E-Mail Edition Volume 8 Number 1
Published Winter, 2011
Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.
Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org
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Ask Dr. Coconut
Will oil pulling with coconut oil loosen the dental fillings or porcelain crowns I have on my teeth?
Occasionally people report that they have lost fillings or crowns when they started oil pulling. Others are hesitant to try oil pulling in fear that it might loosen their dental work.
Let me ease your fears. Oil pulling will not and cannot loosen properly placed crowns or fillings. The only time oil pulling will affect crowns or fillings is if the teeth underneath have decayed and are full of infection. In this case, the foundation on which the crowns or fillings are secured to is badly decayed and unable to hold the dental material. Oil pulling removes, bacteria, pus, and mucus. It cannot pull out porcelain, amalgam, or composite dental materials from the teeth. If you have fillings or crowns, you are completely safe.
If however, a filling or crown does come loose, be thankful. This indicates that the underlying tooth is rotting and full of infection. This infection is spreading throughout your mouth and your entire body. You need to have it removed as soon as possible. If oil pulling brought your attention to this problem, you are lucky because now you know the problem exists and can take care of it without experiencing further harm. ■
Editor’s note: If you are unfamiliar with oil pulling you can learn more about it at Oil Pulling For A Brighter Smile and Better Health by Bruce Fife
You Can Prevent Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is an ugly disease. Few other diseases can elicit the fear and sense of hopelessness that comes with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Ever since it was first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 there has been little hope for those who have the disease.
The gradual decline in mental function associated with Alzheimer’s often begins with barely noticeable lapses in memory followed by losses in the ability to plan and execute familiar tasks, and to reason and execute judgment. Eventually, memory loss increases in severity until it is incapacitating. The ability to articulate words correctly and changes in mood and personality may also be evident. Emotional problems such as easy agitation, poor judgment, mental confusion, feelings of withdrawal, disorientation, and hallucinations are common. Affected individuals may also develop seizures and incontinence, requiring constant attention and care. Death is the final outcome. Alzheimer’s is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
Alzheimer’s usually surfaces sometime after the age of 60. The disease affects 1 in 8 people over the age of 65 and affects nearly half of those over 85. In a small number of people it occurs in their 40s or 50s.
People with Alzheimer’s disease live an average of eight years from the time of diagnosis, but the interval can be as short as one year or as long as 20. The duration of the disease depends, in part, on age at diagnosis and the presence of other health problems.
The incidence of Alzheimer’s is growing rapidly. In 1979 the disease affected only about 0.2 people out of every 100,000. By 2006 that number shot up to 20 per 100,000. Incidence is expected to double over the next 20 years.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal process of aging; it is a disease. While genetic susceptibility is believed to affect about 5 percent of cases, Alzheimer’s is caused primarily by environmental and lifestyle factors. Those who have parents, grandparents, or siblings who are affected by Alzheimer’s are at increased risk themselves, not because of genetics, but due to a shared environment or learned habits that promote the disease.
A study of elderly couples found that where one partner has dementia, the other is six times more likely to develop the condition.1 This suggests that something in the couple’s shared environment, rather than genetics, is the primary cause of the disease. If you have a family member who has Alzheimer’s, you are at increased risk.
Over the years researchers have identified many factors that promote Alzheimer’s disease. The most significant of which are poor diet, traumatic head injury, stroke, taking certain drugs, chronic stress, environmental toxins (pesticides and toxic waste), toxic metals (mercury and aluminum), and infections. Although excessive exposure to any one of these factors can lead to Alzheimer’s, the disease usually results from a combination of factors over an extended period of time.
Each one of these factors promotes chronic inflammation and excessive oxidative stress (too many free radicals) and interferes with normal glucose metabolism thus blocking the brain’s ability to convert glucose into energy. Without adequate energy, neurons—our brain cells—weaken. Sick and dying neurons are unable to withstand the stress of chronic inflammation and the constant assault of damaging free radicals. As a result, neurons die, the brain shrinks, and cognitive skills are lost. The greater the exposure to the above factors, the faster the mental decline.
Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness. The brain is the most important organ in the body. It controls the function of all our other organs. We can survive without some organs, such as the appendix or tonsils, but some organs are so vital to life we cannot exist without them. If we experience kidney failure, we die. If we experience heart failure, we die. When the brain fails, it affects the heart, kidneys, and all other organs and we die. Alzheimer’s eventually leads to brain failure.
Alzheimer’s is not just a concern for the elderly. There is no way of telling who will develop the disease. We are all at risk. Alzheimer’s doesn’t happen suddenly; it is a progressive disease that begins decades before the first symptoms surface. The conditions that eventually lead to Alzheimer’s may start as early as the teenage years or before. As a person ages, brain cells die at an accelerated rate. The brain’s natural ability to compensate for lost neurons masks the problem until there are too few remaining to maintain normal brain function. By the time symptoms become noticeable, approximately 70 percent of the brain cells responsible for memory are already destroyed. At this stage, full recovery is impossible.
Currently there is no effective medical treatment for the disease. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is essentially a death sentence. Treatment focuses on reducing the severity of the symptoms, combined with providing services and support to make living with the disease more manageable. Patients must endure the disease through all stages of degeneration until the bitter end.
