I am now 68 and over the years I have relied upon alternative medical solutions for almost all my health problems. A change in diet, herbs, vitamins, minerals and lots of exercise ended up being almost all the medicine I ever needed! In 2010, when I was 61, I cured myself of arthritis with vitamins and minerals alone. I had suffered since I was in my 20s. My doctors said arthritis was not curable, but Western medicine was wrong about arthritis. After that simple cure, I quit suffering, became skeptical, and started to research the history of medicine in North America. What I discovered is astonishing!
From a young age, I was fascinated by medical technology. When I was about 7 years old, in 1956, a very old lady next door was using an antique electric muscle stimulation tool on her leg muscles, which were stiff. She said it made her feel better. I was fascinated as a child to see her leg muscles pulsing from the electric field. When I asked our family doctor what that electric stimulation tool was about, he told me it was all ‘quack medicine’ that did nothing at all.
In 1963, I was 14 years old. My parents went on holidays in Barbados and left me with a Latvian couple who had a farm outside Hamilton, Ontario. They grew many mysterious plants called ‘medicinal herbs’ on their farm for healing. When they told me about herbalism in Latvia, I was astounded to know that medicines came from herbs. My parents knew nothing about herbs as medicine. In all my schooling up to that point, ‘herbs for medicine’ was a topic that never came up. When I researched it at the local library, I found that herbs had been used as medicine for thousands of years. How did the history of herbal medicine become virtually erased by the mid 20th century?
The Unknown History of Alternate Therapies
As an inventor, at age 65, I designed electro-medicine brain stimulation devices for brightening mood and for relaxation.
I was surprised to learn that similar machines were first used in France, in 1903. And I was astounded to learn that electro-medicine was first used in ancient Egypt, where electric eels were used to treat migraine headaches. In ancient Rome, electric fish were used to treat epilepsy and headaches. Electro-medicine remained popular worldwide throughout the 20th century, except in North America, where it was almost unknown until the late 1980s. How did the use of electro-medical treatment become virtually erased from our culture in North America?
The Origins of Western Medicine
The creation of Western medicine starts with John D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937) who was an oil baron and America’s first billionaire. In the 1800s, using ‘organic chemistry,’ or the chemistry of carbon, the petrochemical industries were created. In the 1800s, it came to light that various traditional herbal remedies contained active ingredients called ‘alkaloids.’ These alkaloids could often be produced synthetically by the petrochemical industries. Sometimes the active ingredient of a medicinal herb could be chemically modified and patented. This new business was called the ‘pharmaceutical industry.’ The resulting patent medicine could be sold at great profit, compared to the herb from which it was originally derived.
By the turn on the 20th century, Rockefeller controlled 90% of all oil production in the U.S. through a multitude of oil companies owned by him. There were only 1,000 cars in existence in 1900 that burned gasoline. Not much profit was to be found in cars. The petrochemical industry, however, was flourishing. The pharmaceutical industries promised to be the most profitable part of the oil industry. Rockefeller invested heavily in the newly created pharmaceutical companies. He formed the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913 and focused on the pharmaceutical industries and medical education.
Andrew Carnegie, in 1900, was also very wealthy. He had made his original fortune by investing in Columbia Oil in 1862; made an even bigger fortune in steel and formed the Carnegie Foundation in 1905. The foundation was known for its expertise in funding, and carrying out, educational ventures.
The Flexner Report
In the early 1900s, the newly formed American Medical Association, or AMA, realized that medical education was in a sad state of chaos, so they created The Council on Medical Education in 1904, to study the need for educational improvements. However, the AMA could not afford to do the study. Henry Pritchett of the Carnegie Foundation offered both money and recruited Abraham Flexner to do the study. The Carnegie Foundation then took over the management of The Council on Medical Education and invested millions of dollars in the project. They studied every medical school in North America, issuing a report in 1910 called the the Flexner Report. To be fair, the Flexner Report did at least help to standardize medical practices. But it had many negative effects too.
