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Why I Started the Townsend Letter
1983 was the year that both the Townsend Letter and my son, Sam, were born. Sam has played a role in the advertising and marketing of the publication but now advises us from a new perspective as an attorney. In the early 1980s, there was no journal of alternative medicine – not even a newsletter. There was the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, and most of the practicing naturopaths were graduates of NCNM. The MDs who practiced alternative medicine had not been trained at their medical colleges to practice nutrition, megavitamin therapy, herbal medicine, and homeopathy. Instead doctors would attend clinics, learning through mentors and the occasional weekend seminar. Of course, most of these clinics did not have the approval of the AMA. State medical boards were not happy with the unapproved medical treatments provided by alternative physicians and were wary of naturopathic physicians. Articles examining alternative medicine treatments published in medical journals were generally critical; when specific treatments were tested, the results usually were negative. It was kind of a crazy world of alternative medical clinics standing apart from conventional medical clinics. Patients choosing to see an alternative doctor were frequently abandoning their conventional care because MDs were highly condemnatory of alternative practitioners.
I had my introduction to alternative medicine reading books by nutritionists such as Carlton Fredericks and Adelle Davis. They talked about following a diet that avoided high amounts of junk food and sugar. They also introduced me to the concept of requiring vitamins, minerals, fish oil, and amino acids beyond what was available in the diet. Orthomolecular physicians in the 1970s such as Abram Hoffer, MD, and Carl Pfeiffer, MD, wrote about their treatment of mental illness using megadoses of B vitamins and minerals. Chelation therapy as a treatment for cardiovascular disease was being championed by a group of physicians including Harold Harper and Bruce Halstead. Laetrile, the Hoxsey treatment, and the Gerson diet were advocated, especially at clinics in Tijuana, Mexico, for cancer treatment. Many of these clinics and physicians were condemned by orthodox medicine as practicing quackery, and physicians especially in the cancer field faced serious disciplinary action. The antiquack groups began appearing in the late 1970s – Victor Herbert, MD, was particularly vicious in his zeal to stamp out alternative medicine.
In the late 1970s I was mentoring with Dr. Leo Bolles in Bellevue, Washington. Bolles was administering IV chelation and vitamin C, recommending diets and megavitamin therapy, examining patients using darkfield microscopy and hair analysis, employing acupuncture and EAV (electroacupuncture according to Voll), and using Virginia Livingstone's vaccine therapies for cancer. He brought in Dr. Jeffrey Bland to start the first functional medicine laboratory analysis – EGOT serum testing for vitamin B6. Of course, Dr. Bolles found himself in hot water with the Washington state medical board. He was investigated many times over the years, but he was first challenged for his use of hair analysis. Dr. Bland played an important role in helping Dr. Bolles defend its use in clinical practice.
Except for the occasional medical meeting, education for physicians interested in alternative medicine was scarce. Bolles and Bland formed a local medical society in the Pacific Northwest that they named the Northwest Academy of Preventative Medicine. There were meetings twice yearly with physician lectures. Still there was no alternative journal. In 1979 I volunteered to start a newsletter for the NAPM. It was published for a few years, but I had started my own private practice and decided not to continue it. In 1983 I thought that we really needed a forum for alternative doctors to regularly discuss treatments and diagnostics. So the Townsend Letter for Doctors was launched as an 8-page newsletter. At that time a chelation group, the American Academy of Medical Preventics, held large meetings twice yearly. AAMP was probably the most successful early group to bring alternative doctors together for sharing and learning. Garry Gordon, MD, was one of the founders of the group that eventually became the American College for the Advancement in Medicine. When I approached the members of AAMP asking if they would like a newsletter, they widely supported the idea, and so the Townsend Letter for Doctors had a ready-made audience. Companies exhibiting at AAMP's meetings were agreeable to advertise in the fledgling newsletter. It was a hobbyhorse, and I thought that I would give it a try for several years and see what sort of forum it would become.
Best of the Townsend Letter
Having been the editor of my high-school paper and college engineering magazine, editing and publishing the Townsend Letter filled a "hole" in my professional work. With the newspaper and college magazine, there was a team of writers; unfortunately, the early Townsend Letter for Doctors had only a few staff writers. Looking over a 24-page issue #25 from April 1985 reminded me more of the high-school paper than the college magazine. The headlines on the front page were typical for that period: "Current Status of Pepper Quackery Bills: Confusion" and "Canadian Government Bans Garlic Supplementation." Claude Pepper was a representative from Beverly Hills who was seeking to ban quackery and federally discipline physicians practicing quackery. Government agencies were seeking to limit the production of supplements. It was a worrisome time when alternative physicians were being investigated and sanctioned. The vitamin supplement industry was just beginning a boom, but many companies faced investigation for claims.
