I’m back from a fabulous Hawaiian vacation. It’s great that Aloha has several nuanced meanings, including hello and goodbye.
The ancient Taoists talked of the Islands of the Immortals in the Eastern Sea (they called them Peng Lai). Hawaii is a pretty close match. No snakes! There were no mammals until humans introduced them. The effort to combat stowaway rats by introducing the mongoose didn’t go so well, either (rats are nocturnal, the mongoose is diurnal, never the twain shall meet). After a very busy December, it was great to take a break. I highly recommend a Hawaiian vacation, especially if you live where it is cold and snowy for months.
My break gave me time to contemplate my path: my business, blog, projects, personal health… To be honest, I even considered taking down this blog to focus more on making money. I would really like to pay off my student loans and spend more time in Hawaii. Writing about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) from a critical and consumer-protection perspective has taken much time but hasn’t increased my income at all. Probably the opposite has occurred. The thing is, I am not doing this for the money. I was very clear with myself when I chose the TCM/Taoism path 20 years ago that it was not about making money. At the time, I felt I was on a spiritual path to help people with natural medicine, help the planet through increasing humanity’s respect for nature, and grow as an individual by learning and practicing what I called “Taoist arts and sciences.”
Deep down I am still influenced by Taoist and Zen philosophy, but have become increasingly skeptical of groups, belief systems, and teachers claiming to be Taoist or Zen. I don’t really want to be seen as a “Taoist” or “Zennist.” The principles of observing nature, not being attached to ideas, beliefs, or things, and not resisting change are still core to my internal attitude. However, I identify these principles more with science and logic than a religion which seeks to avoid reincarnation or attain immortality.
My dear Uncle, a Montana libertarian who has been involved in law and politics for decades, sent me this note today. I wrote a response and thought to share it with my blog readers, as it touches on many of the sensitive issues surrounding freedom, science, and the herbal medicine business. Even though I doubt he needs anonymity, I made it so.
I am attaching a copy of a solicitation I received from the Center for Inquiry
with which they are attempting to have me donate to them. As stated in this solicitation, it is on their agenda to “demand that homeopathic (treatments) go through the same rigorous scientific and medical scrutiny that all other FDA approved medicines go through.”I believe having all new treatments submit to
the FDA monopoly would be horrible. It is nice to know who our enemies are.
Your Uncle Continue reading
It’s very common for an acupuncturist who prescribes Chinese herbal medicines to have an in-house pharmacy and sell herbs directly to patients. Most herbalists don’t see a problem with this, and in general neither do I. A nurse first raised the question in my mind that it could be a conflict of interest. My Master’s Degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine did not cover this area of medical ethics and patient’s rights.
My intention in designing AncientWay.com’s online herbal pharmacy 12 years ago was to be a reliable source for responsible adults to buy good quality Chinese herbs. My customers range from acupuncture patients, martial artists, self-taught Chinese herb students, to other healthcare professionals. I’ve never thought of my business model as unfairly ‘stealing’ business from other acupuncturists. I used to price my herbs at ‘normal’ retail price plus actual shipping. I began to hear from customers that they were saving considerable money ordering from me, even after shipping. When I learned what their acupuncturist was charging for the same product, my jaw dropped.
A small group of acupuncturists charges 3-5 times normal retail price to their patients (who also pay a consultation fee). These greedy people pressure herbal supplement manufacturers to have strict prescription-only policies, even though these products are only legal as dietary supplements. Then these practitioners to refuse to give prescriptions to their patients, forcing them to buy in-house at excessively inflated prices. The manufacturers (particularly Golden Flower Chinese Herbs, though many other “professional lines” of supplements have this business model) tolerated (and thus encouraged) this behavior. In my opinion, it is completely profit-motivated, as practitioners who make more money selling a product line with artificial scarcity prescribe more of that product line. This unethical behavior is part of what motivated me to become a consumer-protection advocate in my industry.
Nothing has made me love my modern dentists more than seeing this scene in rural China. I took this picture at the appropriately named Sha Ping market just north of Dali in the Yun Nan province. It takes planes, trains, and a long, bumpy bus ride to get there, or at least it did in 1998 when I went.
I continue my investigation of how two Portland acupuncturist instructors I knew while getting my Master’s degree at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine caused Beverly Hames to have kidney failure and require dialysis, a kidney transplant and multiple surgeries in order to survive. It has taken me a while to get this far, and the implications keep getting more disturbing. I first learned about the involvement of my teacher Mitch Stargrove and well-known author/teacher/manufacturer Subhuti Dharmananda while reading journalist Dan Hurley’s book, _Natural Causes: Death, Lies, and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry_. I like to read books that challenge my mind and make me think, but I wasn’t expecting to see people I studied with in there!
While chewing on this issue and considering whether to write about it or not, I was dismayed to see a small movement in the Chinese herbal medicine world adamantly promoting the use of banned herbs containing Aristolochic Acid, the chemical now confirmed beyond doubt in causing severe irreversible kidney damage and vastly increased upper urinary tract cancer risk. On the heels of that, a huge study from Taiwan was published showing that an incredibly large number of citizens have still been taking Chinese herbal medicines containing Aristolochic Acid and have a corresponding world-record level of kidney and bladder cancers, connected beyond doubt. Continue reading
Around 1996, when the internet was just starting to take off, and you really noticed when an advertisement had that funny new “WWW” address in it, I got the idea to have an internet-based Chinese herb pharmacy. I started working on the framework for AncientWay.com then, and it’s been a huge part of my life and business ever since. It was one of the first easily accessible English sites for Chinese herbs, and hopefully still stands out as a responsible, customer-oriented source for good quality TCM products.
AncientWay.com is no longer unique–many Chinese herb websites sell similar products. Some sell a wider selection. Some popular product lines aren’t available on AncientWay.com, but are available elsewhere. And some sites tell customers what herbs are used for and even will sell them an online consultation to prescribe via e-mail or phone.
The recent study from Taiwan which definitely connected their world-record upper urinary tract cancer rate to the high use of artistolochic acid-containing Chinese herbal formulas has me thinking a lot about the ethical issues involved. Unfortunately, I suspect that most patients who took the batches of Seven Forests Stephania Tablets, etc. known to have contained Aristolochic Acid (and contributed to kidney failure in a some cases) were never contacted and informed about their vastly increased lifetime risk of bladder cancer and chronic kidney disease (CKD). If any readers have evidence to the contrary, please share it and I’ll update this post.
This is wrong on so many levels… There are early signs of kidney disease and kidney failure that are hard to put together for most people. If they know it’s from kidney damage, they can manage it with diet. If they don’t know, and treat rashes with creams, fatigue with stimulants, and swelling with diuretics, it will probably get worse until they collapse due to kidney failure. With luck they would be on dialysis or get a kidney transplant. Without luck, they just die. Continue reading