctors were resistant to change even if such change hugely benefited their patients. Semmelweis felt rejected and had a nervous breakdown: he was forcibly restrained in a mental sanatorium, where he died of sepsis two weeks later.
Many modern doctors still fail to wash their hands between examining patients, and during consultations, they often touch their computer keyboards and stethoscopes, which can be reservoirs of infection. Furthermore, blood pressure cuffs are not routinely sterilised, and hospital beds are not autoclaved between patients. In common with the colleagues of Semmelweis, modern doctors prefer to blame visitors and cleaning ladies for spreading antibiotic resistant hospital infections rather than the real culprits – themselves.
Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) was the founder of modern cellular pathology and the first to recognise the microscopic appearance of leukaemia. In his mature years, he came to the conclusion that cellular pathology was of no clinical value. He compared examining dead dyed diseased tissue ascertain the cause of disease, to examining ash to find out the cause of a fire.
For example, if a cancer were caused by an over acidic biological terrain, bereavement, electromagnetic pollution, environmental cadmium or dental mercury poisoning, microscopy would not indicate such a cause, which might well be reversible.
Virchow pointed out that unhealthy lifestyles associated with unhealthy biological terrains contribute more to the disease process than pathogenic microbes. He stated, “If I could live my life over again, I would devote it to proving that germs seek their natural habitat – diseased tissue. Germs are attracted to diseased tissue rather than being the primary cause of it. For example, mosquitoes seek stagnant water, but do not cause the water to become stagnant.”
THE BIOLOGICAL TERRAIN
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in France subsequently established the germ theory of infection during the 1880s, and as a result, Semelweiss was exonerated about twenty years after his death.
At about the same time also in France, another researcher, Claude Barnard (1813-78), who is regarded as the father of modern physiology, introduced the rival ‘milieu intérieur’ (biological terrain) theory of infection. He agreed with Virchow and proposed that the biological terrain is of greater importance than the microbe.
Shortly before he died in 1895, Pasteur is said to have conceded to Barnard, with the remark,
“La bactérie n’est rien. C’est le terrain qui fait tout!”
It is now evident that both schools of thought are valid, although conventional medicine tends to disregard the biological terrain. For example, prescribing antibiotics is liable to cause intestinal dysbacteriosis (unhealthy micro flora in the intestine), which predisposes to bowel dysfunction and immune system weakness. In France, medical doctors nowadays routinely prescribe probiotics (supplements of healthy intestinal microflora) along with antibiotics. Electro smog from radio masts and high voltage power cables, harmful earth radiation (geopathic stress), unhealthy eating and dental mercury poisoning are examples of influences that can compromise the biological terrain and underly to serious illness. These major causes of ill health are disregarded in conventional medicine.
Further support for the milieu intérieur theory was provided by Antoine Béchamp (1816-1908). He studied sterile living red blood corpuscles under a powerful microscope and observed that acidifying the preparation encouraged the spontaneous development of pathogens. This groundbreaking research paved the way for the concept of alkalising the biological terrain in the management of chronic illnesses and cancer. His finding was subsequently confirmed through dark ground microscopy. While the concept of alkalising the biological terrain is well known to practitioners of integrative medicine, it is overlooked in standard conventional medicine.
STRESS AND THE GENERAL ADAPTATION SYNDROME
During the 1930’s, Hans Selye, a Hungarian doctor, working in Montreal, Canada, carried out research on animals. He showed that all disease is caused by stress. Because English was not his first language, he incorrectly used the word (mechanical) ‘stress’ instead of the more correct word ‘strain’. His work was so groundbreaking that the word ‘stress’ actually meaning ‘biological strain’ has long been in common usage.
He presented his General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) in 1936 (4). This research showed that all chronic illness results from exposure to any type of stress, which could be psychological (e.g. bereavement, loneliness, anxiety), physical (e.g. over exposure to the sun, electromagnetic field radiation, heat, cold, malnutrition etc.), or chemical (e.g. asbestos, mercury, cadmium, nicotine etc.).
Selye showed that the physiology of exposure to stress involves an output of neuroendocrine hormones in the brain (adrenocortical trophic hormone and beta endorphin) and of corticosteroids from the adrenal cortex. In health, these stress hormones reduce pain and inflammation and prepare the body for enhanced mental and physical activity. The stress response involves a rise in blood pressure to pump extra oxygen into the brain and muscles, and a rise in blood sugar to provide extra energy. There is also a physiological release of cholesterol into the bloodstream to enable biosynthesis of extra anti-inflammatory adrenal corticosteroids.
