Two Global Days in June Celebrate Health: Wellness Day & the U.N.’s International Day of Yoga

Belgin AskoyColleague Danny Friedland, MD, the chair of the U.S.-based but global-intended Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM), sent a note on June 13, 2015 from Istanbul, Turkey to his friends and colleagues: “I’m watching the sun rise over the Bosphorus thinking of you. In a short few hours I’ll be presenting the keynote for Global Wellness Day, a gathering that been described as the largest global celebration of wellness with over 70 countries on 5 continents celebrating today.” The day is celebrated every second Saturday of June. According to the site linked above from the Global Wellness Institute, a promoter of the event, Turkish spa owner and wellness advocate Belgin Askoy (pictured), the founder of Global Wellness Day, was the 2015 chair. Here is their site.

Yoga DayJune received a second wellness boost on December 11, 2014 when the United Nations declared the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice, June 21, the International Day of Yoga. The first such day of celebration is nearly upon us. The day has its own website. Among the comments of U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon on the decision, on which the international community agreed in record time: “Yoga can bring communities together in an inclusive manner that generates respect.”

Comment: I see the value in these marketing initiatives, and especially for health. We take for granted in the United States that each year we should devote two of our most significant weekend holidays to war and work: Memorial Day (last Monday of May) and Labor Day (first Monday of September). Nice to insert wellness and yoga between war and work. Now that the practice of the Sabbath or some form of weekly stoppage of our lives seems to have largely disappeared with the advent of fast food, plastics and the 24/7 mini-mart some 60 years ago, we are especially served to call our attention back to balance through these ritual wellness days.

A brief glimpse at the make-up of the members of the Global Wellness Day quickly opens reflection on a strategy to broaden the base of that day’s movement. Most of the leaders are presently spa industry, even as the Global Wellness Institute was the Global Spa Institute. The next constituency – to expand the model of businesses with an aligned promotional interest – might be to connect with those interests that benefit when we get out into nature. Most of us can benefit from a walk in the park.  Or, of course, from simply devoting 10-15 minutes a day to one prolonged, and personally amended, Sun Salutation, the present writer’s practice. How will I honor the day on the 21st? (Disclosure: I am not only a minor user of a Yoga practice, I also serve on the Board of AIHM.)

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Blackmores Stimulates Furor in $1.3-Million Grant for U Sydney Integrative Medicine Chair

Marcus BlackmoresThe highly politicized Australian natural medicine scene had a $1.3-million dollop of additional controversy stirred into the mix late May. Blackmores, the natural products giant that dominates that market, announced the Maurice Blackmores Chair of Integrative Medicine at the University of Sydney. The grant was made through the Blackmores Institute through Blackmores’ current CEO, Marcus Blackmore (pictured) in the name of his father, the company’s founder.

Bruce Robinson, MD, the dean of the medical school at University of Sydney reportedly approached Blackmores to create the relationship. He anticipates that under the grant, over 5 years, “the Chair will undertake high quality, basic and clinical research into complementary and integrative medicines, and look to develop education programs which mean young doctors will graduate knowing what complementary medicines can and can’t achieve, and how they interact with other treatments.” Blackmore hopes the donation will “contribute towards a holistic approach in medical practice that combines modern western medicine with established and proven practices in the area of integrative medicine.”

The move has sparked debate over corporate gifts. An academic group slammed the move. Supporters have lauded the move. One commentator suggest the new position might create value. A related story speaks to the difference between “registered” and “listed” products, complaining that no one honors the distinction between those with research and those without. Meantime, Australian antagonists to the role of alternatives in their country (see cartoon), where 4 out of 5 people use them, continue to question the practices, while yet providing short lists of some with evidence and others without.

Jon Wardie, ND, MPHCommentary for Jon Wardle, ND, MPH:
The Global Integrator contacted Australian academic in integrative public health, Jon Wardle, ND, MPH (pictured), for perspective. Wardle is an author, organizer and health services researcher. He provided some exceptional views: “What is often lost in the controversy around this development is that the Sydney School of Medicine approached the Blackmores Institute, rather than another way around. This is a story about one of Australia’s pre-eminent medical schools seeing the need and wanting to get further involved in integrative medicine, not a story about industry wanting to direct a medical school one way or the other.”

