Benjamin’s Columns

eJournal > Benjamin's Columns

by Sam Benjamin, MD

Dr Sam Benjamin graced us with his insider’s wisdom from March through June in our 21st Century Wellness eLetter. Now, his schedule prevents him from writing a regular column. To make reading his previous columns easier, we have compiled them into an eJournal article. We hope to have cameo appearances in the future.

March 31, 2000

This is the first installment of a column by Dr Sam Benjamin, a pioneering holistic MD in New York and Arizona, working side-by-side with other pioneers such as Andrew Weil, MD. He spent a number of years working in international health then later in private practice. Following that, he worked with managed care insurance companies. For the next sixteen years, he developed the Arizona Center for Health and Medicine in Phoenix for Catholic Health Care West. Most recently, he was recruited to the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine where he runs the new Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Background

I have been committed my whole professional life to the concept that individuals have the right to make decisions with regard to their bodies and their own health. It has been a difficult road returning to New York after 16 years in Arizona. New York, medically at least, seems stuck in time with physician-centered rather than patient-centered care. The resistance to me has been personal at times, and the price that I have had to pay with my health and the stress in my household has been heavy. More about this later.

In order to insulate myself and my family financially from the painful misfortunes of academic and institutional politics, I began Mariposa Botanicals. My friend, Andrew Weil, MD, agreed to help formulate the products with me. He has been a wonderful help as we have developed extraordinary production methods as well as independent testing methods before and after production. Sadly, the nutritional supplement business is rife with people who claim to make high quality products, but, in fact, are panning off goods with little if any potency and with the possibility of contamination.

Mariposa makes herbal products, vitamins and soon functional foods. The main thing, perhaps is the incredible quality, bioavailablity and convenience since the contents are produced in no more than two pills a day, are individually wrapped and do NOT require refrigeration. Please visit our web site to get specific product information. The suggested retail pricing is for consumers only. The wholesale pricing for professionals and providers of CAM services is available by at my office email or by calling directly to Mariposa: 888-521-5551.

At any rate, I am delighted to be writing regularly for the 21st Century Wellness eLetter. I am always looking for cleeagal relations, and because I think that we are all interconnected, I want to I can give and get support from kindred souls.

My very best to new friends. Sam Benjamin

April 15, 2000

Patient-Centered Medicine

Medicine of the future will change and become more patient centered. The problem is that it is such a struggle! We live in a country that has spent enormous resources on medicine and the outcome has been very poor. We spend billions on hospitals and medications, and yet we do not explore the environment and how it is killing us. We attack the safety of herbs and worry about Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), yet allopathic therapies are the sixth most common reason for death when people are admitted to the hospital.

I hear the calls for “evidence based” medicine (suggesting that CAM alone is not scientific), and yet some say nearly half of the prescriptions written by allopathic physicians in the US are “off label.” This means they have been written for indications for which the FDA has not determined that there is sufficient “evidence.” There were well more than two billion prescriptions written by MD’s alone last year, I have been told. Imagine if nearly half were for reasons that have not been adequately studied.

Western medicine cannot see the woods for the veritable trees. It is reductionistic and quite dangerous because it is so myopic – tunnel vision actually. With television like the Discovery Channel and with the Internet, we can all get excellent information about issues that pertain to our health. Once we have found good information, we can make decisions about whether we want antiinflammatories for our joint pain or whether we would like to take a try with glucosamine. We can decide if we want to take steroids for our eczema or whether we can try Homeopathic remedies and Evening Primrose oil.

We Americans are intrinsic supporters of liberty and the right of each individual to choose. The medical juggernaut will succumb to this. Already, physicians are jumping ship and joining the “ranks.” American medicine will continue to increase in cost. This will drive many supporters of the conventional system away. There is no sign of real cost controls and concomitant outcome improvement. Managed care has been a dismal failure.

Healthcare in the future will not be physician centered. Technology is changing the role of the physician and physician-related institutions. We all know more now. We can see through their microscopes just as they do. We can read data and cost analyses on the ‘Net, and we know that far too little progress has been made in cancer research relative to what it has cost society thus far.

I want the best of allopathy and CAM. I want to decide about my body and my life by myself. The leader of the health team that is treating me most of the time should be me. If I sprain an ankle, it might turn to my Chiropractor or Massage Therapist. If I am getting a lot of colds, I will find help from my Nutritionist or my Homeopath. Physician-centered medicine is too limiting and too imperfect. I want a choice. I want integrative medicine where I am the boss. We should all want the same for our loved ones.

