THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 2, December, 1950
(Pages 85-94; Size: 25K)
[COMPILER'S NOTE: "On the Lookout" is a section found in every issue of THEOSOPHY magazine.]

[December, 1950]


Since there is so much irresponsible advertising and merchandizing of various so-called cures, and so prevalent a tendency -- even with the generally cautious medical profession -- to use new drugs or forms of treatment on the theory that they are "innocent" until proven "guilty," the Lookout department takes this occasion to cite briefly certain perturbing reactions to some loudly hailed panaceas. That hazardous practices are difficult to dislodge, despite the indications of adverse after-effects, is demonstrated by recent history on the vaccination front. Nevertheless, it is well to be at least aware of whatever "second thoughts" on the part of medical authorities become available in public print.


According to the New York Times of September 29, the New York City Department of Health has since March been conducting a widespread study to determine whether or not the occurrence of poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis) is related to recent immunization against other diseases. What prompted this study, the Times reports, is that English and Australian scientists have found "of the children who contracted paralytic polio a considerable proportion had been immunized within the previous month with diphtheria toxoid or whooping cough vaccine, and that the site of the paralysis was more apt to be in the limb injected."

The Consumer Reports for August and the A.M.A. Journal for September 16 pass on the observations of the scientists referred to, who are public health officers in London and in Victoria, Australia, respectively. They advise the medical profession to "avoid inoculation of youngsters between five and 16 against whooping cough or diphtheria in communities where there is an outbreak of polio." (Dr. Bertram McCloskey, Victoria Health Department polio officer, reported his findings in the British medical journal, the Lancet, April 1, and Dr. Dennis H. Geffen offered similar conclusions concerning some polio cases in London, in the Medical Officer, April 8.)

In an apparent effort to belittle or minimize this report, Dr. John F. Mahoney, New York's Commissioner of Health, has declared, "the English and Australian investigations do not claim that immunization is the cause of polio. What they do claim is that, under conditions existing in England and Australia, there are indications that during a polio epidemic there may be a greater susceptibility to the disease among persons who have recently been immunized than among those who had not been immunized." Nevertheless, the findings are sufficiently alarming to have caused the Health Department to immediately commence tabulation of the immunization history of all polio victims during the past two years.


Although two thousand cases have been investigated, the City will not release results until all case histories are available, and this may take a long time. A preliminary report may be released early in 1951. Should the conclusions of the above scientists prove to be correct, obviously any delay in informing the public will increase the number of polio victims. Consequently, numerous pediatricians all over the city have been urging Dr. Greenberg, who is conducting the survey, to make a report to the N.Y. Academy of Medicine, but he has refused to do so now on "data which are inconclusive." However, it is significant that the Journal of the American Medical Association for September 16, in commenting editorially on the English and Australian studies, stated that "postponement of such immunizations for a few months until the end of the epidemic would appear particularly discreet."

This survey highlights the fact that the use of vaccines and inoculations may have numerous insidious and ramifying effects hitherto unsuspected. It is a striking fact that the rise of polio, cancer and similar mysterious diseases has gone hand in hand with the increased use of inoculations, and one wonders what great strides might not be made in preventing these "killers" if a small portion of the millions of dollars spent on research could be diverted into investigations similar to those pioneered by the foregoing English and Australian scientists. Our Public Health Officials might then be obliged to reveal some of the "inconclusive data" which might prove quite conclusive to the general public.


We turn now to other medical practices which appear questionable in the light of recent disclosures. In many cases, the most serious objections a student of Theosophy might bring up are not even intimated by research findings, but the misgivings of medical men themselves are the best evidence in favor of the theosophical point of view toward medicine. The theosophist is aware that, as Mr. Judge points out on the second page of The Ocean of Theosophy, "our science as yet ignores the unseen, and failing to admit the existence of a complete set of inner faculties of perception in man, it is cut off from the immense and real field of experience which lies within the visible and tangible worlds." The influence of ESP research is still far from being integrated with, for example, medical research, although the discoveries of such a scientist as Edward Bach (soon to be reviewed in THEOSOPHY) should leave no doubt about the vital connection between the finer senses of the inner man and the science of disease-detection and cure. [Note: The article on Edward Bach is included in this grouping that you are now reading; it is number 7. --Compiler.]


The first "misgiving" to be noted concerns spinal anesthesia. In a report to the 1950 meeting of the American Neurological Association, Dr. Foster Kennedy, head of the Neurological Department of the Bellevue Hospital (New York), reported, in conjunction with Drs. Abraham S. Effron and Gerald Perry, that spinal anesthesia can result in paralysis of the legs, and "should be reserved for those patients unable to accept local or general anesthetics" (Los Angeles Times, June 14). The doctors stated that this practice can seriously injure the spinal cord, and that complications may appear weeks or months after a patient has had a spinal injection.

