Boynton joins alternative medicine exploration

Sam Kean

Alternative medicine practitioners trust their herbs and rituals can prevent and cure some ailments. But widespread acceptance often requires such practices to be blended with and supported by science.

Still, at longstanding institutions such as the University, alternative medicine has grown, even while many doctors dismiss it.

Boynton Health Service is offering 18 alternative medicine classes for students, staff and faculty to explore different forms of medicine, said Boynton director Edward Ehlinger. It provides workshop space and promotional material, but participants pay for the classes and instructors’ fees.

According to a disclaimer, Boynton also does not endorse or support any of the classes.

“We trust people will decide what’s best for them,” Ehlinger said.

More and more patients inquire into alternative medicine, he said, and the program partly responds to this. “It’s part of an educational institute,” he said.

Ehlinger said he tried massage and looked into the alternative practice of aromatherapy. But he, like many other doctors, needed more scientific rigor to be convinced.

Massage therapist Guy Odishaw – who organized Boynton’s program and teaches workshops – said the use of alternative medicine in crisis situations often gives it a sketchy reputation.

Odishaw said potential detractors tend to look at poor individual choices – such as patients treating cancer only through their bodies’ self-healing power – and dismiss all alternative medicine.

“I’m all for science,” Odishaw said, “but I’m not about saying we don’t dare try something until we understand it.” Alternative medicines, he said, work best as preventive and restorative tools.

Others say perils still exist, despite Odishaw’s statements and Boynton’s disclaimer.

Kevin Christopher of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal said doctors need to be aware of what their patients might be trying in the broader community of medicine.

Yet, he said, offering these classes on campus “gives a false impression it’s backed by the University.” Therefore people might assume all workshops are legitimate and “turn off critical thinking.”

Neither Christopher nor anyone else denied the workshops might provide comfort or relief. But the reasons, he said, usually result from the placebo effect or practical advice not specific to the particular workshop, such as controlling
caffeine intake for insomnia.

Sometimes alternative medicines withstand modern scientific inquiry.

Zigong Dong, a professor at the University’s Hormel Institute in Austin, recently received $1.5 million from the National Cancer Institute to study whether tea can prevent cancer. Previous studies, Dong said, already show tea prevents and slows tumor growth in mice.

The new study will use green and black tea extracts to determine which chemicals affect cultures of human lung, colon and skin tumors.

Tea as a curative and preventive agent has a long and extremely widespread history in Asian nations, Dong said, and this inspired him to conduct the study.