Issue #50 continued the focus of the antiquackery stance of the Townsend Letter for Doctors with front-page coverage of the activities of Victor Herbert, MD. Alan Gaby, MD, had joined our staff by 1987 initiating his much-beloved "Literature Review and Commentary." Gaby certainly gave the publication its first taste of excellence, with his discerning examination of the medical and nutritional literature. Magnesium was one of his favorite remedies. One review titled "Magnesium and Premenstrual Syndrome" discussed the role of magnesium deficiency in PMS. Gaby commented that in his clinical practice he had injected intravenous magnesium chloride and calcium glycerophosphate with good results for PMS, anxiety, and muscle spasming. This IV injection was advocated repeatedly by Gaby, especially in a more complex form known as the Myers cocktail. Issue #50 also had a well-developed "Letters to the Editor" section, with many physicians contributing short reports and commentary.
Our 100th issue, published in November 1991, carried the byline "An Informal Newsletter for Doctors Communicating to Doctors." As a 120-plus page magazine, it had outgrown its newsletter status. Much of the 1991 staff continues working for the publication today, including managing editor Barbara Smith, contributing medical editor Alan Gaby, MD, and contributing editor Jule Klotter. Perhaps the most controversial writer of the Townsend Letter for Doctors was Morton Walker, DPM, who authored a monthly column, "Medical Journalist Report of Innovative Biologics." Walker reported on treatments, supplements, and diagnostics employed by alternative practitioners. While much of his writing was based on the opinion of clinicians, patients, and manufacturers, Walker supported the anecdotal evidence with published experimental reports. In Issue #100 he considered "Why Shark Cartilage Should Succeed Against Cancer & Other Pathologies."
In 1995 the magazine had morphed to the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, and the byline was now "The Examiner of Medical Alternatives." The magazine had regular monthly columnists. Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, MSW, and Bob Ullman, ND, contributed their "Healing with Homeopathy" column. Anna MacIntosh, PhD, ND, examined the physiologic benefits of exercise. Donald Brown, ND, reviewed the benefits of botanical therapies with his "Phytotherapy Review & Commentary." Tori Hudson, ND, wrote her very well-received "Women's Health Update." Melvyn Werbach, MD, examined the role of orthomolecular medicine in healing with his "Nutritional Influences on Illness." Contributing writers were an important element in issue #149. Harold Forster, PhD, reported on "The Iodine-Selenium Connection in Respiratory Distress and Sudden Infant Death Syndromes." Jeffrey Bland, PhD, wrote about "Food and Nutrient Effects on Detoxification." Bill Sardi reviewed the underlying physiological and biochemical factors in glaucoma.
The letters section was a journal by itself – perhaps through the letters doctors had their best opportunity to share information in short report form.
The Feb/March, 2000 issue #200 examined the "Best & Worst of Alternative Medicine." For those readers who wanted a big read, this issue served their needs well with 172 pages of editorial. A different printer in Seattle gave the magazine a new look, and advertisers now opted to display their products in color. Editor Irene Alleger had an enormous job each month correcting a mammoth amount of copy – and this was in the days when many articles were still typewritten (a few handwritten). Yes, many articles did come in on disk, but electronic transmission of articles and ads was still in its infancy. Jeffrey Bland opined that there were a "Fabulous Five of the 20th Century" who were "Founders of the New Medicine." The five were: Dr. Archibald Garrod for discovering diseases of genetic metabolism; Dr. Linus Pauling for defining molecular origin of disease; Dr. Roger Williams for his work on biochemical individuality; Dr. Hans Selye for his work on the role of stress on disease; and Dr. Abram Hoffer for his study of orthomolecular medicine on psychiatric illness. Issue #200 included Joseph Pizzorno, ND's, view of the best and worst of natural medicine. Pizzorno's presidency of Bastyr University led the way for the establishment of well-credentialed, scientifically and clinically trained naturopathic physicians. His work was pivotal in enabling naturopathic physician licensure in more than half the states, creation of new naturopathic colleges, and specialization in naturopathic practice.
By 2004 the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients had a great many columnists, including Rose Marie Williams writing about "Health Risks & Environmental Issues"; Bob Flaws authoring "Chinese Medicine Update"; Ralph Moss reporting on "War on Cancer"; Robert Anderson examining "Psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology"; Gina Nick, PhD, ND, writing "Medicinal Properties in Whole Foods"; Marcus Cohen commenting in "Townsend New York Observer"; Elaine Zablocki writing in "Pathways to Healing"; and Tim Batchelder reporting in "Medical Anthropology." Gary Null, PhD, and Martin Feldman, MD, reported about adverse effects in conventional medicine; their article in issue #250 examined "SSRIs: Are They as Safe as Promised?" Kerry Bone's "Phytotherapy Review" examined multiple sclerosis. Bone presented a detailed review of the potential role of viruses in MS and recommended an herbal strategy to managing the disease.
It is not possible to name all the individuals who have contributed greatly to the Townsend Letter, the Examiner of Alternative Medicine, in this letter. We invite you to review our index on the website www.townsendletter.com to view the authors and articles. We still have available all of our 350-plus past issues for your acquisition. As Jonathan Wright, MD, has commented frequently, there is a lot of useful information in old clinical reports that is either being ignored or forgotten. Contact our office to purchase past issues.
The Electronic Edition of the Townsend Letter
As part of our celebration of our 30th anniversary, we are pleased to announce our first publication of the e-edition of the Townsend Letter. We will be posting the February/March online issue on our website free for your reading! We look forward to continuing our printed magazine in addition to the e-edition.
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