First of all, let’s straight-out admit that conventional medicine has more than its share of pitfalls. Most prescription and some over-the-counter drugs have side effects, as anyone who’s ever suffered through colitis or a yeast infection after using an antibiotic can attest. Also, many otherwise safe drugs are dangerous if taken together: some multiply each other’s power to a toxic degree, some neutralize each other, and some just overtax vital organs (like the liver or kidneys) when used in combination.

If herbal medicine has risen massively in popularity this decade, it’s partly because herbs often seem like a less dangerous alternative to conventional prescription drugs. (It’s also because they can successfully and safely be used to treat conditions like PMS or fatigue that doctors often consider beneath their attention.) But if herbs are powerful enough to work, they’re also powerful enough to cause trouble. Being “natural” is not a magical guarantee of harmlessness. Like drugs, herbs can have dangerous side effects, and can interact dangerously with one other or with conventional drugs from the pharmacy. That doesn’t mean people should quit using them, but it does mean that a little caution and plenty of fact-checking are in order.

The November 9 issue of the respected medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine published warnings of potential herb/drug interactions. The article
is written for physicians and hence full of million-dollar medical words like “hepatotoxicity” (dangerousness to the liver), but it should be comprehensible to any determined WND reader with a dictionary. If in doubt on any point regarding any substance you use or are considering using, ask your own doctor.

So, what does the article advise? It warns, for one thing, against using the popular herbs ginseng, ginkgo or ginger while pregnant, or at any time together with aspirin or aspirin-like painkillers like Advil (Tylenol is OK). These substances can all cause or prolong bleeding. Similarly, feverfew, which is often used for migraine headaches, may actually work — but not if you’ve already taken an aspirin-like painkiller (probably a bad idea for migraine in any case), which neutralizes its effect. And using kelp as a source of iodine may interfere with thyroid replacement therapies. Among the other herbs mentioned are chamomile, Echinacea, garlic, saw palmetto, St John’s wort, valerian, kava, and more; several specific prescription drugs or drug classes (such as anti-seizure or blood-thinning drugs) are also discussed.

Herbal medicines can be both effective and safe for many conditions. valerian root, for example, is a wonderful sleep aid that doesn’t make you groggy next morning (buy it here and make a mug of tea from it at bedtime), and African buchu leaf (if you can find any) is an absolute Godsend to women who suffer premenstrually from extreme bloating. But using valerian tea and barbiturates at the same time would be a very bad idea (as the article points out). The point is, it’s important to have a good idea of what you’re doing — particularly if you’re already taking “ordinary” drugs of the sort prescribed by your doctor or bought at the local drugstore. Aficionados of herbal medicine should be aware of all the effects of the herbs they use, not just the particular desirable effect trumpeted by the label or by their herbal dictionaries.

(The bibliography at the end of this article is a good place to look for whatever hard-science studies have so far been done on many herbal remedies. To locate an article from a medical journal online, click here for free MEDLINE service.)

Does First Amendment apply
to Native Americans?

Karen Lincoln Michel reports in the November/December Columbia Journalism Review that for journalists working for American Indian — owned newspapers, freedom of the press is still a remote dream. That’s because, due to quirks of the peculiar and pre-Constitutional sovereign-nation status of tribes, the First Amendment safeguards enjoyed by the rest of America are accorded here not to the reporter but to the owner of the press. And the owners of these presses frequently turn out to be tribal governments more interested in sugarcoated “coverage” of the tribe’s feel-good accomplishments than in serious journalism exposing political crimes, mismanagement, or other controversial news stories. As a result, active censorship is the order of the day. Read Michel’s full coverage here .

Fracas over IQ at Commentary

November’s Commentary carries a riveting back-and-forth regarding Christopher F. Chabris’s August article , “IQ Since The Bell Curve,” that’s got to be seen to be believed. Weighing in: “multiple intelligences” self-esteem maven and charlatan Howard Gardner; much-blackballed and -beset psychologist Christopher Brand, who insists on the reality and significance of intelligence; intelligence expert and IQ defender Arthur Jensen; Charles Murray (he of The Bell Curve fame); and many others illustrious, fair, and foul. Recommended reading — particularly Brand’s input. His book The g Factor: General Intelligence and Its Implications (not to be confused with Arthur Jensen’s book of similar title), first published in the United Kingdom in 1996, was “withdrawn” after negative media coverage and the ensuing Bell-Curve-esque frenzy, and its United States publication was canceled before any copies went on sale; Brand has since been fired from his teaching position at Edinburgh University, and has yet to find another publisher. Understandably, he’s a little miffed about the situation: “The social-science faculties of the English-speaking world have become the parade grounds of neo-Stalinist egalitarians,” he charges — and who will gainsay him?

Aircraft industry in the dock

Does the technology exist to manufacture airplanes orders of magnitude safer and cheaper than those currently in civilian use? A Web site devoted to the Burnelli aircraft paradigm suggests that a wrong turn was taken long ago in the development of civilian aircraft technology — very much as in the case of the Betamax videotape standard format — and that the mistake was deliberately maintained by industry cartels, to the extreme detriment of the public safety and pocketbook. (The neglected, or perhaps “suppressed” would be a better word, Burnelli technology was retained in military manufacture.) Worth checking out.

File under “excesses of the war on drugs”

“When I receive my financial aid each year I sign a document that says I agree with their drug policies and I am informed that if I am convicted of a drug offense I may lose my right to any future funding. The actual law is that if you are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony drug charge and the judge specifies in the sentencing that you are on a “drug hold,” you are ineligible for financial aid for the rest of your life. The restriction against financial aid does not apply to other felonies or misdemeanors. In other words, serial killers and child molesters, once released from prison, can rake in all the Pell Grants and Stafford Loans they can get their hands on, but a convicted marijuana user can never have access to a federally funded education.” Read the rest
of college student Bebe Maddux’s Salon report on the ludicrous disproportion between universities’ attitudes toward marijuana use versus binge drinking.

Not for bedtime reading

Fewer nuclear plant workers were on drugs last year than eight years ago, according to a drug-testing report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission unearthed last week by Mother Jones . Only 336 nuke workers tested positive for cocaine last year — gosh, let’s celebrate!

New Monica book online, supposedly

A British publishing company is publishing its new book about Monica Lewinsky’s affair with President Clinton on the Net this week. It’s called Monica Lewinsky: Behind the Myth. It’s based on material gathered for a British documentary on Lewinsky. And it’s here. Only trouble is, I can’t get it to work — not even on my relatively high-powered office computer — so no review will be forthcoming from this quarter. If you’ve got a better machine, though, you might have more luck.

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