Can Medications Control Alzheimer’s?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “At the present time, there is no treatment to cure, delay, or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. FDA approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.”
The average time a person with Alzheimer’s lives after being diagnosed is eight years. Drug treatment is only beneficial for 6 to 12 months, and ac-cording to the Mayo clinic the effect is “modest” at best and only half of the people who take the drugs experience any benefit.
The most prescribed drugs for Alzheimer’s are Aricept (donepezil), Razadyne (galantamine), and Exelon (rivastigmine). These drugs do not stop the progression of the dis-ease and cannot stop or even slow down the underlying destruction of the brain cells. Alzheimer’s patients have low levels of a brain chemical believed to be important for memory and thinking called acetylcholine. These drugs work by blocking the action of an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the brain produces less and less acetylcholine, there-fore, these drugs eventually lose their effect. The drugs are only recommended for early and moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. They have no effect on later stages.
Even if the drugs provide a small benefit, isn’t it worth it? You be the judge. Like all drugs, Alzheimer’s medications are accompanied by some disturbing side effects. Reported side effects include: headache, dizziness, nervousness, hallucinations, depression, mental confusion, hostility, emotional instability, insomnia, generalized pain, hot flashes, bloating, sore throat, gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, incontinence, drooling, delusions, tremor, irritability, aggression, abnormal gait, muscle weakness, stroke, kidney failure, heart attack, and death.* Most of these symptoms are also common symptoms of Alzheimer’s. So how can you tell which are caused by the disease and which are caused by the medications? What good is the medication if it causes the same symptoms as the disease? What good is a drug that is possibly only useful for 12 months at most, yet carries a risk of stroke, kidney failure heart attack and death? These are the best drugs medical science has at its disposal for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no effective treatment currently available.
*Aricept was approved by the FDA in 1997 and is the most prescribed drug used to treat Alzheimer’s. A clinical study carried out in 2006 by Eisai Co. discovered that Aricept has a serious downside—increased incidence of death. Over 900 people with dementia enrolled for the drug trial. In the study 648 patients took Aricept once a day for 24 weeks and 326 received a placebo. Within the 24 week period 11 people died from the use of Aricept compared with no (zero) deaths in those treated with placebo. If the study had lasted for longer than just a few weeks, there would undoubtedly have been a much higher death rate. Interestingly, this study was never published in any of the medical journals.
Aricept the most widely prescribed drug for Alzheimer’s at best might slightly ease some of the symptoms but this is debatable, since the results are so subtle it isn’t clearly evident. Even if the benefit were tiny, it might be better than nothing at all, except the side effects can be devastating. Dozens of side effects have been reported including nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches, generalized pain, and death.
There is little that can be done using conventional medicine. Doctors don’t have a clue how to stop or even prevent this destructive disease. “That’s unusual for a disease of this magnitude.” says Robert Egge vice president of public policy at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Right now, we’re standing with no good therapeutic options to change the course of this disease.”
That statement doesn’t sound very promising. Fortunately, however, there is a way to both prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t require drugs, surgeries, radiation, high tech medical devices, or psychiatric treatment. The solution is in the diet.
The fundamental problem associated with Alzheimer’s disease is the inability of the brain to effectively utilize glucose, or blood sugar, to produce energy. This defect in energy conversion starves the brain cells and weakens their ability to withstand stress. As a result, the brain rapidly ages and degenerates into dementia.
The solution to the problem is to restore the brain’s ability to produce the energy it needs to resist stresses that harm the brain, enable it to repair damage, and stimulate growth of new cells. At one time, it was believed that we could not regenerate new brain cells.
Any drug that could do half of what coconut oil does, and without any harmful side effects, would be the best selling drug in the world.
The brain cells we were born with, scientists thought, had to last an entire lifetime. When brain cells died, they were gone forever. Recent research has shown that this is not true. The brain can and does generate new cells even in old age.2
The carbohydrate in the foods we eat is converted by the body into glucose. Glucose is the body’s primary source of fuel. Cells take glucose and transform it into energy—the energy they need to live and function.
When food is not eaten for a time, such as between meals, during sleep at night, or when fasting, blood glucose levels fall. To maintain the energy needed by the cells, fatty acids (fat molecules) are released from our fat cells. Like glucose, fatty acids can be burned to produce energy. Energy is supplied by either glucose or fatty acids. This process works well for the body, but not the brain. The brain cannot use fatty acids to satisfy its energy needs.
The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body. It requires a continual source of energy to maintain function, even during sleep. Although the brain accounts for only about 2 percent of an adult’s body weight, with every beat of the heart about 25 percent of the blood goes to the brain. Any interference in delivery of energy can seriously hamper brain function.
When blood glucose levels fall, the brain needs another source of energy to function and to survive. This alternative fuel source comes in the form of ketone bodies or ketones. Ketones are a special type of high-energy fuel produced in the liver specifically to nourish the brain. Ketones are produced from fat stored in the liver. Under normal conditions, we have very few ketones circulating in our blood, but as blood glucose levels decline, ketone production increases. This way the brain has a continual supply of either glucose or ketones to rely on.
