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From the Townsend Letter
February / March 2013

In Celebration: Townsend  Letter's 30-Year Journey
by Jule Klotter
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30 yearsDecade Two
With its March 1993 issue (#126), Townsend Letter for Doctors commenced 10-plus years of growth. These were the Clinton years of growth and trade. The European Union formed; the FDA approved the use of genetically engineered bovine somatotropin (rBST) in dairy cows to increase milk production; and Marc Andreeson developed Mosaic, which would become the main navigating system for the World Wide Web. Within in a few years Townsend Letter would have its first Web page.

As Townsend Letter grew, costs grew also. The January 1994 issue (#126) announced a change in printers from Port Townsend's Printery to Seattle's Consolidated Press. The move reduced printing and mailing costs, allowing Collin to retain low-scale subscription rates and advertising fees.

"What we do best, offer dialogue between our readers, will remain the keystone to the Townsend Letter," Collin assured readers in that first Consolidated Press issue. "What we do worst, publish uncorroborated and unreferenced, unproven reports, will remain our second keystone … providing to professionals and public the thoughts and practices of an alternative practitioner is invaluable. It is only when such thoughts have public expression that peer review begins to take place." The savings achieved by the change in printers meant that Townsend Letter could continue to grow – in print and online.

Each of TLfD's issues in the early 1990s ran 132 pages or more, providing information from nearly 30 editors, columnists, and general contributors, for a yearly US subscription cost of $42 per year. That January 1994 issue contained Dr. Melvyn R. Werbach's "Nutritional Influences on Illness" column, which became a mainstay for almost two decades. Sherry A. Rogers, MD, wrote a column on environmental medicine. Anna MacIntosh, PhD, ND, reviewed research studies related to exercise and physical activity. Wayne Martin, a chemical engineer, contributed one of his information-packed letters to the "Letters to the Editor." The 1930s Great Depression had prevented Martin from becoming a doctor, but his passion for biochemistry, medicine, and natural ways to prevent disease and stimulate healing impelled him to spend many hours reading medical literature and communicating with researchers and doctors. He shared his knowledge in virtually every issue of Townsend Letter until shortly before his death.

The January 1994 "Letters to the Editor" vibrated with diversity. Medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, chiropractic physicians, a veterinarian, homeopaths, a licensed acupuncturist, and laypeople shared experiences, asked questions, and debated. Harold E. Buttram, MD, suggested that routine childhood vaccinations might be a contributor to chronic fatigue syndrome. Bill Sardi shared the measures that he took to relieve his sciatica. Arabinda Das, MD, discussed research showing that nut consumption protected against coronary heart disease. TLfD had truly become a network for communication. The diversity and growing interest in alternative medicine was also reflected in "Book Corners," where books on parasites, chronic fatigue, functional medicine, clinical nutrition for women, chemical sensitivity, and dental amalgams were reviewed.

The move to Consolidated Press succeeded. By February/March 1995 (#139/140), Townsend Letter for Doctors had expanded to over 164 pages, including color pages. For the first time, the magazine had a spine with its name and issue date on it. Barbara Smith had become managing editor and continued to lay out the magazine. Another significant staff change occurred in circulation with JoAnn Reuther's death in 1994. Jan Lemons became circulation manager. When Lemons left a couple of years later, Joy Reuther-Costa, JoAnn's oldest daughter, took her place. Joy had been circulation assistant for several years, a position that was passed on to her youngest sister, Julie Reuther, when Joy became circulation manager. Julie had been a longtime member of the Townsend Letter mail crew. Circulation was growing and attracting an increasing number of educated laypeople. To recognize this readership, Collin revised the magazine's name to Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, "The Examiner of Medical Alternatives."

Collin began testing the idea of having a theme for each issue. The first theme issue was devoted to lupus and autoimmune disease (August/September 1999, #192/194). That issue contained lupus patient Henrietta Aladjem's perspective and a review of her book. Practitioners such as the late Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, provided their perspectives as well. He and Melvyn Werbach, MD, reported that food sensitivities contributed to autoimmune disease. Environmental risk factors linked to lupus were discussed by Rose Marie Williams in her "Health Risks & Environmental Issues" column. True to form, TLDP welcomed all perspectives.

A few months later, Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients looked at the "Best & Worst of Alternative Medicine" (February/March 2000, #199/200). Contributors included many notable names in the world of complementary and alternative medicine: Jeffrey S. Bland, PhD; Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., ND; Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD; Richard Kunin, MD; Joseph M. Mercola, DO; and more. In addition, columnists such as Robert A. Anderson, MD, presented research on the connection between mind, emotions, and physiology in "Psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology Review and Commentary." Tim Batchelder took on medical issues from an anthropological view. John Weeks discussed the business side of alternative medicine. Paul Yanick wrote about quantum healing and functional medicine. Bob Flaws covered Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. Kerry Bone, Donald Brown, and Andrew Gaeddert shared research about botanicals and phytotherapy.

