Friday, November 30, 2007

Chinese medicine and acupuncture

To many Americans, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is almost synonymous with Chinese acupuncture. That misunderstanding is consistent with many people's views about herbs. Although it's changing, the public opinion about the effect of "grass" or "bush leaves" on healing has not caught on. I think it's partially because of the non-regulation of herbs, which are still treated as nutrition supplements and not medicine. As a result, a Chinese doctor trained in TCM in China finds it easier to become an acupuncturist in the US (after certification) and can't do the same TCM job as in China. Well, there's probably no government approved TCM profession in this country anyway; alternative medicine remains alternative. It's said that TCM students in China care more about pharmacology and kind of look down upon acupuncture. I guess they can't have that attitude here if they want to make a living with it.

I don't think acupuncture has as strong healing power as most herbs. But it is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to improving the already healthy body. Recent hot books in China "人体使用手册" (Human Body: A User's Manual), "求医不如求己" (See a Doctor? See Yourself) and others all stress our inherent power in the human body, suggesting tapping the "dan" (gall bladder) meridian, for instance. Although I don't quite agree with the author placing the "dan" meridian in a more prominent position than others, the philosophy of taking advantage of our own healing power while the body is mostly healthy is an absolutely fabulous idea. In these cases, medicine, natural herbs included, is external and should be treated as a secondary medium.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Boxing Should Be Banned in Civilized Countries

If you don't use your brain, you may think all sports are good to health. While cleaning up my old folder, I found a note I saved two years ago
Boxing Should Be Banned in Civilized Countries by George D. Lundberg, MD:

"What is wrong with boxing? In addition to a host of sociologic concerns, boxing is wrong medically, since it not only kills some participants, it inflicts objectively proven chronic brain damage in as many as 80% of fighters who have had a substantial number of fights. It is wrong morally, because the intent of the 'sport' is to harm the opponent in order to win, preferably by knockout -- brain damage by definition. These 2 objections, medical and moral, separate boxing from all other risk sports."

I'm sure boxing fans will think otherwise. But I can tell you what one of my high school friends said. He used to fight a lot in high school. Then he went to college to study medical science. While still a student, one day he came to me and said he never fought again. I asked why. He said, if I still fight, I can't help but think what the incoming blow will hit, the heart if it comes toward my upper left chest, liver if lower and shifted to the right. All these are important organs that he can't afford to lose.

Some time ago I came upon a web page where a Mom called for ban of soccer for school boys, for reason of possible violent collision. The intent of soccer is not to harm people but the health risk may be too high for small kids. I guess we should all remember what we practice sport is ultimate for, better health, and everything else is secondary. If you think the other way, you may not be up to the current civilization level yet.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Humans live long, too long? Interesting words from a Nobel prize in medicine winner

As usual, I read newsletters from Medscape. One headline linked to

caught my eyes, "Science and Sensibility: An Interview With Professor Rolf M. Zinkernagel, Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine 1996". Since the Medscape site needs login (account is free though), I'm copying some of the startling words as follows. I put some words in bold.

******************* BEGIN QUOTE ********************

Q: HIV, SARS, multiple Drug-resistant tuberculosis, Ebola -- the list is endless. We never had them until a few years ago. Why do we continue to grapple with all of these diseases despite our scientific prowess?

A: This is simply because the life span of human beings has far exceeded what it was intended for. The main function of human beings in evolution is procreation, which is usually completed by the 25th year of age. With our scientific prowess, we have prolonged our age, thus inviting a host of new diseases. I would add autoimmune diseases to the ones that you have mentioned. However, from an evolutionary point of view, this is perfectly fine. Most of the diseases affect man after the age of 25, by which he has procreated in any case. So it doesn't really matter if you die after then; your contribution to evolution is complete! The irrational behavior of human beings has also significantly contributed to the above-mentioned predicaments.


A: But there has to be some lasting solution against the menace of HIV?

Q: A virus such as HIV is too smart for us. It keeps mutating so that it can accustom itself to the human body, thus fooling our immune response. For any solution, we would have to fight this variability, this mutability of the virus, which I do not think is possible. In fact, I wonder whether it is even necessary.

Q: Are you suggesting that we should resign ourselves to the onslaught of HIV?

A: Well, it's an onslaught only as of now. Look at HIV-2. In many parts of the world, the HIV-2 virus has found a way to live symbiotically in the bodies of human beings. This is the way that it was intended to be in the first place! It continues to be transmitted but rarely causes disease. It isn't eradicated, but it's harmless. Thus, it has become an ideal vaccine in itself -- preventing reinfection by inducing a protective immune response. A few hundred years down the line, I see the HIV-1 virus adapting to the human body in a similar fashion. So we don't really need to eradicate it. By trying to eliminate it, we are actually compounding the problem!


Q: Just where are we messing up in our approach to infectious diseases?

A: As I have earlier mentioned, most of the chronic diseases have resulted from the prolongation of man's own life and his irrational behavior. We must understand that it is not in the nature of microorganisms to kill human beings (take HIV, for instance), because, as viruses, they wouldn't be able to survive if they killed the host. This pursuit of trying to eradicate an infection may principally be wrong. Our objective to dominate nature has led to most of the problems like, say, antibiotic resistance.

****************** END QUOTE ******************

Not everybody will appreciate Dr. Zinkernagel's insightful comments. But they're good food for thought, new to my ears and brain. There's not much practical advice to the general public but we're cautioned by him to live a healthy life, no unsafe sex, no overeating, etc. That part I didn't quote since I assume everybody knows and every reader of this blog practices.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Quit smoking? Male smokers won't like this

Tobacco smokers won't listen to your talk about health risks, lung cancer, heart disease, etc. Doing math about financial cost for them due to smoking doesn't help either. What do we do to persuade them to quit? How about talk about their family members' health? The smoker's wife (or husband), and especially their kids. Kids suffer the most from secondary smoking as they do from other toxic sources. If he loves his kids, keep talking about the diseases or cancers his kids would get even by breathing the air contaminated by his disgusting breath.

There're many ways to dismiss the ostensible pride of being fashionable or sophisticated. How about impotence? If men think smoking makes them feel manly, mature, experienced, especially when they put on the expression of a little frown with eyes half closed to avoid the obnoxious smoke, tell them, "The Marlboro Man needs Viagra" and "What Viagra may give, tobacco taketh away.", as the California newspaper ads read. Thailand, Canada and Brazil have impotence warnings and pictures on cigarette labeling, although UK and US have not caught up. [note]

I don't believe the theory that many smokers are addicted. I believe few cigarette smokers are truly biologically addicted, unlike marijuana addiction. If the environment they live in changes, or there's compelling reason they must quit, they quit without agony. Instead many smokers smoke because they stupidly thought it was cool, and it was a good way to kill time.


How my father-in-law quit smoking

Speaking of few cigarette smokers being real biological addicts, I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of my late father-in-law. He smoked cigarettes for at least 30 years in China. In the mid 90's he came to the US and stayed for about 9 months. Since none of my family here smoked and no neighbor did, he didn't either. Then he went back to China never smoking again. Unfortunately he died a few years later as a result of multiple complications. Early years of smoking may have contributed to some of his diseases. (Unrelated: he left to the Chinese readers a free book about dam hydrology partly written during his stay in the US)