In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells have difficulty metabolizing glucose, the brain’s principal source of energy. Ketones bypass the defects in glucose energy metabolism associated with Alzheimer’s. Therefore, if enough ketones were available on a continual basis, they could satisfy the brain’s energy needs. However, ketones are only produced when carbohydrate consumption is very low; this normally happens when little or no food is being consumed.
Obviously, fasting is not a practical solution. However, if carbohydrate consumption is very low, a person can get all the calories and nutrients he or she needs from protein and fat. This type of diet is known as a ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet has been used therapeutically for over 90 years to treat another brain disorder—epilepsy. Years ago it was discovered that fasting, consuming nothing but water, for several weeks at a time could significantly alleviate symptoms and in many cases completely cure epilepsy. The reason for this is that during the fast, ketones supply the brain with a more efficient source of energy than glucose, stimulating healing and the growth of new brain cells. Researchers reasoned that if they could prolong the effects of fasting for more than a few weeks, say for a year or so, it would allow more time for the healing process and increase the cure rate. Of course, you could not place someone on a fast for a year, so they devised a diet that mimicked the metabolic effects of fasting while providing all the nutrients needed to maintain good health. The result was the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet proved to be enormously successful even for very severe drug-resistance cases of epilepsy.
Since the ketogenic diet had proven so successful in correcting the brain defects associated with epilepsy, researchers began to wonder if it could be used to treat other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
Initial studies with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Huntington’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and stroke have shown that the ketogenic diet can provide symptomatic relief to a broad range of brain disorders.3-6 Animal models of Alzheimer’s have also responded well to ketone therapy. In animal studies ketones are shown to reduce the amount of Alzheimer’s-like plaque that forms in the brain and increase performance on visual-spatial memory tasks, increase the ability of learning tasks, and increase performance in short-term memory.7-8
With the classic ketogenic diet carbohydrate intake must be kept very low (around 2 percent of calories) in order to stimulate the liver to convert fat into ketones. Carbohydrate ordinarily accounts for about 60 percent of our daily calories. When this is dropped to only 2 percent, the void must be filled by other energy producing nutrients, either fat or protein. In the ketogenic diet fat is used to replace the carbohydrate in order to supply the needed building blocks for ketone production. Although the ketogenic diet shows great promise in treating Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, producing palatable meals consisting of 90 percent fat is a challenge.
Fortunately there are certain fats, namely medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), that are converted into ketones in the body regardless of blood glucose levels or the amount of carbohydrate in the diet. When MCTs are consumed, a portion will be converted into ketones regardless of what other foods are eaten. Therefore, most any type of diet can be transformed into a ketogenic diet by the addition of an adequate amount of MCTs.
The addition of MCTs into the diet can produce very positive effects on the brain, providing a new tool with which to fight Alzheimer’s. In clinical studies MCTs have produced better results in Alzheimer’s patients than any other treatment currently known to medical science.
In one study for instance, Alzheimer’s patients consumed a beverage containing MCTs or a beverage without MCTs. Those who drank the beverage containing the MCTs had markedly increased blood ketone levels after 90 minutes when a cognitive test was administered. These patients scored significantly better on the test than those who had not consumed the MCTs.9
This study was remarkable for the reason that it produced improvement in cogitative function after a single dose of MCTs. No Alzheimer’s drug or treatment has ever come close to achieving results like this. Based on studies such as this, a new drug consisting of only MCTs has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
MCT-based drugs aren’t really necessary. They are expensive and require a prescription. Any source of MCTs can work just as well. The normal way we get MCTs is in our diet. However, there are few good natural dietary sources of MCTs. By far the largest natural source of MCTs is found in coconut oil. Coconut oil is composed predominately of MCTs, amounting to about 63 percent of the total. The MCTs used in Alzheimer’s studies and to produce pharmaceuticals comes from coconut oil. The amount of MCTs in coconut oil is great enough to produce therapeutic blood levels of ketones. Two tablespoons of coconut oil can produce enough ketones to have a significant effect on brain function and can be used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Mary Newport, MD proved that coconut oil alone or in combination with MCT oil can effectively stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and reverse the symptoms. Her husband Steve, suffered from the disease for nearly six years before he began taking coconut oil. The results were immediate and dramatic.
Prior to taking coconut oil he was diagnosed with moderately severe Alzheimer’s. He could no longer take care of himself. He required supervision to complete many day-to-day tasks such as replacing a light bulb, vacuuming, doing a load of laundry, washing dishes, and dressing appropriately. He was easily distracted when attempting such tasks, and never got around to completing them. He was no longer able to use a computer keyboard or calculate or perform basic arithmetic. He often wore just one sock or shoe and misplaced the others. He was unable to read because words seemed to move about the page erratically, he had difficulty spelling simple words, such as “out” and “put” and had trouble recalling many common words when speaking. He had physical difficulties as well, including a moderate hand tremor that interfered with eating and a jaw tremor that was most apparent while speaking. He walked slowly with an abnormal gait which involved pulling each foot up higher than usual with each step. An MRI showed significant loss of brain mass particularly in the areas involved in memory and cognitive abilities. Drugs such as Aricept, Namenda, and Exelon proved to be of no help.