To be continued in the next column – comments and additions welcome.

April 30, 2000

Healing Revolution

Dr Benjamin has been traveling and lecturing for several days, so we are going to give you some background, by way of an article, “The Healing Revolution,” Life magazine, September 1996, by George Howe Colt, pp 10-13.

Free reprint permission has not been granted by Time-Life. This article may be available in your library. It is also still online. Dr Benjamin’s section begins on Page 10, and finishes on Page 13.

May 15, 2000

For his last column, we directed you to the Sept ’96 Life magazine article “The Healing Revolution,” in which the author comments positively on Dr Benjamin’s use of prayer in his practice. Sam continues this opening with a more on the subject …

Prayer and Healing

I feel that God is with me every day and this provides me with comfort. However valid my faith is for me, I know that we are all interconnected and that God has given us the tools to exploring this connection and to validate it. Dr Elizabeth Targ, a physician-scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, conducted a study using AIDS patients who were prayed for and compared the progress of their disease with similarly infected patients who were not prayed for. The “experimental” group (those who were prayed for) did much better than the “control” group (those who were not prayed for) – even though they did not know that anyone was praying in their behalf. The people who prayed did not know the AIDS patients that they prayed for. While there is much yet to be studied in this area, there is more and more “evidence” for what we already know. Prayer is darn good for you and everyone you pray for.

It is, therefore, amazing to me that the medical community in our nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals are so against teaching about prayer and healing. Why the heck don’t they just let young medical students do what comes naturally for most of them – pray. If you can’t encourage it – don’t fight it! Yet, indeed they do. At my school (Stony Brook Medical School), I was attacked because of my commitment to prayer and healing. The “scientists” see this as “unscientific,” “primitive” – “quackery.”

Now what irks me is who are these folks to criticize prayer. They (and their form of science) have only been around a little time and prayer has been here much longer. Why is it that prayer has endured for so long?” There must be something going on! Yet my colleagues see themselves as the protectors of “scientism” and evidence-based medicine. If there is no “evidence” for God, then s/he must be a figment of our fertile imaginations and an image that we summon up to quell our fears in times of need or when confronted with the unknown (such as death). To me this is downright arrogance. I do not know of anyone who has expired in an emergency room in this country as a result of an “overdose” of prayer. On the other hand I can think of lots of drugs prescribed by “scientists” that have terrible sequalae. The sixth leading cause of death in hospitals in North America is the result of prescribed therapies – not prayer.

I am not against science. I am not against evidence. I am not against good medicine. I am not even against the docs that espouse to be “scientists.” I am, however, against arrogance, prejudice and a myopic view of this universe that does not allow me to enjoy my relationship with God and her/his healing hand. God may not always answer my prayers, but s/he is always with me and with my patients.

If you want to read more about God and Healing, I recommend Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey, MD. In fact, all of his books relate to spirituality, intentionality and healing. A great guy and a great writer.

Sam Benjamin, MD

The Amazon.com write up on Dr Dossey’s book includes three customer reviews and a professional review. In addition, a synopsis says, “A fascinating and spiritual study of the meaning and purpose of prayer, how we pray, and how prayer helps even when it doesn’t answer our specific intentions. Wise and comforting, Larry Dossey is a devoted medical practitioner and counselor, explaining how we conceive of prayer and how those notions change as society changes.

May 30, 2000

Undergraduate Courses on Complementary and Alternative Medicine

We forwarded the following question to Dr Benjamin, who responded in this issue’s column:

I am a junior at UMBC in Maryland and I would like to go into Natural Medicine, either Osteopathy or Naturopathy. The problem that I am running into is that the two universities I’ve attended offer no classes of holistic nature. Although a degree in either of these fields requires a strong biology or scientific background, I feel as though I am missing something. I am very interested in holistic thinking, and I was wondering if there were any undergraduate colleges that meld traditional science with alternative science. If you know of ANY undergraduate colleges (preferably west coast) that support alternative thinking in a town that has a strong alternative base PLEASE email me back. Thank you, Sky L, May 25th.

While there may be a few scattered undergraduate courses that survey Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and the globalization of medicine, by and large they are non-existent. This should come as no surprise to us because undergraduate courses about medicine are, themselves, influenced by the prevailing philosophy of the “established” medical community in the United States.

US medical education has made some changes, to be sure. More and more medical schools are adding elective courses and in a few cases required training in CAM or CAM-related issues. Yet there is a continuing and perhaps even growing “educational gap” between the lay community and the medical community in the United States regarding CAM and the right of choice.

