On May 4, 2020, the Africa office of the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement on COVID-19 deeply at odds with policies in Europe and North America. Of the hundreds of millions of dollars with which governments and foundations are spending on research, virtually nothing is directed toward potential traditional, complementary and integrative contributions. Media coverage of the widespread interest in such approaches, when it occurs, focuses on extremes. The Wall Street Journal led with cow dung, garlic and prayer and Nature with “cow urine, bleach and cocaine” together with the broadly dismissive “pseudoscience” and “bunk”. Scores upon scores of in vitro and other trials showing antiviral activity of herbs are dismissed. In contradistinction, WHO’s statement models calmness and reason. The agency calls for research while warning about over-claims. Should WHO’s integrative, inclusive statement be actively endorsed by natural health and integrative organizations?
While I never attended Bastyr University, I did work an intense and heady 6-year span there from 1983-1989 as John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine transitioned to Bastyr College on its way to its present stature. We fought to make it the first broad-scope education in natural health sciences to gain accreditation via a United States Department of Education approved agency. That winning campaign – an overt battle against antagonistic cultural political forces – was for me a sort of Marine Corp experience resulting in a Semper Fi! that, while its had its ups and downs, has at minimum left me paying attention to Bastyr’s work and that of its graduates. So when the Seattle Times published an article on the COVID-19 research at local conventional medical institutions, I recalled two significant action of Bastyr graduates relative to COVID-19 that merited mention. I drafted an Op-Ed that was rejected. They noted that they are seeing “an unprecedented number of Op-Ed submissions on the coronavirus” and finished with a kind (if routine) door-closing statement: “Respectfully, I am going to pass on it, but I hope you find a publication able to take it.” I decided to visit it on you.
In the minds of many in the dominant school of medicine, all of integrative medicine is frontier science. That bias often holds that the integrative frontier toward which one may sail is a chimera. Yet new continents have been found. Witness findings supporting acupuncture effectiveness and telomere lengthening through meditation. For integrative health, the frontier of that frontier is subtle energy and biofield healing. Spearheading efforts to quantify and advance science and action in this $2.8-billion industry is a self-styled “collaboration accelerator,” the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI). CHI posits that the world they are mapping in their just published resources positions energy medicine as “the new mindfulness.” The multi-year CHI mapping project offers fascinating interactive journeys to 6,200 studies, 74,000 US practitioners, 250 energy devices, and a literal map that takes one to the location of 400 researchers globally who are examining these subtle therapies. Their goal is nothing less that systems change. They believe their work can be a model for all in the integrative health field who favor dramatic shifts in the health and medicine landscape.
The push for evidence to assist in formulating more effective clinical response to the COVID-19 pandemic is awakening scores of research projects and multipliers more of recommended directions. In the integrative sphere, a team led by Lise Alschuler, ND from the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine published a paper on “considerations” for natural practices and agents. The Chinese government claims the use of traditional Chinese medicine is in part responsible for its apparently relatively rapid turn-around there. TCM researcher John Chen, PhD, PharmD, OMD, LAc and others have brought that work to the United States. Ryan Bradley, ND, MPH at Helfgott Research Institute led a global team to create a Traditional, Complementary and Integrative Health and Medicine COVID-19 Support Registry. I helped promote it with this JACM editorial. Yet the US government has been quiet, when not frankly antagonistic to supportive COVID-19 strategies. I connected with the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) to see what they are up to related to COVI-19. This column reports the exchange with Helene Langevin, MD, NCCIH’s director.