After taking coconut oil, his scores on Alzheimer’s rating scales improved dramatically. Within just a couple of weeks his score on the Mini Mental Status Exam, a standard test for Alzheimer’s, went from a low of 12 out of 30 to 18. A very significant improvement, which is unheard of since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that doesn’t get better over time. It always gets worse. His score continued to improve, elevating him from moderately severe up to a mild stage of Alzheimer’s.
His memory has improved dramatically. He can recall events that happened days or weeks earlier and relays telephone conversations accurately. He is more focused when performing tasks and is able to complete household and gardening chores with minimal to no supervision. He now wears both shoes and socks and keeps the pairs of shoes together. His ability to initiate and continue a conversation has improved and his sense of humor has returned. He has regained his ability to read and the ability to type. His facial tremor is gone with minimal to no hand tremor. He walks with a normal gait and can run for the first time in more than a year.
He has improved so significantly that he now volunteers twice a week at the hospital where his wife works, helping in the warehouse and delivering supplies. He is pleased with his job and enjoys the people with whom he works. He continues to improve. With a smile on his face he exclaims “I’ve got my life back.” Other Alzheimer’s patients who are incorporating coconut oil into their diets are experiencing similar improvements.
by Dr. Bruce Fife
Who could have imagined that such a simple dietary intervention could produce such a remarkable effect on brain health? The simple act of adding coconut oil into the diet can both prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. For treatment purposes a total of 5 tablespoons (74 ml) a day taken with meals is recommended. Add a portion of the coconut oil to each of the three meals consumed during the day. For prevention, take 2-3 tablespoons (30-44 ml) daily.
Anybody can develop Alzheimer’s disease at any time. You need not wait until symptoms surface before you start to do something about it. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is definitely true when it comes to neurodegeneration. You can stop Alzheimer’s disease before it has a chance of taking over your life. Adding coconut oil into your daily life can provide that protection.
The use of ketones, either through a ketogenic diet, MCTs, or coconut oil, for the treatment of neurological and other disorders is known as ketone therapy. Researchers suggest that ketone therapy offers the most promising form of treatment for not only Alzheimer’s and epilepsy but for a number of neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
While adding coconut oil into the diet can have a remarkable effect on brain health, ketone therapy alone is not the complete solution. Diet also affects brain health. What you eat can either enhance the effectiveness of ketone therapy or interfere with it. An improper diet can sabotage the beneficial effects produced by ketone therapy. This explains why some Alzheimer’s patients who add coconut oil into their diets experience remarkable improvement while others see only modest improvement.
The best diet for the brain isn’t necessarily the typical “healthy” diet recommended by weight loss gurus and fashion magazines. It’s a therapeutic diet—a diet that is designed to enhance brain health.
Combining ketone therapy with a proper diet can stop Alzheimer’s dead in its tracks and bring about substantial improvement. My new book Stop Alzheimer’s Now! provides details on how to use coconut oil along with a proper diet to successfully combat Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Can Alzheimer’s be prevented? Can it be cured? The program outlined in this book is designed to provide the brain with all the nutrients necessary to quiet chronic inflammation, stop free-radical destruction, energize the brain cells, and stimulate repair and growth of new brain cells; thus allowing the brain to heal itself. Yes, there is now hope for Alzheimer’s. ■
1. Roan, S. Dementia in one spouse increases risk in the other. Los Angeles Times May 5, 2010.
2. Eriksson, P.S., et al. Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. Nat Med 1998;4:1313-1317.
3. Tieu, K, et al. D-beta-hydroxybutyrate rescues mitochondrial respiration and mitigates features of Parkinson disease. J Clin Invest 2003;112:892-901.
4. Gasior, M., et al. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behav Pharmacol 2006;17:431-439.
5. Zhao, Z., et al. A ketogenic diet as a potential novel therapeutic intervention in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. BMC Neuroscience 2006;7:29.
6. Duan, W., et al. Dietary restriction normalizes glucose metabolism and BDNF levels, slows disease progression, and increases survival in huntingtin mutant mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2003;100:2911-2916.
7. Van der Auwera, I., et al. A ketogenic diet reduces amyloid beta 40 and 42 in mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Natr Metab (Lond) 2005;2:28.
8. Costantini, L.C., et al. Hypometabolism as a therapeutic target in Alzheimer’s disease. BMC Neuroscience 2008;9:S16.
9. Reger, M.A., et al. Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiol Aging 2004;25:311-314.
Is Alternative Medicine Dangerous?
Recently the headlines in the health section of the newspaper blared “Alternative Medicine Fatal for Kids.” The first sentence warned: “Giving alternative treatments such as homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicines to children may have deadly side effects…” These findings were revealed in a new study that appeared in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. The article was written as if alternative approaches to conventional medicine were potentially dangerous and that those who used these methods were at risk of doing great harm to themselves or their family.
This study is just another attack against alternative medicine by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Alternative medicine is viewed as competition. If people use alternative medicine, they won’t buy drugs or pay for expensive medical procedures, and they just might get better without a lifetime commitment to medical treatments.
