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From the Townsend Letter
October 2008

Letter from the Publisher
by Jonathan Collin, MD

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In July, the Serbian authorities captured war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic while he was going about his day-to-day business in a district in Belgrade. The arrest of Karadzic would have been just another news story except for the fact that he had made no effort to hide himself while openly practicing alternative medicine.1 Of course, as Dragan Dabic, who dressed in black, casual clothing and sported a long white beard and glasses, Karadzic hardly looked like the Bosnian president who massacred thousands of civilians in the 1990s. Karadzic was trained in psychiatry, so he did have a background in working with patients and understanding the therapeutic practice. Along the way, he entered politics, and taking the realm in Bosnia, he became involved in the ethnic battles that consumed the former Yugoslavia after Tito's death.

How a psychiatrist trained in healing could willfully order the death of innocent individuals merely because they did not share the same faith or culture is a question that demands answers. And if Karadzic did indeed engineer the genocide of fellow Yugoslavians, he deserves the punishment the war crimes court will mete out. The question of greater concern to me now is how can such an individual, trained in medicine, take on the guise of an alternative medicine practitioner? Maybe the answer lies not in his bloody deeds and not in his attempt to hide but in the way a murderer seeks salvation after recognizing his egregious wrongdoing. For the media, this story is about Karadzic's secret life. For me, it raises questions as to what alternative medicine is all about and why individuals opt to enter this practice.

Karadzic claimed to be a practitioner of human quantum energy healing. On his website, he talked about the alternative medicine healing arts, including acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, massage and physical therapies, chiropractic, homeopathy, and other fields. He openly lectured in Belgrade at workshops and participated as teacher, student, and practitioner. He wrote wellness health articles for a local magazine. Workshop attendees and fellow practitioners gave Dragan Dabic high marks for his work, and he enjoyed a respectable reputation as a healer and lecturer. He talked about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating well, and reducing stress in one's life. Locally, he would shop at a yoghurt shop for hand-made yoghurt, touting his use of traditionally made whole foods. At the nearby café, he would play the Serbian gusle, a one-stringed instrument, while singing songs. His business card proclaimed his talents in the healing arts, and he enjoyed a good life, hardly what one would expect for someone on the run.

The media broke the story about Karadzic's secret life on July 24, 2008. In the days that followed, advocates of alternative medicine berated the media for portraying Karadzic's work as prototypical of a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) healer. Correspondingly, spoofs and critics of alternative medicine made potshots about Karadzic's alternative practices, arguing Karadzic's behavior illustrates the reason that the government needs to clamp down on such practitioners and require greater licensing authority over their practices. One website launched immediately after Karadzic's disguise was revealed set forth an entirely fictional bio of Dragan Dabic. The webmaster claimed that media used his faulty depiction of Karadzic's alter ego to gather news information for their reporting ( Clearly the media, nationally and internationally, remains distrustful of alternative practices. The media doesn't buy into hands-on energy healing as a practice of medicine, and such work appeared to be merely the ingenious ploy of a fugitive seeking to hide. The fact that Karadzic practiced openly, lecturing publicly, only showed his ingenuity in keeping authorities unaware of his whereabouts.

Karadzic undoubtedly did transform himself in the last several years into a devotee of alternative medicine healing and presumably was helpful to clients seeking his help. Energy healing is a name we have used to depict many practices, from meditation and biofeedback to prayer and laying-on-of-hands. These techniques are very effective and have always played a role in traditional healing work through the ages. Energy healing takes on a more controversial nature when it employs electrical devices, which are touted to cure based on electrical amperage applied to the body. Presumably, Karadzic was not involved with administering cures using electrical devices. His work took more of a meditative and hands-on approach. In another setting, such an individual might be respected for such work. Unfortunately, Karadzic needs to answer for his killing, something which will never be atoned for by engaging in healing work now.

Amanda Peet's Embarrassment with Parasites
For some reason, celebrities continue to seek fame outside their acting and singing arena by becoming spokespersons for medical advocacy groups. In the case of Amanda Peet, the celebrated actress who is now proudly mothering her infant girl, her cause is getting parents to vaccinate their kids. Peet created shock waves in July by claiming in a parenting magazine that moms and dads who refuse to vaccinate their children are "parasites."

The ensuing public outrage led Peet to apologize for insensitively name-calling those parents who choose not to vaccinate. However, Peet did not apologize for wanting to chastise those parents who deny their children the best prevention available. Not only are parents who refuse vaccines making a wrong decision for their children, according to Peet, non-vaccinated children also avoid infection because the vaccinated children do not develop the illness. In effect, Peet argues that the vaccinated children carry out the public health burden of preventing infection for the non-vaccinators, making the latter group "parasites." Although Peet apologizes for misuse of the name "parasite," it is clear that the authoritarian medical community subscribes to this reasoning and convinced Peet to carry that message.

