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TOPIC: alternative medicine


The Underbelly Of The Meditation Boom

For years, mindfulness has been promoted as a near panacea. But just how much does the brain affect the body?

In 2019, Debra Halsch was diagnosed with smoldering multiple myeloma, a rare blood and bone marrow disorder that can develop into a type of blood cancer. Her doctors recommended chemotherapy, she said, but she feared the taxing side effects the drugs might wreak on her body. Instead, the life coach from Piermont, New York tried meditation.

A friend had told Halsch, now 57, about Joe Dispenza, who holds week-long meditation retreats that regularly attract thousands of people and carry a $2,299 price tag. Halsch signed up for one in Cancun, Mexico and soon became a devotee. She now meditates for at least two hours a day and says her health has improved as a result.

Dispenza, a chiropractor who has written various self-help books, has said he believes the mind can heal the body. After all, he says he healed himself back in 1986, when a truck hit him while he was bicycling, breaking six vertebrae. Instead of surgery, Dispenza says he spent hours each day recreating his spine in his mind, visualizing it healthy and healed. After 11 weeks, the story goes, he was back on his feet.

Halsch said she believes she can do the same for her illness. “If our thoughts and emotions can make our bodies sick, they can make us well, too,” she said.

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Case Of Fake Brazilian Doctor Sparks Outrage — But Is "Alternative Medicine" Any Safer?

Fear and anger spread in Brazil after a man posing as a doctor was found treating patients. But it raises the question of the dangers of those openly using “alternative medicine.” Who should be regulating these practices?


SÂO PAULO — Earlier this spring, Thiago Celso Andrade Reges was arrested in the Brazilian state of Ceará for illegal practice of medicine, after having worked in several hospitals in the region.

He had previously gone to court in Brazil to get a validation of his Bolivian diploma, which turned out to be false. The Regional Council of Medicine of Ceará (Cremec) suspended his professional license and opened an internal investigation.

Easy question: why arrest someone who commits fraud by impersonating a doctor? I imagine the answer should not generate great disagreement among readers: it put people's health and lives at risk. Fake doctors don’t have adequate training, and they prescribe medicines and treatments, and issue diagnoses, which are not reliable. There is no reason to assume that their advice is based on a scientific background, or on the best knowledge available in the medical field.

But there's more to it than that. The case raises another intriguing question: would not the practice of “alternative medicine” be just as responsible for putting the lives and health of patients at risk as the practice of medicine without a degree?

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The Pandemic Tests Germany's Love Affair With Homeopathy

Dismissed in much of the world as 'charlatanism,' homeopathic medicine, developed in the 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann, has long had a healthy following in his native Germany.

BERLIN — As coronavirus continues to spread and doctors across the world scramble for an effective treatment, here in Germany we have some wonderful (some would say unbelievable news): The cure has been found.

The key, according to Germany's Hahnemann Society, is homeopathic medicine. "It has been shown that even the first seven days of the illness can be effectively treated," the organization's website announces triumphantly.

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From Shrinks To Shamans, The Pitfalls Of Therapy Tourism

People who seek therapies to boost their health and outlook often experiment with a number of different methods, either simultaneously or in quick succession, hurting their chances for improvement.

GENEVA — Psychotherapy, meditation, energy massages, acupuncture. Alternative methods for improving health are seemingly endless and have only snowballed in the last two decades.

At the age of 33, Sébastien (not his real name) was determined to improve his health and mental outlook, and thereafter spent 21 years seeking relief from his "functional difficulties." He spent three years in psychotherapy, eight days "locked in a house in the Jura mountains with three therapists" undergoing the Hoffmann Process, and five weekends every year doing Zen meditation and voice work. There have also been energy massage sessions and a bizarre treatment in which a woman made him choose violins from a suitcase to deduce problems from his previous lives. He has even experimented with Shamanism using drums — "it was powerful" — and Gestalt therapy.

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Kirill Zhurenkov and Mariya Portnyagina

Russia's Murky World Of Alternative Medicine

In a country estimated to spend billions on faith healers and fortune tellers, many Russians opt for alternative medicine over certified doctors.

MOSCOW — Russia is living through a painful overhaul of the national health system, with doctors and patients protesting in the streets as hospitals close. But a recent study of Russians' medical habits shows that people already rely heavily on alternatives to the "official" medical establishment, and many of the alternative therapies they use are quite far from modern scientific norms.

The investigation was carried out in the Perm region, chosen because researchers thought that area represents the "average" Russian city, allowing researchers to broaden their findings to the rest of the country.

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Duped Too Often By 'Healers,' Congo's Diabetics Embrace Real Medicine

MATADI — Diabetic patients in the Bas-Congo province, in the western region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have had enough with traditional practitioners. They insist they won’t be conned again by those who claim they can cure everything from AIDS to hypertension and even diabetes, which some 1.5 million people suffer from in this country.

After months of drinking herbal teas that did nothing to improve their health, some people decided to return to more widely-practiced treatments. “When doctors first detected high levels of sugar in my blood, I was regularly given insulin, and it worked,” explains 60-year-old Gaston Nzuzi. But “after I saw a commercial on television singing the praises of a traditional practitioner from Kinshasa who claimed he could completely cure diabetes with medicinal plants, I went to see him,” he confesses.

For months, he was given solutions to drink. “Curiously, I started to lose weight and my balance was offset. I resolved to put an end to it, and I started to take my medication from before again,” the man says.

Many patients had the same experience and realized only later that they had been duped. “I’m tired of these large-scale scams,” says Marcel Vidi, a diabetic man who swore he would never see a healer again. As for Martine Sikila, there is still a distinct bitterness in her voice when she describes the treatment she underwent. “I had to drink my own urine every morning for three months to totally get rid of my diabetes,” she says. “But every test showed the blood sugar levels were unchanged.”

Denis Lemba, a physician in charge of responding to illnesses and epidemics at the provincial health division, says that because diabetes is a chronic illness, “these therapists might have products that help with blood sugar but they can't cure diabetes.” This, he says, is clearly demonstrated by the large number of diabetic patients who, after having seen many non-traditional practitioners, “eventually come back to us for a professional and responsible treatment.”

His colleague, Taty Mawanda, believes that going to a hospital “allows for better follow-up care as well as the creation of a better database for the province.” In 2012, 2,943 cases of diabetes were registered in the region, with 52 deaths. “These statistics cannot be found anywhere other than at the provincial health division,” Lemba says.

According to some doctors, the strict control of blood sugar levels is the founding principle of diabetes treatment. “For that, the patient must be educated and become sort of his own doctor,” Lemba explains.

The absence of proper treatment can cause serious complications, and diabetes is an illness that can remain undetected for a long time. Sometimes, five to 10 years can pass between the appearance of the first symptoms and diagnosis.

To make people turn away from hospitals, sham medics use local media on which they broadcast their messages on a loop. But the media watchdog was alerted and has struck back. It banned all broadcasting of commercials for “parallel medicine” in the province’s media.

Still, physician Louis Gomez, president of the Bas-Congo Medical Association, believes that much more work must be done to raise awareness about “how diabetes develops, the disease’s consequences and how patients must behave.” Without denying that medicinal plants can in some cases be useful, Gomez recommends that all patients first see a doctor.