He then focused in on the meaning of this move, globally, for the naturopathic medical movement: “This is probably the first conventional medical school chair named after a naturopathic physician anywhere in the world. That would have been unthinkable, even 10 years ago. It shows great commitment by Sydney to exploring integrative medicine in a truly interdisciplinary way, rather than the cherry-picking we often see at some other medical institutes.”

Finally, Wardle spoke to the challenging context for research in the polarized Australian environment: “Detractors can’t have it both ways. They call for more independent research and simultaneously criticise industry for not funding research. Again and again it’s been demonstrated that government grants won’t pay for this research, but detractors cry foul when industry steps up. Whilst funding has come from an industry partner (Blackmores), there do appear to have been great pains to Sydney Universitymake the Chair independent – far more so than any other sponsored chair at Sydney University (pictured), including several others in the medical school. If detractors don’t like this, I suggest that they focus their energy on getting the National Health and Medical Research Council to fund more integrative medicine research. The success rate for NHMRC grants in Australia is below 10%, and even though it forms nearly half of the healthcare sector, integrative medicine makes up less than one half of one percent of all NHMRC grants. There is a plethora of independent researchers willing and able to apply the rigour and critical approach that detractors think will be missing from this Chair, but no-one will fund them. I suggest detractors focus their attention on addressing the current barriers to integrative medicine research, rather than criticising those that are trying to get it done.”

Comment: It is interesting that in the nature of the polarization that continues to exist in many quarters related to natural medicine, one is indeed damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In the United States, for instance, the same people who complain of a lack of science behind natural medicine will, in the next breath, seek to shut down the National Institutes of Health center that was created to examine these therapies and practices. So in Australia, a time-honored method for funding research – the funding of a chair – is criticized at its source. Dean Robinson took on the critics head-on: “Blackmores Institute is an appropriate supporter of this chair just as BlueScope steel would be in supporting the Faculty of Engineering.” Of course, a part of the antagonism may be a reasonable instinct given than much in the history of medicine’s long, and deeply intertwined relationship with industry sponsorship may rightfully be called a time-dishonored practice. As one who has spent parts of my life looking for research funding to examine the value of integrative practices, I awkwardly admit that I believe in this case what may be good for the goose, is not right for the gander. One can legitimately argue for more industry support for natural products research and an exit from medical school funding by Big Pharma. Vigilance is key, in any case, and heightened, anytime when industry is nearby.

Cuba Formally Recognizes 10 Alternative Practices

In mid-May 2015 the director health for Cuba, Roberto Morales, MD, granted special status for 10 alternative therapies according to this article in Fox News Latino. The therapies include acupuncture, homeopathy, Bach flower remedies, botanicals, bee therapy, ozone therapy, yoga therapy, natural diets, and hydrotherapy. The resolution specifically speaks to their use with conventional practices and across the range of health and medicine from diagnostics to prevention to treatment. The perspective indicated further that there is openness to include other natural therapies when they “complete scientific, academic and technical” processes. Morales statement indicated that quality practitioners are available to provide these services.

The article notes that these alternatives have been available for many years in Cuba. Although without official recognition, they have formed part of care in clinics and hospitals. The required products are already typically available in Cuban pharmacies.

Comment:  For many of us who have been aware of the reputation of Cuba as having the most integrated of systems in the Western hemisphere, this news arrives as a surprise. For years individuals interested in integrative care have found their routes to Cuba specifically to learn about their integrated system. The 2006 PubMed-available article Natural and traditional medicine in Cuba: lessons for U.S. medical education was co-authored by Ben Kligler, MD, MPH, a former chair of the North American Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health, the 61 medical school integrative medicine group. A 1999 Washington Post piece was With Drugs Scarce, Cuba Tries Natural Cures. That the practices were not formally recognized was typically not the take-home message.