The community seems to know more about CAM than the professional – horrors! Indeed, there is a clamor for information about CAM from many community docs and nurses. However, let’s not kid ourselves. The medical community – medical schools in particular – are as insensitive to your needs today as they have been for the last 50 years. They are on the track of scientism (and I do not mean science but a inclusive investigational methodology that excludes almost everything else), reductionism and they have, by and large, turned a “cold shoulder” to the needs of the communities they serve.

Don’t feel too bad, however, it is not just CAM that has met with their scorn. Public health issues are the stepchildren of the medical establishment. Environmental issues are secondary. Prevention, for the medical community, is usually just another way to do more tests or give more pills. How health and disease are globalizing is not even on their radar screen. In addition, issues of self choice – freedom to decide one’s fate – are matters that are not even entertained, though they may be given lip service in the hopes of containing the “ignorant and poorly informed” lay public.

As the healthcare system fails, it should not be a surprise that alternatives will rarely, if ever, show up as part of undergraduate or graduate education. Protectionism is the word of the day in medicine! We should support those who are within the system and working for change such as Andrew Weil, MD or Woodson Merrel, MD. We should support the institutions that are allowing them to operate and survive, such as the University of Arizona and Beth Israel. As for the others, don’t fight them – disregard them. If you know of educational courses about CAM and personal health freedom – support them!

Do not forget the great equalizer – the Internet! If the college of your choice won’t tell you the truth – the Internet will! It’s a lot harder to control information now, and that is to our advantage!

This is another American Revolution. Paul Revere might have used the ‘Net were it available. “Listen my children and you shall hear of the Internet chat room of Paul Revere.” Were he alive today, he might have cried, “The white coats are coming, the white coats are coming. ….”

No, I do not know of any undergraduate courses in CAM, but never fear, because the word is spreading anyhow. It will be a while (old ideas do not go down easily), but I am sure we will dumping the old texts and ideas in Boston Harbor (or an EPA approved site) in the future.

As for me, “No medication without representation!”

Sam Benjamin, MD

We know of college Nursing and Health Departments that offer courses that include CAM material, and several community colleges are moving forward in CAM education. The University of Denver of Metro State College in Denver are developing curriculum that includes some CAM content. If you know of any four-year colleges that offer specific coursework on CAM – in class or online – please let us know – we will print them in upcoming eLetter issues.

June 30, 2000

Prayer and Medical Science

In an October 1999 article, “Prayer Study by Harris et al” in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a group of researchers showed that there was a statistically significant difference in the outcomes of patients in a coronary care unit when prayed for at long distance when compared to a control group. For most of us there is no surprise here. We welcome the research to validate what we already know – prayer is good for you and for those that you pray for!

However, the response from the American medical community best expresses their philosophy: “If I don’t believe it, I can’t control it and I can’t explain why it happens, then it’s not real even if it’s shown to be true.” The medical community made comments that:

  • Held the Harris study up to higher standards than they have for any other kind of research document, so that they could dismiss its significance
  • Warned that hospitals might loose patients if they openly encouraged prayer within their walls
  • Reasoned that this kind of study encourages mysticism and is opposed to science because it has demonstrated something that “can’t be.”

In response, Larry Dossey, MD prepared a wonderful editorial – in the same journal – on this medical hypocrisy in a measured and brilliant way that I encourage you all to read: “Prayer and Medical Science.”

I will only add this question which, I admit, shows my contentiousness and impatience with American medicine and its leaders: “If we spend more money in total and more money per capita than any other country on health care and yet we have been rated by the World Health Care Organization as being 37th in the level of our national health by what reasoning do our medical leaders think that they can defend their position?”

I am not attacking science mind you! I am asking why we assume that only by spending more on technology and reducing phenomena to their most elemental level will deliver better outcomes. The medical establishment continues its cry- more science, more money, more research and more technology will one day yield better outcomes- better health. Well, not withstanding what will happen tomorrow – they have had quite a while to deliver and have done a pretty poor job of it – I can pray today for my friends, this world and those I love. This does not cost anything, it does some good, and I have never known anyone to be admitted to the emergency room of any hospital with a “prayer overdose.”

Dr Sam Benjamin is a pioneering holistic MD in New York and Arizona, working side-by-side with other pioneers such as Andrew Weil, MD. He spent a number of years working in international health then later in private practice. Most recently, he was recruited to the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine where he runs the new Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.