The study was funded by the Carnegie Foundation with donations from John D. Rockefeller and other industrialists. By 1909, The Council on Medical Education was being run by the industrialists, who were heavily invested in the pharmaceutical industries, a branch of the petrochemical industries. These industries were in direct competition with traditional healing approaches, such as herbalism, electro-medicine, naturopathy, massage, diet, exercise, etc.
The effects on other branches of healing that the report had is well summarized by the Wikipedia entry on the Flexner Report:
Medical schools that offered training in various disciplines including electromagnetic field therapy, phototherapy, eclectic medicine, physio medicalism, naturopathy, and homeopathy, were told either to drop these courses from their curriculum or lose their accreditation and underwriting support. A few schools resisted for a time, but eventually all either complied with the report or shut their doors.
The Flexner Report also marked the beginning of the end for midwifery in the USA and Canada. After 1910, state after state in the USA and province after province in Canada outlawed midwifery.
By 1929, the Carnegie Institute was given the accreditation authority for medical schools in both Canada and the USA. All medical schools that were not in agreement with the Flexner Report were closed. After 1935, medical schools only offered pharmacological approaches, vaccines and surgery. All other traditional healing approaches were successfully eliminated from medical education.
It was also an ‘Old White Boys Club’ and both African-Americans and women were driven out of medical practice after the release of the report. This was unfortunate for women and African-Americans because before 1910, there were many practicing African-American and women MDs.
By 1950, our North American medical culture had been purged of all traditional approaches to healthcare. Only the pharmaceutical industry approaches, plus vaccines and surgery, remained. As the older doctors retired, herbalism, naturopathy, electro-medicine, massage, and other alternative therapies, were all but forgotten. They were classified as ‘quack medicine,’ a term which was popularized after the Flexner Report. Rockefeller medicine became mainstream medicine.
Traditional Healing Approaches Re-Emerge in the 1960s
By the time I was 17 years old, I was part of the hippie subculture and herbs, vitamins, minerals, acupuncture, marijuana, and massage were cool suddenly. We contributed to the reformation of the Canadian medical scene. Within less than 10 years, herbs, minerals and vitamins were everywhere. Health food stores blossomed. Herbs were shown by scientific studies to actually work in the 1970s, through to the present. Various heroes of the scientific world have protected our freedom, as well as those like Linus Pauling for his support for vitamin C.
Fortunately, times are changing and medical doctors are listening to their patient’s requests for natural health care. Today, many physicians collaborate with naturopaths and chiropractors. My own open-minded family physician does not push me to take prescription medicine. It is encouraging to see MDs, such as Andrew Weil, working to promote a more balanced model for healthcare that is inclusive of all options, at the University level.
Physicians cannot be blamed for their 20th century pharmacological slant on healthcare issues. Their educational systems were compromised by the industrial interests of those who funded the Flexner Report of 1910.
Protecting Access to Herbs and Supplements
In Canada and the USA, during my lifetime, there have been several attempts to establish expensive and overly rigorous standards for herbs and supplements that are relatively safe, compared to pharmaceuticals. This threatens herbalists and other producers of alternative medicines. It threatens the availability of these health aids. One can only assume that these efforts were driven by lobbyists from the pharmacological industries. Citizens groups in the USA and Canada strongly opposed the proposed new legislations and we successfully defeated them through petitions addressed to our Members of Parliament in Canada or Congressmen in the USA. There is a need for continuing vigilance on the part of citizens.
We Need to Develop a Grassroots, Double-Blind Testing System
Pharmaceuticals receive extensive testing for medical verification. Important herbs, such as tumeric or minerals like boron, rarely receive any testing because there is no profit in it. However, there would be great rewards for current and future generations if the testing of herbs and supplements was carried out.
It could be done with modern technology by creating a grassroots, double-blind testing site, where data could come in from people who decided to become their own ‘guinea pig.’ Samples and placebos could be sent by mail with ID numbers. It can be done! Who wants to propose a computer website solution?
A Balanced Approach is Needed
Pharmacological drugs for treatment of illness have their place for treating certain conditions. Antibiotics revolutionized health care. Anaesthetics made surgery painless.
Alternative health approaches have merit and dietary approaches can sometimes even cure the disease, preventing the need for treatment! These alternatives need to co-exist with pharmacological medicines as options that healers can recommend.