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From the Townsend Letter
August / September 2008

Letter from the Publisher
by Jonathan Collin, MD

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Having celebrated our 300th issue and 25 years of publication, we think it would be appropriate to look back at some of the milestones from our past. In the mid-1980s, for instance, we had a number of articles that debated the pros and cons of different garlic supplements. Several authors argued that the allicin content defined superiority of garlic activity, while others countered that other non-allicin factors were more important in considering using a garlic pill instead of simply eating garlic. Ultimately, we faced what we called the "garlic wars," which seemed to be commercial hubris and laboratory brinksmanship in equal measure. We found ourselves in the middle of competitors seeking to assert their claim to "who had the best product." We walked away a little bruised and slightly wiser after ceasing to publish further garlic reports. First, it appeared that a laboratory assay of a supplement and a competitors products always seemed to yield better results for the original company ordering the lab results. Second, proprietary manufacturers usually responded to negative reports with corresponding negative laboratory assays about their competitors, and when that failed, threats of litigation for printing adverse reports was the usual next course of action. Despite a great number of words devoted to the "garlic wars" in the Townsend Letter, it is unclear whether allicin content truly defines the best garlic supplement. Readers are invited to review a listing of articles at about the "garlic wars" – but the articles will be available only "offline" (through the purchase of back issues) due to legal concerns.

In the early 1990s, the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment published a report on unconventional cancer therapies.1 With its publication, the National Institutes of Health opened an Office of Alternative Medicine, which later evolved into the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Although critics decried the status conferred to alternative cancer treatments, the mechanism was set in place for universities and medical colleges to begin researching this area in earnest. Politically, the Townsend Letter concerned itself with the right to practice alternative and natural medicine. The Congressional passage of DSHEA legislation in 1994 was a defining moment for the alternative medicine movement, enabling the development and marketing of nutritional supplements without the interference of FDA regulatory oversight. Practitioner groups developed professional societies that not only provided educational and training activities but also developed lobbying arms for passing practitioner right-to-practice laws as well as judicial guidelines to judge alternative medicine differently from conventional medicine. Despite the activity of self-proclaimed "anti-quack" groups to "protect the consumer" from purchasing "dubious products from promoters" and seeking care from "unscrupulous practitioners," the alternative medical movement has advanced politically and scientifically.

Perhaps the greatest transition in natural medicine over the past two decades has been the recognition of naturopathic medicine as an officially licensed medical practice. There are now five naturopathic colleges and one university offering four-year training programs in naturopathic medicine. With more than 20 US states and most Canadian provinces licensing naturopathic doctors (ND), alternative medicine is no longer "alternative" but has a true educational and scientific standard.

The Townsend Letter congratulates the naturopathic medical profession for establishing educational credentials for licensure status and for practicing scientifically based natural medicine. We invite the licensed naturopathic medical community to submit papers and reports to the Townsend Letter to study and investigate natural medicine. We also request that naturopathic practitioners submit bios establishing their graduation from a four-year naturopathic program. In 2009, we will celebrate the "Best of Naturopathic Medicine" with our competition for best papers now underway.

We have enjoyed our summer break and are now looking forward to resuming our fall season of publishing the Townsend Letter. Part of the fun of summer vacations is to step out from the normal routine and try something "outside of the box." One of my favorite magazines arriving in the office for waiting room reading is Outside. This is my opportunity to vicariously explore the world from the vantage point of big adventure and brute muscle power. Lacking the latter and generally not brave enough to engage in adventuring, we usually travel to cities and landscapes, enjoy culture and ambience, and meet family and friends. This summer, my wife, Deborah, and I were planning a family get-together with her mom and family in Lake County, California. However, days before we were to begin our trip, California lit up with the wildfires, and we were not terribly interested in breathing the fumes. We opted to travel locally through Northern Washington State and were delighted with the beauty of the Cascade landscapes.

Later, we traveled to Mt. Hood near Portland, Oregon where the ski pack still gets to enjoy winter sports on July 4th. Toward the end of our sojourn, I was experiencing the "angst of needing to do something," so I walked out from our Alpine lodging to take a little hike. Dressed in sneakers, carrying a book and sweatshirt, but without water or first-aid kit or cell phone, I ventured up a trail, starting from a local ski resort. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the trail was well-marked, being a ski trail, but there was not a human being – or animal for that matter – to be seen. I was enjoying the climb and ventured further up the sandy trail, which was occasionally covered with first, an island of snow or two, and then, larger islands of snow. Soon, the question became, do I turn back now that the terrain is getting quite a bit steeper or continue to Timberline Lodge another three miles up? Thinking of my reading in Outside, I decided that making it up the trail would be just the sort of adventure I needed, but I was also very aware that if I tripped and fell or injured myself or had any medical emergency, I would be facing nature without water, food, or shelter and with nobody even aware of my whereabouts. Yes, this was foolishness, but it was the type of adventure that matched my stamina and wherewithal, and I opted to continue up the trail.

Soon, there were only trees and snow, but because the path was a ski trail, it didnt seem likely Id get lost at two in the afternoon. My goal was to get up this slope without injury, and I depended on the denizens of the ski slope, the trees, to provide my support. Climbing, then stopping by a tree to read the book I had brought for a breather, and then hiking anew seemed an enjoyable not a threatening adventure. But the worry about what I would do if I was injured was always there. There were definitely moments on the snow when I began to slide and lose control. And there were the times when my legs just did not want to pull me up anymore. Wouldn't it be nice just to stop here and read my book? But I knew that if I dropped down for too long, I would gently fall asleep and might not be able to get going again. And there was no ski patrol or any other soul venturing around me. An hour or so later, the ski chairs around Timberline Lodge came into view. I had made it up the trail and had not allowed the fear of hiking alone to overcome me. It was very enjoyable to have a beer at the lodge and reminisce about my own sense of facing nature on its own terms.

Jonathan Collin, MD

1. US Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Unconventional Cancer Treatments, OTA-H-405. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. September 1990.


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