The timing is fascinating: alternative practices have gained formal recognition in Cuba within weeks of the U.S. formally removing the island nation from the U.S.’ list of state-sponsored terrorists. There is no direct relationship between these actions, or course. But as a veteran of the era in the 1980s in the United States in which every therapy on Cuba’s list was routinely denigrated as “quackery” and “fraud” – thus a form of medical terrorism, if you well – I couldn’t not note the temporal connection between the two actions. If there was any connection whatsoever to the timing of normalization of Cuba-US relations, it was not mentioned. Good for the prior legitimization to be formalized. Now the question is: will this relatively well-integrated system devolve toward the less integrated US norm as all of the pressures of capitalist medicine begin to have more access to the island, its population and its political figures?

Quick Links to Global News in Traditional, Alternative, and Integrative Health and Medicine for May 2015

quick linksThis monthly Global Integrator features highlights on 63 developments in traditional medicine and alternative and integrative health for May 2015. A significant move was a controversial $1.3-million Blackmores grant to the University of Sydney to set up a Department of Integrative Medicine. Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young has a cameo related to an herbal treatment for Ebola. And there is new practitioner regulation in Cuba and Switzerland.

  • Sule Blatner, MDA Nigerian endocrinologist, Sule Blathner, MD (pictured), warns against use of traditional healers for diabetes while also noting the resistance many of his people have to insulin use.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine manufacturer Tongrentang reported $39-million in first-quarter profits, up 13% from 2014.
  • Here is a short portrait of a Zimbabwe herbalist who is doing well with a libido-enhancing agent.
  • A leading Siddha scientist is urging the Indian government against programs to train any AYUSH practitioners to use allopathic drugs forconcern that this will harm the historic practice.
  • A “Korean biotech firm, Natural Endotech” was busted for using the wrong, less time-consuming method to grow and prepare herbs in a medicine favored by the nation’s elderly.
  • A trial will begin shortly in Burkina Faso of a tea mix thought to be useful against malaria.
  • TCM specialists have distanced themselves from a Chinese practitioner whose “slaptherapy” led to a boy’s death.
  • This piece looks at traditional medicine surviving in the Vietnamese community in Orlando,Florida.
  • The Aboriginal Health Center in Ontario, Canada, has a new, larger site for its combination of traditional and Western methods.
  • Theory is that the man who reports having his semen stolen may be related to a traditional medicine use.
  • Middle of May was “Naturopathic Medicine Week” in Canada. A naturopathic doctor in the Saskatchewan Association of Naturopathic physicians successfully had her mayordeclare Naturopathic Medicine Week.
  • This article describes how some Guineans began distrusting their traditional healers and turning to hospitals due to failures of traditional medicine against Ebola: “People started to realise that when they had [Ebola-like symptoms] and went to a medicine man, they died. When they went to the hospital, they were cured.”
  • Representatives of the Thai Herbal Products Association have introduced a proposal for regulation of the industry. They seek an “Herbal Medicines Actin order to allow for the independence of the traditional medicine practice as well as its development.”
  • A study in Vanuatu looked at preferences for traditional or biomedical methods for diarrhea.
  • All 8 species of Pangolin are threatened with extinction because of harvest for medicinal use.
  • In India, a leading television actor, Parth Oza, who is also an integrative doctor and is now set to star in a movie, speaks to his successes and his ongoing research into IM.
  • The US colony of Puerto Rico has just legalized medical marijuana.
  • Africa Research InstituteThis “Policy Voice” from the African Research institute (pictured) on Modern African Remedies shares the path of Paxherbals, started by a Benedictine monk, Father Anselm Adodo, with a commitment to respect for traditional medicines and a practical application of science. A related piece is here.
  • A significant supportive look at the US FDA’s decision toreopen thinking on homeopathic regulation.
  • A plan for regulating traditional medicine intellectualproperty in Zambia is discussed here.
  • Prime Minister Naik offers details of regulatory plansfor the new AYUSH Ministry, plus a suggestion of setting up a new public health plan that includes AYUSH.
  • The lack of a minister from the Ayurvedic heartland of Kerala on the new board set to run the AYUSH ministry is a component of this story.
  • A good description in this article of the emerging medical tourism market in the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
  • The Chinese are setting up the Silk Road Academy, a Chinese medicine center, in Belarus.
  • Good feature here on the Chinese government’s 5-year plan for traditional medicine.
  • Odd story of the murder of two politically linked traditional healers in Columbia.
  • The Swiss government has chosen to regulate practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine as part of a broader move to also regulate practitioners of homeopathy, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine. Another article focuses on recognition of Ayurvedic practitioners.