In the study, Australian researchers monitored reports from pediatricians in Australia over a three year period from 2001 to 2003 looking for suspected side effects from alternative medicines like herbal treatments and vitamin supplements. In children up to age 16 they found 39 reports of side effects, including four deaths. The article pointed out that in nearly 65 percent of these cases the side effects were classified as severe, life-threatening, or even fatal—sounds pretty serious. Dr. Edzard Ernst, a professor of medicine at Peninsula Medical School in England is quoted as saying, “We have known for a long time that alternative medicines can put patients at risk.” He implies that doctors, who practice the only universally recognized form of medicine, are fully aware of the many dangers associated alternative medical treatments.
The medical profession often portrays alternative therapies as outdated and worthless home remedies or wishful thinking. While the methods and techniques may vary in effectiveness, alternative medicine does work. A few years ago I read a study that showed that treatments using alternative therapies were just as successful as those using conventional medicine. This is actually remarkable because often people seek alternative medicine as a last resort after conventional medicine has failed. Despite getting the hopeless cases cast aside by conventional medicine, alternative medicine is still just as effective over all. Some physicians recognize the value of natural therapies and have embraced the best from both alternative medicine and conventional medicine into what is known a complementary medicine.
The maxim “first do no harm” is a guiding principle for all natural therapies. Alternative treatments focus on using methods that are harmless. They strive to correct nutrient, energy, chemical, and other deficiencies and encourage the body to summon its own innate healing powers to provide the cure. Treatment may include vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements, healthy eating, exercise, physical therapy (e.g., chiropractic, massage), energy work (acupuncture), visualization techniques, and other non-invasive, harmless therapies.
In contrast, conventional medicine relies primarily on drugs, surgery, radiation procedures, and other treatments that are inherently harmful and may have serious consequences. All drugs, even over-the-counter drugs, are accompanied by undesirable side effects. Surgery always injures tissues. Radiation, whether it is used for diagnostic purposes (x-rays, CT scans) or treatment, causes damage. Doctors know the treatments are potentially harmful but justify their use in the belief that they do more good than harm.
In rare instances alternative medicine can cause harm. It is possible, for example, that a person can have an allergic reaction to an herb or take an excessive amount of certain vitamin or mineral supplement. But these situations can and do happen with conventional medicines as well. In fact, it’s far more likely to happen with medicines, which are far more dangerous than vitamins or herbs.
The most recent annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers published in the journal Clinical Toxicology shows zero deaths from any vitamin, mineral, amino acid, or herbal supplement for the year of 2009. This data verifies the safety of the most often used tools of alternative medicine.
Since alternative treatments are far less harmful than drugs, it is ridiculous to attack them for being dangerous. The medical and pharmaceutical industries know this, so the primary focus of attack is on using “useless” alternative treatments in place of “life-saving” medicines.
“Perhaps the most serious harm occurs when effective therapies are replaced by ineffective alternative therapies,” says Dr. Ernst. “In that situation, even an intrinsically harmless medicine, like a homeopathic medicine, can be life-threatening.” In fact, the four deaths reported over this three year period were all attributed to using alternative therapies instead conventional medicines. In some cases, this argument may have some validity. If a child has bacterial meningitis, antibiotics will work better than most alternative therapies. For some conditions, conventional medical treatment is preferred. Likewise, for many conditions alternative medicine is superior and would have saved the lives of patients who died using conventional medicine.
The article was written in a manner condemning alternative medicine for causing four deaths. Four deaths over a three year period is minutely small when you compare the number of deaths that are caused by conventional medicine.
The total number of iatrogenic (doctor caused) deaths in the United States is over 1 million per year. This includes adverse reactions to prescribed drugs, medical errors, surgery related errors, etc. This is more than the number that dies annually from heart disease (850,000), cancer (570,000), or automobile accidents (34,000). Over 100,000 Americans die each year from adverse reactions to drugs. To criticize alternative medicine for being responsible for a mere four deaths is outlandish. And these deaths were not actually caused by alternative therapies but, according to the study, they resulted from not getting proper medical attention.
The number of iatrogenic deaths are actually much higher than 1 million. Only 5 to 20 percent of iatrogenic acts are ever reported. This implies that if medical errors were completely and accurately reported, the death rate due to medical error would be at least 5 million and up to 20 million a year.
Collecting reliable data on medical errors is difficult because of underreporting due to the fear of being blamed and the potential for legal liability. Relatively few doctors ever report adverse drug reactions to the FDA. The reasons range form not knowing such a reporting system exists to fear of being sued. Nurses don’t report medical mistakes for fear of retaliation. It is this flawed system of voluntary reporting from doctors that we depend on to know whether a drug or a medical intervention is harmful. If no one notices the error, it is never reported. So who is reporting medical errors? Usually it is the patient or the patient’s surviving family. Mandatory reporting would be helpful. But the American Medical Association is strongly opposed to it.
Dr. Lucian L. Leape of Harvard School of Public Health says that in hospitals there is an average of 1.7 errors per day per patient, and 29 percent of those errors are potentially serious or fatal. What is the effect on someone who daily gets the wrong medication, the wrong dose, the wrong procedure; when the patient finally succumbs after the tenth error that week, what is entered on the death certificate? Whatever illness that person was suffering from is generally given the credit.