Since those first theme issues, Townsend Letter has sought to focus the diverse views of its contributing writers on topics such as Lyme, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivity, cardiovascular health, allergies, respiratory health, cancer, women's health, men's health, mental health, inflammation, and alternative laboratory tests. With the February/March 2003, Collin invited students, faculty, and clinical physicians at the US and Canadian naturopathic colleges to submit articles for an "impromptu contest." "The Best of Naturopathic Medicine" has been revisited about every other year since then.

Changes and Honors
During the first decade of the 21st century, the magazine shifted from adolescent to adult. "Letters to the Editor" and "Book Corners" now account for fewer pages than in the past. The passionate sharing of views and sometimes contentious debate found in its columns during the magazine's first and second decades has ebbed. Several columnists retired or moved on to other venues, but new columnists, just as knowledgeable and diverse, have taken their place. The magazine's title has shortened to Townsend Letter, available to doctors, patients, researchers, and all the others who make up its readership. Select articles from recent issues are posted online at by Sandy Hershelman, who has managed the website since 2002.

Editor Irene Alleger retired in 2005, and Adrianne Harun, a college instructor and fiction writer, took her place. Under Harun's guidance, Townsend Letter moved from paper submissions to electronic/digital editing, allowing for detection of plagiarized work. After a few years, Harun decided to focus on her first loves – teaching and fiction – and handed the position of editor over to Lauren Brown, a former copyeditor for Boston Globe and MIT Press. "Having edited the Townsend Letter for several years, I enjoy a broad overview of the world of alternative medicine," says Brown. "When there is so much pop-nutritional information circulating in today's media, it is reassuring to be exposed to a wide variety of authoritative material, with dedicated experts sharing their conclusions and original research."

In 2010, Barbara Smith turned many of her office duties over to Julie Reuther and Jill Tomasi but continues to do the magazine's layout and design – although, more times than not, it's from the road as she and her husband, Larry, are enjoying his retirement traveling in their RV.

In October 2008, the American College for the Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) presented Jonathan Collin with its Legacy Media Award. The award honored Townsend Letter, then in its 25th year of publication, for its contribution to the field of alternative and integrative medicine. The award is well deserved. With an extraordinary open-mindedness, Jonathan Collin has created a unique forum for the sharing and discussion of nonconventional viewpoints. Over the years, Townsend Letter has published information that has later (often years later) been verified by mainstream research. Suicide ideation caused by SSRIs, dangers of Vioxx, the benefits of IV vitamin C in cancer, and the importance of beneficial bacteria and probiotics are just a few of the topics that appeared in TL's pages long before scientific verification and mainstream coverage.

Tori Hudson, ND, who has written for Townsend Letter since 1992, says, "TLfD was one of the very few publications at the time that I started, that offered a resource for clinicians in a wide range of topics. The articles were topical, controversial, informative and, yes, even the ‘out there' articles were important to me. I always liked that the TLfD editor and staff included columns and articles that were left brain and right brain, mainstream evidence-based natural medicine as well as the progressive, theoretical, unproven, and even edgy."

To the Future
Like other publications, Townsend Letter has been affected by the economic decline that began with the bubble bust in 2000, and by competition from digital media. Its size returned to its 120-page days from a high of 180 in 2003. Once again, Jonathan Collin eased financial stresses with a move to a new printer, Dartmouth Printing Company (Hanover, New Hampshire), with the July 2011 issue. Dartmouth is a specialty press that prints and mails many US journals. Townsend Letter now has a worldwide readership of about 100,000 through subscriptions, store sales, conventions, and online access. The magazine is abstracted and indexed by EBSCO Publishing, GALE, and British Library.

The need for a forum that informally presents and debates medical alternatives is as great as ever. Many alternative therapies have been studied in laboratory and clinical studies, but many others have not. Despite all the talk about "natural" and "organic," most people, unconsciously affected by direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, continue to believe in a magic pill that will cure their ills. "Big Pharma is still winning big time," says Dr. Curt Maxwell, a long-time TL fan and contributor. "…the vast majority of the population is very much plugged into the status quo." Doctors, confident of medical training that lacks basic, well-established facts about nutrition and nutrients, still shut down or outright disparage the use of vitamin and supplements – which are probably the least controversial of the many alternatives discussed in Townsend Letter.

With the switch to more efficient and less costly printing and mailing, Townsend Letter is prepared to continue its unique mission as "The Examiner of Medical Alternatives."


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