  • This article describes a 1-day Malaysian government seminar focusing on the education of traditional medicine practitioners, including not making over-claims and referring appropriately.
  • Plans to meet needs in rural China include an initiative to have at least one regular and one traditional Chinese medicine hospital in each province.
  • Prince Charles A review by a detractor looks at Prince Charles’ (pictured) controversial lobbying,including for herbal and homeopathic medicines, as well as against species extinction and for local foods. India’s Business Insider offers all the letters here.
  • The Indian cabinet has given its approval for extension of the MOU signed between India and the China State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SATCM) on cooperation in traditional medicine. In addition, a separate MOU was supported for cooperation in the field of traditional systems of medicine and homoeopathy between India and Mongolia. A focus on the Mongolian MOU is here.
  • A 7-year-long crisis in the leadership of theNational Association of Nigerian Traditional Medicine Practitioners has apparently been resolved.
  • The conclusion of a study: “Traditional Tibetan Medicine patients reported better primary care experiences than patients using Western Medicine hospitals, which validated the government’s investment in traditional Tibetan medicine.”
  • Spa locations in the Middle East North Africa region tripled between 2007 and 2013.
  • A report forecasts that Spa and Wellness will grow 14% in Saudi Arabia by 2017.
  • This review of natural health regulation in South Africa focuses on homeopathy, where practitioners must complete a 5-year Master’s-level program. Noted is that homeopathy is regulated as part of the system in India, South Korea, and Taiwan.
  • A new for-purchase report examines the global “alternative medicines and therapies” market.
  • Andrew YoungAndrew Young, (pictured) former US Ambassador to the UN, is urging exploration of native African plants as a possible Ebola cure.
  • An education event in Borneo is expected to draw morethan 1000 “traditional natural medicine doctors” and will benefit the Traditional and Complementary Medicines Foundation.
  • Amway’s sales in Asia and particularly the boom in Korea are covered here.
  • In a remarkable move, the Congo health minister has banned Chinese medicine for failure to comply with regulations.
  • Cuba has recognized 10 types of alternative practices.
  • A health expo in India to help popularize AYUSH, with backing from the Ministry ofAYUSH, was expected to draw more than 200 companies and 700 “delegates.”
  • The Tibetan medical texts from 1546, “Four Volumes of Medicine,” have been declared a national treasure in China in abid to protect intellectual property rights.
  • The Medicinal Plants Garden in Zeytinburnu, Turkey, whichhosts 800 medicinal plants on 68 plots, hosted the Merkezefendi Traditional Medicine Festival.
  • This article looks at the challenges of being a gay “sangoma” (traditional healer) in South Africa.
  • Traditional medicine figured into $22 billion (U.S.) in business deals signed between China and India.
  • Pushback from the Indian Medical Association: “The Medical Council of India has made it clear that Ayurveda students or internees could not be allowed to be posted in government hospitals for training in allopathy.”
  • The University of Malta has signed a deal to create a collaborative joint Master’s program in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Culture with theShanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
  • The dominant Australian supplement company Blackmores has donated $1.3 million to create the Maurice Blackmore Chair in Integrative Medicine at the University of Sydney.
  • Australian antagonists to the role of alternatives in their country, where 4 out of 5 people use them, continue to question the practices while providing short lists of some practices with supporting evidence and others without.
  • The Indian government’s decision to create a departmentof AYUSH came under fire during a discussion about healthcare budget cuts.
  • A deputy in the Kuala Lumpur government is questioning a move to ban all alcohol salesin traditional Chinese medicine shops, despite the fact that many of themedicines are made using alcohol. A second article is here and a third here.
  • A survey of Malaysian traditional medicine shops found 165 of 365 sold illegal sunbear parts.
  • Nasim Ashraf, CEO of the DNA Centre for Integrative Medicine and Wellness, was the Global Wellness Day ambassador for the UAE.
  • A Queensland man has been arrested for theft of cattle gallstones used in medicines.
  • In British Columbia, Canada, black bear are being poached for their gall bladders.
  • A traditional Chinese medicine known as “thunderGod vine” and its celastrol ingredient received a good deal of media play following Harvard research that found massive weight loss in mice. Research found that it also “lowers the mice’s cholesterol levels and increase[s] liver function and glucose metabolism.”
  • If the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) “has its way, Ayurveda in the near future will give modern medicine arun for its money.”
  • A Korean hospital ship serving outlying islands with no medical facilities includes traditional Korean medicine.
  • A so-called “Spirit of Health” conference in the UK featuring some alternative cancer treatments appears to be a “spirit of secrecy” and is the subject of investigation by MPs.
  • Estimates put the number of hijama (cupping) therapy practitioners in Saudi Arabia at more than 1000,according to Abdullah Al-Badah, MD, CEO of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The ancient practice had fallen out of favor but is coming back as an “alternative medicine.”