On average, intensive care patients receive 178 “activities” a day, of which 1.7 are errors. This translates to a 1 percent failure rate. To some this may not seem like much, but putting this into perspective, Leape cites industry standards where in aviation a 0.1 percent failure rate would mean 2 unsafe plane landings per day at O’Hare airport; in the postal service, 16,000 pieces of lost mail every hour; or in banking 32,000 bank checks deducted from the wrong bank account every hour.
Is alternative medicine dangerous? When you compare it to conventional medicine it is extremely safe. It is no more dangerous than taking a vitamin tablet or eating healthy foods or getting regular exercise. Is there risk? Sure. There is risk in anything, you can be allergic to a healthy food, overdose on too many supplements, or pull a muscle when jogging. But the risks are far less than taking a drug that is reported to cause a dozen or more adverse reactions, some so serious that it may result in death or disability.
Medications are taken off the market or restricted every year due to their dangerous side effects and the unscrupulous marketing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry. This past year the diet pill Meridia and pain pill Darvon were withdrawn from the market and the diabetes drug Avandia was severely restricted. Other drugs voted into this past year’s Hall of Shame, but not necessarily withdrawn, include Yaz, Singulair, Ambien, Tamoxifen, Lipitor, Crestor, Boniva, Prozac, Zoloft, Ritalin, and Advair, to name a few. For a complete listing go here.
Is alternative medicine effective? Some alternative treatments have been proven effective in controlled studies. Acupuncture helps relieve pain. Yoga, aerobics, art therapy, and aromatherapy are good for stress. Ginger can ease nausea, turmeric reduces inflammation, and coconut oil fights infections. However, just because there are no studies showing a particular therapy is effective does not mean it isn’t. The effectiveness of the therapy really depends on the skill and knowledge of the individual practitioner.
The philosophy behind alternative medicine is the belief that the body is capable of healing itself from just about any ailment if given the right nutrients and support (good diet, exercise, vitamins, etc.) and if negative influences (drugs, tobacco, unhealthy foods, chemicals, toxins, etc.) are removed. Strengthening the immune system and empowering the body’s natural tendency for survival will correct the underlying problem. The therapies don’t cause harm but support better overall health.
In conventional medicine, the aim is to kill or remove harmful microorganisms or diseased cells that cause ill health and to counteract any chemical imbalances in system. Such therapies are often dangerous and do not correct the underlying problem. In most illnesses the cause is not well understood so a cure is unavailable. The approach in these cases is to treat the symptoms rather than the disease itself.
Let’s look how both methods approach the problem of treating cancer. The conventional approach is to remove the cancerous tissues. This is accomplish by surgically removing the tumor, poisoning it with drugs (chemo therapy), or killing it with radiation. Often all three methods are employed. In the process, damage is caused to the patient. You cannot surgically remove a tumor without cutting healthy tissue, or kill cancerous tissue with drugs and radiation without also killing healthy tissue. Cancer is not an isolated disease. It is systemic. We all have cancer cells developing in our bodies. We don’t all get cancer because our immune systems keep them under control. It is only when the immune system is incapable of efficiently neutralizing them that they get out of hand and develop into life-threatening tumors. Removing the tumors eliminates the immediate threat, but it does not cure the problem. The body remains weak and unable to stop the cancer cells from developing. Often, the medical treatments weaken the body even further so that relapses are common. A person may survive a year or two or even five or more years but eventually succumb to cancer.
The alternative approach would be to strengthen the immune system using various natural approaches and anti-cancer therapies (immune boosting foods, anti-cancer herbs, oxygen therapy, etc.). This way the body itself attacks the cancerous cells and removes them. No harm is done to surrounding tissues. The immune system is enhanced so the underlying problem is solved. The cancer won’t come back unless the immune system is somehow compromised again. Because the body dismantles the cancerous growth cell by cell, this process takes time, often months. You don’t see the quick results you would from surgery, but the end result is more complete and longer lasting.
Both alternative and conventional approaches have their strengths and their weaknesses. Alternative medicine is superior for prevention. The goal is to achieve the best health possible so that sickness does not occur, and if it does the body will be strong enough to quickly overcome it. Conventional medicine is very poor at prevention. It focuses on crisis management, waiting for something to happen first before taking action. What preventative measures that are recommended, such as low-fat dieting and consuming polyunsaturated vegetable oils and margarine, usually degrade health.
Alternative medicine is also more effective for most chronic illnesses (e.g., candidiasis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, diabetes, etc.). By improving the health of the entire body, chronic problems are gradually corrected and health improves. Conventional medicine handles chronic illness very poorly. Treatment generally consists of suppressing the symptoms with drugs or surgery, which in the long run causes more problems or leaves the patient crippled.
Acute illness is handled by both forms of medicine more or less equally. Alternative medicine is perhaps better for non-critical illnesses, such as ringworm (a skin fungus) or insect bites, while conventional medicine is better at handling serious disease such as syphilis, dysentery, bacterial pneumonia, and such.
The place where conventional medicine really shines is in the treatment of serious injuries such as broken bones, severed limbs, collapsed lungs, gunshot wounds, and the like. Modern medicine has been able work miracles for such conditions.
