Food can cause tension and other problems

The cancer rate at the turn of the century was about 1 in 25 people; it’s now 1 in 3. And probably by the year 2000, 50 percent of the people will have some kind of cancer at some time in their lives.

BM: You say that food can cause tension and other problems–what foods make you tense, besides caffeine?

CL: I would say animal products in general–dairy products, eggs, chicken–as well as sugar, caffeine.

BM: Do you prescribe diets to your patients?

CL: I’m not an expert on diet or nutrition, and I’m just starting to study it myself. I don’t want to give people the impression that I have a perfect diet; I think I have a better-than-average diet for an American, but I’m still working on improving it.

It takes too much time to counsel patients about their diets, or go over their habits; I think that’s why physicians don’t do it. Improving the patients’ diet would do more for them than seeing ten different doctors.

BM: We were talking about increasing cancer rates a few minutes ago. Can you treat cancer with acupuncture?

CL: No, I don’t claim to be able to treat it. I think once a patient does develop cancer, they would have to make some dramatic changes in their diet and their life-style in order to really treat it. Unfortunately, most patients who have cancer go the standard Western route and get their surgery and chemotherapy. And a lot of those treatments are good for certain types of cancers, but on the other hand, there are a lot of cancers in which the type of care you receive makes absolutely no difference. Obviously, once a person develops a cancer, they’re treating it after the fact.

BM: There was an item in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that said that for many cancers there was no correlation between chemotherapy and remission.

CL: That’s true. I have a friend who’s an oncologist, and it’s not that oncologists don’t have good intentions of helping the patients. They don’t know what else to do, because this is all they’ve known, all they’ve been taught, all that’s accepted, and all that’s paid for by the insurance company. But there are certain cancers in which, whether you get surgery, chemotherapy, or whatever, it doesn’t make any difference in terms of longevity–in fact, they probably suffer more when they do get the therapy.

Some people can’t be cured of cancer, especially in the late stages. Obviously, people aren’t going to seek alternative care until they’re at the end of their rope. And that’s the type of patients I see a lot, patients that have seen five or ten other doctors and had surgery, been on drugs, had steroids, and had everything else–and then they’ll come and try acupuncture.

I feel bad, because the chance of their getting helped by acupuncture is probably pretty low at that point. If they’d come [sooner] and tried acupuncture, and then tried some of those other things–I think you should try the treatment with the least side effects first, and then go down the line. You have to look at the risk-benefit ratio that everybody talks about in medicine, and alternative cares generally don’t have that kind of risk. You don’t hear of malpractice suits over alternative care very often at all–it’s because homeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture are all very safe. They’re not going to hurt the person. They may not always help the patient, but the first thing in the Hippocratic oath is “Do no harm to your patient.” So if you pick a type of therapy which is going to do your patient harm and has a great risk, then I think you’re not doing your patient a service.

Because of the religious nature of medicine, most patients tend to go into a lot of procedures and therapies without really understanding them, the risks of the treatment or the procedure, and then they’re unhappy with the results.

The other thing about American culture is that we have a distorted view of what happiness, and what health, is all about. I think people expect to be perfect, to be happy all the time, and to be healthy without having to work at it. And to be healthy nowadays is very hard work. You have to go out of your way, and take time and effort to be healthy–not only in terms of exercise but of buying and preparing the foods, of learning relaxation techniques, and doing those types of things that de-stress yourself, because stress is what is making everybody so addictive. Addiction is the number-one problem in the United States now–drug addiction, cigarette addiction, alcohol addiction.

Those addictions are related to stress, and I don’t think the war on drugs is ever going to work unless you help patients deal with stress in other ways. You have to teach kids at a young age that popping a pill is not going to solve their problem, and that it’s not the right way to go. Kids learn young, from getting antibiotics and Tylenol and all this other stuff, that you take pills when you’re sick or you don’t feel good. You grow up with that mentality, and then when you get depressed, you take an antidepressant; if you feel anxious, you take an antianxiety pill; if you can’t sleep, you take a sleeping pill. If you can’t lose weight, you take a diet pill. That deals with the body from a mechanistic view and a superficial level.

In Chinese medicine, they’ve never considered the brain to be an organ. They considered it to be something extra; whereas we consider the brain to be the central computer. It has certain essential computer functions, but on the other hand, the brain is influenced by all the organs in terms of the energy properties, the blood flow, and the chemical makeup of the brain. The relationship between the brain and the immune system is being recognized more now, and the whole field of psycho-neural immunology has been developing over the last 10 or 15 years. That really is the modern expression of what Chinese medicine has always said.

Now they’ve done a lot of studies that show that a person’s mood or attitude will make a big difference in the way their immune cells react or function.

BM: Like the famous Norman Cousins treatment, when he decided to cure himself of a fatal disease with vitamin C and laughter.

CL: Well, I think that can be done. People like Norman Cousins take things into their own hands, and that shows a lot of courage and a lot of spirit. And that is the type of spirit that I’m talking about–that you’re not going to accept the pessimistic view of the doctors, the Western medical view, and that you’re going to go out and seek your own solution for your problem.

I think there’s a lot of pessimism and fear in medicine now, because of AIDS and cancer. I think that’s not good for public health–because fear and anxiety suppress the immune system, whereas relaxation and joy make the immune system stronger. The majority of my patients are all stressed out and depressed, and I can see why they’re sick.