Toward Real Alternatives

Spirit in the Material World — By on September 29, 2009 at 12:00 pm

7404Kava1The Kava plant grows in southeast Asia and the islands of the south Pacific. Pacific Islanders have known about its calming properties for centuries. They use the plant in beverage form to treat anxiety and insomnia. It’s also popular with tourists trying to relax into a vacation. One benefit of Kava is that, unlike many prescription anti-anxiety drugs, it’s not sedating unless taken in large amounts. It’s also not physically addictive. When I weaned myself off Vicodin following back surgery this summer, Kava tea took the edge off the withdrawal without knocking me out.

About ten years ago, Kava became popular in Europe as an alternative medication for anxiety. That’s when reports of liver toxicity started to emerge. A large research study in Germany found that Kava can lead to liver damage. This resulted in several countries banning Kava. In the United States, the FDA published a warning about Kava and restricted large wholesale trade of the plant. You can only find Kava in small specialty shops in the U.S.A. Worse, there’s no regulation of Kava, as there would be with an FDA-approved drug. Though Kava has the potential to be a cheap alternative to addictive, sedating anti-anxiolytics such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium, it won’t be widely available anytime soon.

This might sound reasonable except for a couple inconvenient facts:

1. Many of the people who sustained liver damage in the German study were mixing Kava with alcohol and/or other pills harmful to the liver. The study also included people who mistakenly used the toxic leaves and stems, instead of the root. Oh, one more thing – a major pharmaceutical company that makes anti-anxiety drugs funded the study. Anyone in the mood for a conspiracy theory?

2. Guess what one is of the most common dangers for FDA-approved prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the Western world. That’s right – liver damage.

We need to expand the national conversation about healthcare beyond mudslinging and hysterics about socialism and euthanasia. The question shouldn’t just be “Who’s paying?” but also “How can we make healthcare better and more efficient? How can we make it easier to be healthy?” A major step toward improving healthcare would be the funding of large-scale independent studies of homeopathic remedies. We need this type of research to find out which alternative remedies work and which ones don’t. For example, many in the homeopathic industry praise shark cartilage as cure for everything from arthritis to cancer. Along with the popularity of shark-fin soup in China and Japan, this has put several species of shark on the endangered list. A few small studies have found shark cartilage does nothing, at best. If the shark that “donated” the cartilage lived in polluted waters, it can make you sick. Massive research studies are needed to separate the homeopathic wheat from the fraudulent chaff.

Pharmaceutical companies spend the most money on drug research. The FDA makes them prove something works safely. The government and the AMA do their best to ensure the studies are reliable and valid. Sometimes questionable results and dangerous drugs turn up, but most of the time the research is solid. For all our griping about drug companies, they’ve given us medicines that change and save lives. However, a drug company has no motivation to perform scientific research on a drug like Kava because they can’t patent it. I don’t blame them for not funding studies on something from which they can’t profit. Public and private grants need to fund university research of these drugs. You need to study thousands of people to get statistically reliable results when health issues are on the line. That’s expensive. Insurance companies and drug companies aren’t going to pay, so who will? The government? I’m all for that, but I shudder when I think about the bare-knuckle debate that would ensue as lobbyists run up bills in the millions.

Maybe the Church needs to do it.

If you need a soup kitchen or a house built or a bunch of Bibles, we’re on it. We’ll spend plenty of cash to bedazzle the unsaved with multimedia presentations, because Power Point brings people to Jesus, yo. But maybe it’s time for us to think differently when it comes to serving God and our fellow humans. Think about how revolutionary a medical study funded by a congregation or a denomination would be. What if your church became famous for making Kava available and safe? In fairness, denominations fund universities that do great research, but perhaps we should start taking an interest in things like medicine and science that extends beyond debates about politics, creation, or abortion. There are lots of ways to change the world.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , ,


  • James says:

    It makes me sad when people refer to perfectly valid beliefs as “hysterics”. Talk about slinging mud.

    Sorry, couldn’t read the rest of the article after that.

    • Ryan Jones says:

      A belief is only valid when it stands up to objective reasoning. The recent concerns about euthanasia and socialism in the healthcare debate are not reasonable. They are purely emotional “hysterics” with very little if any basis in the reality of the current debate. When people encounter such a belief and totally put reasoning on hold by closing their minds to the argument it can then be honestly and humbly called hysterical.

    • annie says:

      Ryan, it stands up to reasoning. (And, standing up to reasoning has nothing to do with the definition of hysterical. Rather, it has to do with the emotional state of the person stating the opinion. A person can be totally right, and still be “hysterical”.) People just disagree with you. That doesn’t make them hysterical. I could argue that an urgent push for universal healthcare is a hysterical reaction to skewed statistics and a society based on entitlement. I won’t, partially because I do listen to the argument, and partially because I give people who disagree with the benefit of the doubt.

      So then, having rejected the erroneous premise of your definitions, you are left saying that anyone who holds such a belief must do so because they are not reasonable and are close-minded. It disallows that, in fact, reasonable people may just think you are wrong (and ignores that you have put forth your opinion as not only fact, but the basis on which other concerns and opinions should be judged.) That is a convenient way to avoid actually having to engage the fundamental problem in communication, which James tried to draw out.