In summary, alternative medicine is best for prevention and for treating chronic and minor illnesses, while conventional medicine has its greatest value in treating serious acute diseases and severe trauma. ■
Alternative medicine fatal for 4 kids. The Gazette, December 24, 2010.
Null, G., et al. Death by medicine. Life Extension Magazine. Aug. 2006.
Leape, L.L. Error in medicine. JAMA 1994;272:1851-1857.
Bronstein A.C., et al. 2009 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System (NPDS): 27th Annual Report. Clinical Toxicology (2010). 48, 979-1178. The abstract to the article is available here.
Special Video Features
Doctor Oz interviews Doctor Joe Mercola about alternative health, including aspects of coconut oil.
Dr. Oz reveals 3 powerful health benefits of coconut oil
Healing Honey: A Sweet Treatment for Wounds and Infections
A worker black bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) eating
Source Wikimedia Commons
You’ve heard that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but with a spoonful of honey you can forget the medicine all together. After decades of turning up their noses at this ancient cure, doctors are now starting to turn sweet on honey.
Honey is not only a tasty sweetener, but a natural antibiotic and wound healer. Four thousand years ago the Egyptians used honey to treat infected wounds. Aristotle (384-322 BC) claimed that honey was “good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds.” Greek physician, Dioscorides (40-90 AD), considered it “good for all rotten and hollow ulcers.” In India honey is said to be a panacea for eye diseases. Honey from the Jirdin valley of Yemen is revered along the Persian Gulf for its therapeutic properties.
The use of honey to treat infected wounds, has been viewed with heavy skepticism by mainstream medicine for years. For example, an editorial in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine in 1976 on
medical folklore ridiculed the use of honey, proclaiming honey to be just another “worthless but harmless substance.”1 Such comments by medical authorities are typical to many “natural” therapies. Research over the past two decades, however, has shown that honey is not only beneficial but is superior to most modern medicines for the treatment of wounds, ulcers, and burns. Just because a remedy is natural or harmless or not fully understood does not make it worthless.
The first scientific investigation on the antibiotic properties of honey was undertaken in 1892 by Dutch scientist Van Ketel. In the 1950s a Russian researcher by the name of Vakhnenko published a study demonstrating the effects of treating burns with an emulsion of honey and fat.2
Numerous studies have been published since the late 1980s which have demonstrated the effectiveness of honey in treating wounds. Most of these studies showed honey to be superior to conventional medications at controlling infection and in reducing recovery time. For instance,
In 1991 a study published in the British Journal of Surgery compared the efficiency of honey as a wound dressing with silver sulfadiazine, an antibiotic and the standard treatment for superficial burns. A total of 104 cases of superficial burn injury were studied. In the 52 patients treated with honey, the wounds in 91 percent were rendered bacteria free within 7 days. In the 52 patients treated with silver sulfadiazine, only 7 percent showed the absence of infection within the same time period. Of the wounds treated with honey, 87 percent healed within 15 days, compared with a mere 10 percent of those treated with silver sulfadiazine. The honey treated patients also experienced less pain, leaking of wound fluid, and scarring.3
In the above study each patient received either honey or silver sulfadiazine. In a more recent study, the patients received both honey and sulfadiazine but on different parts of their bodies. One hundred and fifty patients of all ages having similar types of burns at two sites on different parts of body were included. Each patient had one burn site treated with honey and one treated with silver sulfadiazine. On average, the sites treated with honey healed completely in less than 21 days, versus 24 days for those who received silver sulfadiazine. In addition, infection was controlled far better in the honey-treated areas as compared to the silver sulfadiazine-treated areas.4
One of the world’s foremost experts on the healing properties of honey is Paul Molan, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. “In the past decade there have been many reports of case studies, experiments using animal models, and randomized controlled clinical trials that provide a large body of very convincing evidence for its effectiveness,” says Molan. “As a dressing on wounds, honey provides a moist healing environment, rapidly clears infection, deodorizes, and reduces inflammation, edema, and exudation. Also, it increases the rate of healing by stimulation of angiogenesis, granulation, and epithelialization, making skin grafting unnecessary and giving excellent cosmetic results.”5
Honey has been reported to kill or deactivate around 60 species of bacteria including antibiotic resistant strains.6 Antifungal action has also been observed for a number of yeasts including Aspergillus and Penicillium, and dermatophytes.7 Honey has shown to maintain its antibacterial activity even when it is diluted more than 10-fold.8
Practical Considerations for the Topical Use of Honey
1. The amount of honey required on the wound relates to the amount of fluid exuding from the wound. If the wound is exudating heavily the dressing may need to be replaced a couple of
In recent years honey has been used successfully to treat a wide variety of injuries and wounds including burns, venous leg ulcers, diabetic foot ulcers, pressure ulcers, unhealed grafts, abscesses, boils, pilonidal sinuses, infected wounds from surgery, necrotising faciitis (flesh-eating bacteria disease), and neonatal postoperative wound infections.9-12 In many of these and other cases, honey was successful in healing wounds that did not respond to treatment with conventional antibiotics and antiseptics.
Infection by flesh-eating bacteria
times a day. If there is no
exudate, dressings can be changed twice-weekly.
2. To achieve best results, the honey should be applied to an absorbent dressing prior to application. If applied directly to the wound, the honey tends to run off before a secondary dressing is applied to hold it in place.