Ebola, Ambassador Andrew Young, and the Potential Role of Native African Medicine

Photo of Andrew Young, Jr.The former United Nation’s Ambassador from the United States, Andrew Young, Jr. (pictured) was playing a different sort of ambassadorial role in early May 2015. The civil rights activist who would also later be a multi-term mayor of the city of Atlanta, Georgia, presented an intriguing story of an encounter with an African traditional healer from Senegal. The healer who told him that the very best tools against Ebola were traditional therapies. Interest piqued, Young had the healer send him the herbs he had in mind. A box arrived with 5 separate varieties. Young had them checked with researchers at the Morehouse School of Medicine who then “worked with US Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to test the compounds.”

The findings: “All of the extracts – all five of them – had activity against Ebola virus.” This according to Michael Powell, PhD, an associate professor of microbiology, biochemistry and immunology at Morehouse. An article, Possible Ebola Cure May be Found in Native African Plants, describes the two hour press conference in which Young participated with Powell. He and others called for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others to engage the research to test the claims. Said Powell on the findings: “This is exciting because it’s a first step.”

This story hit within a few days of another article entitled Ebola’s Silver Lining: Guineans learn to have faith in hospitals. The picture is presented of hospitals sitting nearly empty prior to the outbreak of the virus. One person was quoted this way: “People started to realise that when they had [Ebola-like symptoms] and went to a medicine man, they died. When they went to the hospital, they were cured.” Another stated: “This means Ebola is stronger than the féticheurs [traditional healers]. So now there are many people who have lost faith in their powers.”

Photo of Gueckdou hospitalThe article states that more Guineans are coming to the hospitals for other conditions now. (Image from Gueckdou hospital.) But many remain unconvinced: “They can hardly distinguish between malaria and Ebola,” he said. “Doctors are just always doing guesswork, while traditional healers are more precise in their work. Their medicines do cure.” Then a local chief states that he has come to believe that “maybe hospitals can cure certain sicknesses in certain situations” but that he remains unconvinced about their value with others.

Comment: On one side, Ambassador Young pleads for resources to explore what most in the scientific community would probably regard as an unlikely source of solution against something as powerful as Ebola. On the other, Western medicine providers happy that Ebola was, effectively, an ambassador of a sort for their non-traditional medicine. Clearly, given the adverse consequences of over reliance on industrial medicine in, for instance, the over-prescribed U.S., the chief’s native wariness may be viewed as having its merits. The two articles, back to back, make a simple case for breaking out of either-or and opening up to potential from whatever sources.