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.
When members of Congress established what is now the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, they cared about whole things. Eight times in two pages, the new Center was charged to examine not just basic research or reductive trials on individual modalities. They pointedly sought to turn the NIH’s attention to the value of complementary and alternative “systems and disciplines … in health care delivery systems in the United States.” This shift of focus was resisted. The first director Stephen Straus, MD famously shouted down his former NCCIH advisory council member Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH when Calabrese courageously asked for research whole disciplines and whole practices like those of licensed naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. All integrative disciplines urged Straus’ successor Josie Briggs, MD to focus her 2011-2015 strategic plan on “researching the way we practice”. Briggs showed interest but showed no one the money to engage these questions. So when the NCCIH’s current director Helene Langevin, MD opened the NCCIH 2021-2025 strategic planning process with a February 18, 2020 video-cast webinar by focusing on “whole person health,” there was, among many, a great deal of anticipation and pent-up-demand. What might this mean?
In early 2008, the leadership of the National Institutes of Health for the second time caused concern among many in the integrative health and medicine field by naming a director of what is the now National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) who had zero experience in the field the director was to oversee. Imagine a head of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute with no experience in any cardiology, pulmunology or hematology.