3. Honey will not soak readily into absorbent dressings. Soaking is facilitated by warming the honey to body temperature and/or adding 1 part water to 20 parts honey to make the honey more fluid.
4. Any depressions or cavities in the wound bed need to be filled with honey in addition to using a honey-impregnated dressing. This is to ensure the antibacterial components of the honey diffuse into the wound tissues.
5. Honey can safely be inserted into cavities and sinuses. It is water-soluble and easily rinsed out; any residues are bio-degradable.
6. Since infection may lie
One study, for example, reported using honey dressings on 59 patients with wounds and ulcers that were stubbornly resistant to conventional treatment. Forty-seven of the patients had been treated from 1 month to 2 years with no signs of healing. In some, the wounds had increased in size during treatment.9 After the application of honey dressings, swabs from the 51 wounds with bacteria present became sterile within just one week and the others remained sterile. All but one wound (a Buruli ulcer) showed signs of healing.
In a randomized controlled trial, 26 patients with postoperative wound infections had their wounds treated with honey. Another 24 patients, which served as the control, had their wounds washed with 70 percent ethanol with povidone iodine applied. The infections in the group treated with honey were eradicated and achieved complete healing in less than half the time compared with the antiseptic-treated group.13
Several randomized controlled clinical trials have compared honey with silver sulfadiazine ointment on burns. Each of these showed that honey gave better control of infection and reduced healing time.14
Dr. Molan likes to tell the story of a woman who struggled for 20 years with a persistent infection. The antibiotic-resistant bacteria formed a continually oozing abscess in her armpit. Despite numerous treatments, nothing helped. The pain was so bad it prevented her from working. She read about the remarkable wound-healing properties of honey and convinced her doctor to apply it to the dressing under her arm. A month later the wound was completely healed and she was able to work again for the first time in nearly two decades.
For a treatment to be practical, it must also be safe. Honey is one of the safest topical ointments there is. In more than 500 published reports on the clinical usage of honey in open wounds there have been no adverse reactions noted, with the exception of an occasional burning sensation described by a few patients. This is believed to be due to the acidity of the honey as it has not been reported when the acidity is neutralized.
Honey sometimes contains spores of bacteria that can cause botulism when consumed. For this reason, parents are cautioned not to feed honey to children under the age of 12 months. However, there have been no reported cases of this bacterium or anything else in honey infecting open wounds. “It’s still OK to use honey on children’s (and infants’) burns or scrapes,” says Dr. Molan. When applied topically honey is safe at any age.
in the tissues underlying the wound margins, honey dressings need to extend beyond the inflamed area surrounding a wound.
Peter Molan, Ph.D.
For more information
The honey used in most clinical settings is specially prepared medical grade honey called Medihoney. It is sterilized and filtered to remove spores and other foreign objects. Molan says it is safe to use ordinary supermarket honey on minor wounds. However, the antimicrobial potency varies depending on the type of pollen used to make the honey. Medihoney has the advantage of being laboratory tested for high potency. ■
1. Soffer A. Chihuahuas and laetrile, chelation therapy, and honey from Boulder, Colo. Arch Intern Med 1976;136:865-866.
2. Ivakhnenko, G.S. Treatment of thermal burns with an emulsion of honey and fat. Vestn Khir Im I I Grek 1956;77:83-88.
3. Subrahmanyam, M. Topical application of honey in treatment of burns. Br J Surg 1991;78:497-498.
4. Malik, K.I., et al. Honey compared with silver sulphadiazine in the treatment of superficial partial-thickness burns. Int Wound J 2010;7:413-417.
5. Molan, P.C. Potential of honey in the treatment of wounds and burns. Am J Clin Dermatol 2001;2:13-19.
6. Molan, P.C. The antibacterial activity of honey. 1.The nature of the antibacterial activity. Bee World 1992;73:5-28.
7. Brady, N.F., et al. The sensitivity of dermatophytes to the antimicrobial activity of manuka honey and other honey. Pharm Sci 1997;2:1-3.
8. Cooper, R.A., et al. The efficacy of honey in inhibiting strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa from infected burns. J Burn Care Rehabil 2002;23:366-370.
9. Efem, S.E. Clinical observations on the wound healing properties of honey. Br J Surg 1988; 75:679-861.
10. Betts, J.A. and Molan, P.C. A pilot trial of honey as a wound dressing has shown the importance of the way honey is applied to wounds. 11th Conference of the European Wound Management Association, 2001; Dublin, Ireland.
11. Efem, S.E. Recent advances in the management of Fournier's gangrene: preliminary observations. Surgery 1993;113:200-204.
12. Vardi, A., et al. Local application of honey for treatment of neonatal postoperative wound infection. Acta Paediatr 1998;87:429-432.
13. Al-Waili, N.S. and Saloom K.Y. Effects of topical honey on post-operative wound infections due to gram positive and gram negative bacteria following caesarean sections and hysterectomies. Eur J Med Res 1999; 4(3): 126-130.
14. Wijesinghe, M., et al. Honey in the treatment of burns: a systematic review and meta-analysis of its efficacy. N Z Med J 2009;122:47-60.
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