The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) describes a three-phase response to exposure to stress.
- The alarm reaction.
- The resistance stage
- The exhaustion stage.
The alarm reaction.
Acute stress causes an ‘alarm reaction’ due to adrenaline release from the adrenal medulla. There are unpleasant acute symptoms such as sweating, shivering and vomiting. Smoking a first cigarette (3) and acute exam nerves are liable to cause such an alarm reaction, as does extremes of heat and cold that cause sweating or shivering.
The resistance stage
With ongoing stress, the acute symptoms subside in response to a physiological output of stress hormones. This stress response includes an output of cholesterol, which is the substrate for the synthesis of adrenal corticosteroids, and in consequence, there may be a healthy physiological increase in serum cholesterol levels.
The exhaustion stage
With prolonged stress, the body’s ability to produce protective stress hormones becomes exhausted so that there is progressive health deterioration. Prolonged stress consequently causes stress related conditions such as anxiety/depression, stomach ulcers and arthritis. Unremitting stress leads ultimately to cancer, focal liver necrosis and death.
Selye also showed that prolonged stress results in an output of HARMFUL CORTICOSTEROIDS, and that these are the cause of chronic stress related illnesses (4).
Cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) lower cholesterol levels and, in consequence, reduce the body’s ability to produce both healthy physiological and pathogenic corticosteroids. While lowering cholesterol levels may slightly reduce development of stress related illnesses that are related to pathogenic corticosteroids, it also reduces the body’s ability to produce healthy corticosteroids, so that people on statins have an increased mortality rate from acute infective illnesses such as bronchopneumonia (8). Promotional publicity from the pharmaceutical industry emphasises the slight reduction in heart disease associated with taking statins while ignoring the increase in overall mortality.
CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE AND MAGIC BULLETS
In 1908, Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915), a Prussian physician, received a Nobel Prize for his part in developing a ‘magic bullet’ for the treatment of syphilis (Salvarsan, an arsenical compound). Although many of his syphilitic patients were apparently cured, the downside was that a significant number died from side effects, so that the drug had to be withdrawn.
The discovery of quinine for malaria and of penicillin for bacterial infection encouraged researchers to seek more magic bullets, but because no attempt was made to understand the aetiology (underlying causes) of the disease process and in clinical practice, adverse drug reactions exceed the benefits of many pharmaceutical drugs.
The medical establishment has mistakenly blamed raised blood cholesterol for diseases that are caused by stress induced pathogenic corticosteroids. A high blood cholesterol level is evidence of a healthy physiological response to stress and not an indication of a predisposition to heart disease. Disease is actually caused by pathogenic corticosteroids produced in response to excessive stress. Prolonged stress may indeed predispose to heart disease, but it is the stress induced pathogenic corticosteroids that are pathogenic and not the associated raised serum cholesterol.
Cholesterol is therefore not a risk factor in heart disease, and elderly people with high cholesterol levels actually live longer than those with low cholesterol levels (7.8).
Studies have also shown that people with a naturally low or drug induced low blood cholesterol levels have an increased risk of dying from gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. This is because those with low blood cholesterol levels are unable to produce sufficient protective corticosteroid stress hormone to enable them to survive acute infections such as bronchopneumonia (7,8).
Eating good quality animal meat and fat, eggs and cheese is not a cause of hardening of the arteries. The nutritional contribution to arteriosclerosis is tissue oxidation resulting from eating overcooked and stale food, which predisposes to a build up of arterial plaque.
CONVENTIONAL RESEARCH AND HEART DISEASE
Dean Michael Ornish was president and founder of the non-profit Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Medicine, San Francisco.
In 1990, his work published in the Lancet (9) showed that a vegetarian diet, stopping smoking, stress management training and moderate exercise can reverse coronary artery disease after one year. This was achieved without the use of lipid-lowering drugs. It is probable that the vegetarian diet alkalised the body and by this means increased resistance to infectious disease. Also, the more relaxed lifestyle would reduce the output of pathogenic corticosteroids. His results were better than those achieved with cholesterol lowering drugs, which may slightly reduce the incidence of heart disease in people under seventy, but which do not reduce the overall mortality rate (7,8).
