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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
October 2002

Letter from the Publisher
by Jonathan Collin, MD

Our October 2002 cover
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     A while back we planned our editorial calendar for 2002 and October's theme was to focus on eye and ear health. When we offered these choices to our columnists nearly every one selected eye disease and natural medicine; Kerry Bone, alone, opted to consider herbal approaches to ear conditions. One would probably have expected this response from a statistical model; we have a great many options when it comes to our eyes and nearly zero alternatives when it comes to preserving our hearing. Perhaps the most annoying symptom for patients is tinnitus, an endless, loud background noise which disturbs conversation, thinking and sleep. It is perhaps an apt depiction of medical progress that one of the best treatments for tinnitus is a device which creates an obnoxious background noise to overwhelm the characteristic screeching tinnitus noise. How many of us are frustrated by the mediocre technology of hearing aids, when it is clear that the instrument's disturbing buzzing sounds still offers little improvement to the patient's hearing abilities. And yet, every once in a while, a patient comes along and engages in a major change in diet, exercise, weight, uses nutritional supplements, changes medications, and there is a change in the tinnitus noise. One would think that the ear would be responsive to alternative medical approaches; unfortunately we still await better alternative approaches for tinnitus and hearing loss. If the occasional patient has improvement, there must be a biochemical model to improve tinnitus.

     On the other hand, one boon to pediatric ear health which has gone unmentioned in this issue is the role of natural approaches to pediatric ear infections. Partially due to the marketing efforts of pharmaceutical companies, children's ear infections have been almost exclusively treated by multiple rounds of antibiotics and the not so infrequent ear tubes for the perforated ear drums. In the late 1960's it became apparent to practitioners in the alternative world that food allergies were contributing greatly to recurrent upper respiratory and ear infections. When children were given special diets which eliminated refined sugars, dairy products, gluten, corn, eggs as well as processed foods with food colorings, MSG, and other excipients, there were frequent miracles in the apparent cure of little Johnny's chronic ear infections. Later Dr. Orian Truss, MD and William Crook, MD educated physicians about the role candida albicans played in exacerbating ear infections. The fact that a low dose of Nystatin, a drug for candida infection available since the 1960's, could arrest many incurable ear infections, led to perhaps the greatest paradigm shift in alternative medicine, the diagnosis and treatment of chronic candidiasis (yeast infection) as the cause of widespread symptoms in children and adults. Yet to this day this approach remains controversial, so most university ear/nose/throat medical departments do not use it. Instead they treat pediatric ear infections with antibiotics despite the growing concern by public health officials that chronic use of antibiotics is creating widespread resistance in common and less common pathogenic microorganisms. If everything else about alternative medicine was ignored, these two concepts of treatment of ear infection, allergy elimination and anti-candida treatment, would by themselves represent a major advance in medical treatment. ‘Tis a pity that medicine fails to recognize either.

     We are pleased to publish a review of natural approaches to vision problems from the book Alternative Medicine, now in a new softback edition from Celestial Arts and Ten Speed Press. Burton Goldberg, who is the editor of this text and publisher of the Alternative Medicine Magazine, is a long-standing supporter of alternative and natural medicine. In the late 1980's he brought together 500 of the best minds in alternative medicine and compiled this book, examining alternative medicine from the myriad of viewpoints ranging from naturopathy to herbal medicine to homeopathy to non-conventional uses of conventional medicine. Goldberg has been particularly enthusiastic about energetic approaches to healing. He has been a water dowser and introduced himself to me at a medical meeting by his use of a dowsing instrument which he explained would be useful in understanding abnormal electrical fields and more importantly, in diagnosing and treating patients. Alternative Medicine (the book) definitely emphasizes energetic approaches to illness. Behavioral optometry is an alternative to the immediate gratification of Lasik surgery.

     Glaucoma, one of the banes of old age, generally means a routine of glaucoma drops that need to be administered daily or twice daily. Unfortunately for too many patients glaucoma medications are systemic in their side effects, despite the fact that the drops are topically applied to the eyes. Unexplained dizziness and other irritating symptoms frequently arise after initiating the use of glaucoma medication. Yet for the most part, family physicians ignore these medications when evaluating the patient for a physical and internal complaint. I would like to say that nutritional medicine offers a definite alternative to glaucoma medications. A number of our writers suggest that nutraceuticals may play some role in glaucoma treatment. However, glaucoma remains as difficult as hypertension to treat naturally; it is not at all clear that one may eliminate glaucoma medications with natural treatment.

     During the past few decades a few ophthalmologists have begun to consider antioxidants as an important vehicle to improvement in eye health. One of the principal doctors championing zinc and vitamin A in the treatment of eye disease was Dr. Gary Todd, MD from North Carolina. At a time in the early 1990's when the use of antioxidants was still being looked upon as avant garde by most MD's, ophthalmologists began to employ zinc, beta carotene and other antioxidants. Lutein, bilberry and other bioflavonoids have become standard in many eye formulations in the marketplace. A recent advertisement by Julian Whitaker, MD extolled the virtues of bilberry in doses exceeding 200 mg. for treating eye disorders. Preliminary evidence suggests that these antioxidants and bioflavonoids may play an important role in improving macular degeneration and other eye disorders. Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD claims that eye disorders are only benefited when trace element nutrition, especially selenium, is directed to eye tissues. To achieve this eye tissue concentration, Dr. Wright recommends intravenous administration of trace elements and certain amino acids in a carrier containing DMSO (dimethyl-sulfoxide). DMSO theoretically imparts a greater transport of trace elements into body tissues than would otherwise be possible. When IV administration is not possible, Dr. Wright advises the use of a mixture of trace minerals and amino acids in a solution containing DMSO which is applied topically to the skin. Whether or not DMSO plays a critical role in restoring vision remains an intriguing concept; however, given the possible adverse effect that DMSO had on the lenses of rodents in very early experiments, caution should be used in the application of DMSO.

     Clearly nutrients play an important role in eye health. As an experiment for anyone who has become irritated with their visual focus while concentrating on book work or the computer screen at night, I would recommend trying a few tablets of bilberry. It is not unusual to have a definite change in visual acuity within one hour of use.

Jonathan Collin, MD

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