Peet thinks that the anti-vaccine community either denies or distorts the facts about vaccines. She has joined with a public health website to encourage families to "get the facts about vaccines" before making any decision not to vaccinate. The actress makes the point that people should not listen to celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy, who advocate avoiding vaccines. Peet reiterates that the tenuous connection made between vaccination and autism claimed by McCarthy has essentially no scientific evidence. Peet dismisses the claim that the mercury content of vaccines can be tied in to the causation of autism or any other disease and challenges the vaccine naysayer to demonstrate that significant adulterants are present in vaccines. Her campaign directs parents to websites advocating vaccination schedules approved by the American Pediatric Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other public health groups. These websites offer no references for studies that show evidence against the use of vaccines. Such studies do exist. In the October, November, and December 2007 issues of the Townsend Letter, for instance, Gary Null et al. examined in depth the arguments against routine vaccine use. Meanwhile, celebrities like Peet and McCarthy lead campaigns for and against vaccination.

Why Soy Research Is Flawed
Over the past 25 years of publication, we have had an ongoing controversy regarding the pros and cons of soy consumption. The citations from the medical literature generally have reported soy use to be favorable for lowering cholesterol, improving obesity, bolstering the immune system, and supporting nutrition while combating a medical condition or disease. On the other hand, there have been a number of reports that have advised that soy consumption fosters allergic conditions, inhibits digestion especially in those with irritable bowel syndrome, contributes to a weakening of our immunity, and is especially ill-suited for use as a baby formula or nutrition supplement for the enfeebled and malnourished. Among the writers who have written on these pages taking the latter position – that soy may be deleterious – Sally Fallon comes to mind for writing serious arguments as to why soy consumption should be restricted. (Readers should search for Fallon's papers on our website index at

In this issue of the Townsend Letter, Walter Wainright discusses why both camps may be correct; soy can be a boon as well as a bane. Wainright's examination of the soy literature reveals that research is not based on a homogeneous product. One research study uses a soy flour-based product, another uses a whole soy product, and a third uses refined genistein. Very few use fermented soy products. To lump together all these studies and label them as soy research creates the impression that only one product or chemical is under study, however numerous unrelated products are being studied. There is no direct means to discern from the medical literature index which type of product was studied in the research. One has to pull the study, not the abstract, and read the methodology carefully for each study before one can be clear about what was used in the soy research.

Wainright's paper discusses the role of certain soy isoflavones with DNA regulation, including up-regulation and down-regulation of gene expression. Such activity has been demonstrated to impact cancer cell line survival and apoptosis activity. Comparing different soy products with vastly different soy isoflavone content to determine the effect that the soy product has on gene regulation or cancer-cell apoptosis activity would be useful only if the soy isoflavone content was spelled out up-front in the research study. Needless to say, most of the soy literature does not do this. It is almost as though we need to redo all soy experiments again to create a new medical literature for soy use. Wainright's paper needs close scrutiny and deserves follow-up from the medical community.

Skin Cancer Cure
In the August/September 2008 issue, Dr. Alan Gaby's editorial discussed "an effective natural treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers." His editorial reviewed the results of a proprietary formulation, Curaderm®, containing eggplant-derived solasodine glycosides. The studies reviewed by Gaby "suggested that products containing solasodine glycosides are an effective alternative to conventional treatments for the most common malignant and precancerous skin lesions." In this issue of the Townsend Letter, Dr. Jonathan Wright's first report of the eggplant-derived "skin cancer cure" is reprinted. Wright discusses the mechanism that enables solasonine and solarmargine ("BEC5") to exert anticancer activity. The originator of the skin cancer cure, Dr. Bill Cham, reported at the International College of Integrative Medicine (ICIM) that nearly 70,000 Australians have used BEC5 for skin cancer with good results and minimal adverse effects. With Gaby's editorial on Curaderm and Wright's report on BEC5, should we be directing our patients to the eggplant cure rather than to the dermatologist?

When we received reports in 2007 making the association between autism and Lyme disease infection, our initial impression was frankly skeptical. Our new columnist, Tami Duncan, co-founder of the Lyme-Induced Autism association (L.I.A.) has held academic meetings bringing together researchers and doctors to study this intriguing connection between Lyme disease and autism. As the vaccine-induced hypothesis for the increasing incidence of autism loses ground among autism researchers, there has been little explanation for the increasing rate of autism in the US and abroad. Could the increasing incidence of Lyme disease be the explanation of why the autism rate is exploding? In this issue of the Townsend Letter, Sujoy K. Gayen looks at the geographical distribution of Lyme Disease and the geographical distribution of autism. While the correlation between Lyme Disease and autism is not a 1:1 relationship, there is significant correlation. We thank Gayen for his important epidemiologic and statistical research. What is most impressive is that Gayen is a senior at the High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. His paper has been entered in the Young Epidemiology Scholars competition.

Jonathan Collin

1. Available at Accessed August 9, 2008.


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