      Honest maybe, but I believe incorrect, and doesn’t read to me as very humble at all.

    • Jordan Green says:

      Annie, your response doesn’t sound at all hysterical at all. It sounds well-reasoned, thoughtful, and based in reality.

      Unfortunately, much of what is being portrayed as the anti-health care movement in the press HAS been hysterical and unreasoned (“It’s socialism!” is not a reasoned argument).

      Now whether that’s media bias or simply a ploy to get ratings, I don’t know, but I agree: the opposition to health care’s legit thoughts have been drowned out by a very loud fringe. The problem is, the fringe still exists, and somehow they’re getting their message out more effectively.

  • annie says:

    I finished it, but I agree, James.

    I also find the idea intringuing, but am ambivalent about spending church money on drug research when we still aren’t helping the poor the way we should. If we were doing the basic things well, then it would seem more feasible to me.

  • Kim Gottschild says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that thre are many ways to change the world, and looking for ways to heal people or aleviate symptoms in ways that would afford accesibilty to all people would be a great feat for churches/denominations for sure. Why should we settle for the current control of the system, why couldn’t we/our churches/denominations take charge? Helping the poor could most certainly come from improving their health by helping to bring affordable, natural products to market.

    What I also find intersting is that, while the government certainly has a repsonsibility through the FDA to make sure drugs and remedies are safe, it might behoove our nation to look at studies already conducted in european countries regarding natural health remedies. In Germany I was prescribed homeopathics and phyto-remedies on a constant basis – and they worked. Luckily, I am now able to order or purchase many of those items here now, but they are obviously not paid for by my HRA.

  • sarah says:

    it’s an interesting thought. thanks for taking the time to articulate your argument.

    but it seems flawed on several levels. the first is that if a denomination performed a clinical trial on itself, it would be an extremely biased sample group, and wouldn’t come close to meeting the gold standard for evidence-based medicine, which is a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. even if you finished the study, it wouldn’t accomplish anything because the results would be so skewed, they would not apply to the general population.

    why spend time, energy and resources on a study that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny? aren’t there more pressing issues for the church to address than testing a specific herbal remedy?

    and lastly, it’s concerning when you advocate a supplement that’s been recalled by the FDA – it was recalled for a reason. putting people into liver failure, which leads to death or a liver transplant, is a hefty price to pay for expressing an unsubstantiated opinion.

    • Ryan Jones says:

      There are many dangerous drugs that are FDA approved that could cause organ failure when combined with other drugs. The article even goes so far as to explain the fact that the people who suffered liver failure were mixing the Kava with alcohol or taking the wrong portions of the plant.

    • Steve says:

      First, I was advocating FUNDING by a church, not a clinical trial on itself. Yeah, that would be really bad science. As for the liver problem, I thought I addressed that. HUNDREDS of drugs available OTC and by Rx cause liver damage in large doses or when combined with other substances. The european studies demonstrate that kava is no different. And I’m not advocating wholesale approval, I’m advocating solid, unbiased research to find out exactly what the side effects are. You can buy Kava, like thousands of other homeopathic remedies, now. I’m saying they should be researched so we know what works, what doesn’t, and what’s dangerous. The drug companies normally fund such research, but they have no stake in researching something they can’t patent.

    • EP says:

      I like your reasoning, and I agree with you to a certain extent. But there are ethical problems associated giving research subjects a substance that you know can harm them. If a medical study has any reason to believe that the substance being tested is harmful to the subjects, even in the middle of a trial, the researchers have to cancel the study. I don’t think any university IRB would approve a study that involved giving subjects a substance that had already been proven to be dangerous to find out exactly how much of that substance was required to do damage.

  • Kathleen says:

    I think it’s great that you’re thinking about things like this. I don’t know a thing about medicine or funding or research beyond the most superficial level (plus I’m Canadian), but I do agree that it’s worthwhile to consider new and different ways that we as a church can serve the world. Why not through medical research? I for one really appreciated this article. What a fresh and innovative idea.

    (Also: I’m not sure you were suggesting that denominations test on themselves, as Sarah seems to believe).

  • Jim says:

    I like the idea, of at least thinking where would the church be best to put its money – wouldn’t we be doing much better at taking care of people by putting money toward research on health issues over spending money on delivering power point presentations and other slick advertising.

    Great thought.

  • Jennifer says:

    At first read I thought “GREAT IDEA!” and then upon further thought…in many, many cases we don’t need the “research”. Homeopathic remedies and natural supplements have been used for CENTURIES-MUCH longer than today’s drugs-and have been proved effective. I could write a book on my experiences…in short, I almost died before giving birth, due to an extremely toxic liver after 20 years on standard medical drugs used to control my asthma and allergies. After that harrowing experience, I quit going to an MD, stopped my daily drugs, and switched to alternative healthcare and supplements. I’ve been pharma-drug free for 7 years and have never been healthier.
    I think it is more a case of educating people than funding more research. Most of my church family looks at me like I have two heads and think I’m into “that New Age” stuff when I suggest natural methods for health, as opposed to believing that their MD is infallible. I’m not knocking doctors-I know there are some incredible MDs out there! But I have also come to realize that God gave us cures…that are right under our feet, instead of coming from a lab.
    All that to say I’m very happy that you addressed this issue!!

Leave a Reply


Leave a Trackback