CANCER STRESS AND ORTHODOX MEDICINE
With the exception of bereavement, sunburn, radiation, asbestos and nicotine, orthodox medicine disregards Selye’s finding that cancer results from prolonged exposure to stress. The use of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery in the ‘treatment’ of cancer is questionable in the light of Selye’s research as these conventional approaches actually increase overall stress levels. A major cause of cancer that is not recognised in conventional medicine is electromagnetic field radiation (geopathic stress and electromagnetic radiation).
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND STRESS
In his book 21st Century Medicine (10), Dr. Julian Kenyon (born 1943) cites a British study on the perceived success of drug treatment for high blood pressure. In the study, seventy-five patients with high blood pressure were treated conventionally, and all the prescribing doctors recorded a successful outcome. Their relatives also assessed the patients, and 74 out of the 75 relatives recorded deterioration in memory, mood, initiative and energy levels with increase in anxiety and irritability. Hypertension was a coping reaction to stress rather than a primary health hazard so that Dr. Ornish’s approach would have been preferable to prescribing toxic antihypertensive drugs.
THE ‘UNKNOWN HALF’ OF CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE
In conventional medicine, allergies are diagnosed by means of skin prick tests, but because of the risk of severe allergic reactions, skin prick tests are only carried out in hospitals with facilities for emergency resuscitation. With kinesiology and with electroacupuncture testing, allergies and sensitivities can readily be identified without risk of acute allergic reactions. For example, house dust mite sensitivity (which tends to be missed by conventional practitioners) can readily be identified through electro acupuncture methodology. Sensitivity to common foods (e.g. milk, wheat and egg) commonly underlie chronic catarrh, gastrointestinal symptoms and anxiety/depression. Food intolerances can readily be identified with kinesiology (muscle testing) and electroacupuncture (e.g. MORA or Vegatesting).
Functional medicine has taken much of the guesswork out of medical diagnosis and treatment selection, and has made inroads into Dr. Burwell’s ‘untrue component’ of medical teaching. Currently, non-suppressive medicine is largely taught as compartmentalised specialist subjects such as acupuncture, homoeopathy, nutritional medicine and herbal medicine and from patients’ perspectives, an integrated approach is preferable. Classical homeopaths select a single appropriate similimum (homoeopathic remedy) in a selected potency (dilution). This approach is a bit ‘hit or miss’ and to a certain extent, dependant on guesswork. In modern homeopathy, mixtures of homoeopathic preparations in several potencies, (e.g. Traumeel to promote healing after injury), are prepared to treat specific medical conditions. Modern homeopathy that can be selected with electroacupuncture or muscle testing (kinesiology) has taken much of the guesswork out of naturopathic prescribing and made non suppressive medicine more accessible to practitioners of integrative medicine.
Most conventional and alternative health practitioners tend to ‘look harder in the same direction’ (1) of their chosen specialities (e.g. conventional medicine, homoeopathy, acupuncture, nutritional and herbal medicine), when it would be in their patients’ best interests for them ‘to look in new directions’ and embrace additional medical skills. For example, if a patient with colitis associated with C. Difficile, did fully respond to conventional or to naturopathic treatment, looking in a new direction, faecal transplant technology could worth considering (11).
In conclusion. “A mind is like a parachute: it doesn’t work if it is not open.” [Frank Zappa].
- Edward De Bono. In The Leaders Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills by Paul Sloane. Kogan Page: 2003.
- Allergy to medicine is killing thousands’. The Times. Dec 27 2007.
- Brussels memo 10 th December 2008. Ton van Lierop and Catherine Bunyan
- ‘ Selye, H. 1936. A syndrome produced by diverse nocuous agents. Nature, 138:32.
- Bourne S.J. Towards a neuroendocrine explanation of tobacco addiction; J. Smoking Related Dis, 1991: 105-109.
- Selye H. The evolution of the stress concept: stress and cardio-vascular disease. American J Cardiology, Vol 26. Issue 3 September 1970. 289-299.
- Ravnskov U. High cholesterol may protect against infections and atherosclerosis. Quarterly Journal of Medicine 96, 927-934, 2003.
- The Benefits of High Cholesterol by Uffe Ravnskov, MD, Ph.D. Director of THINCS – The International Network of Cholesterol Sceptics.
- Ornish D and others. Lancet. 1990 Jul 21; 336(8708): 129-33.
- Kenyon J. In 21st Century Medicine. Thorsons Press, 1986.
- Borody et al. Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis Using Fecal Bacteriotherapy. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: July 2003 – Volume 37 – Issue 1 – pp. 42-47.
Dr Bourne practices integrative medicine in North London (see http://www.vegatest.info).
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