The Journal of the A.M.A. more conservatively published (July 1) a summary of a study made in Stockholm to determine the sequel of spinal anesthesia. Replies to questionnaires sent to 771 patients after spinal anesthesia disclosed that 174 (22.2 per cent) had various disturbances attributed to the anesthesia. Of the 93 patients with persisting complaints, 85 were re-examined, and in about one-third of the cases the complaints were attributed to other factors. This still leaves two-thirds of the complaints at the door of spinal anesthesia.


It has for some time been known that intrathecal (spinal) medication in cases where the neural tissue is already damaged causes frequent complications, including paraplegia (paralysis of lower limbs) and even death. In an article entitled "The Dangers of Intrathecal Medication" (J.A.M.A., July 30, 1949), the authors remark that--

the intrathecal space is so frequently chosen for the administration of serums, drugs, antibiotics and anesthetic agents that it is sometimes forgotten that numerous serious and tragic sequelae have been reported following the use of this route.... The introduction of each new therapeutic agent into the intrathecal space has been inevitably followed by reports of serious damage to the nervous system.
The authors conclude their report (after stressing the toxic effect of administering penicillin and streptomycin into the spinal fluid) with the statement that spinal injections of drugs, anesthetics and antibiotics are often "meddlesome mischief," and produce neurologic complications that are "often serious, permanent, disabling and unamenable to any known therapy...."


Antihistamine "cold-cure" promotion, as the Consumer Reports for March stated, has "rolled up one of the biggest patent medicine bonanzas since the day when Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound and Indian Root Medicine were first sweeping the country." Approved by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter sales (no prescription required), these drugs have been used with complete lack of discrimination by the public, urged on, of course, by enthusiastic and irresponsible advertising on the part of manufacturers (and also in this case by articles in Reader's Digest and Collier's).

Besides such minor (though potentially dangerous) adult reactions as dizziness, nausea, and loss of alertness and coordination following use of antihistamine pills, there is also the more pressing danger of children (apparently more sensitive to the drugs) being dosed as heavily as adults, or treating themselves to large quantities of the sugar-coated pills (several deaths from this cause have been reported, one child dying 15 hours after receiving the equivalent of only 4 pills).


Carefully controlled experiments reported in the J.A.M.A. have now given clear evidence that the antihistamines are not effective in the treatment of colds, and it is incumbent on the Food and Drug Administration to put an end to its wavering policy in this regard and to the unrestricted sale of the drugs. In the J.A.M.A. (September 23), mention is made of the "common practice among doctors to give routinely some sort of antibiotic such as penicillin, aureomycin or chloramphenicol to their patients with colds," and the flat statement is made that "there is no solid evidence that the true cold is influenced by antihistaminics or antibiotics, nor is there any reliable method of prevention."

The J.A.M.A. (June 3) reported the official finding of the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board that, after "significant and intensive tests" it was decided that the antihistaminics are without effect against true cases of common cold. A spokesman for the board said there was absolutely no important difference in reaction between the groups of subjects given antihistamines and a control group given placebos (dummy pills of no potency). All had been infected with the common cold virus.


In addition to the relatively mild adult reactions to the drugs noted above, the J.A.M.A. (June 24) describes three cases of hemolytic anemia (anemia due to breakdown of the red blood cells) and several cases of agranulocytosis (deficiency of one of the principal types of white blood cell) caused by taking antihistamines over a period of two months or more. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the Food & Drug Administration will not withhold effective action much longer, with respect to this particular miracle drug.

In general it has been found by experiments with pretended "cold remedies," as army doctors related (J.A.M.A., May 13), that "it is possible to convince the public that almost any treatment for colds is of value," and "even the most eminent men of science almost invariably lose all sense of critical judgment where their own colds are concerned." Yet, notwithstanding this evidence of the "power of suggestion," it is rare to find the psychic factor considered in relation to the common cold.


The latest fad in the cosmetic industry is the development and exploitation of estrogenic creams and hormone lotions. (Estrogen is one of the endocrine secretions of the ovary, responsible for a large number of important metabolic functions.) An advertisement by Helena Rubinstein, for instance, makes the glowing but medically unfounded statement that "Estrogenic Hormones are the most effective agents yet discovered for helping women to look younger." The Consumer Reports for May raises the question, Are these products safe for use? -- and states that

any cream which might possibly be effective is ruled out because estrogens in medically "effective" dosages are without question unsafe for self-administration. The cosmetic industry has solved this problem neatly by offering in its hormone creams only minute quantities of hormone. Most creams on the market are claimed to contain 10,000 units of estrogen per ounce. It is a nice round number, and a two-ounce jar is supposed to suffice for one month. In fact, however, 10,000 units is one one-thousandth of a gram, or about one fiftieth of a normal woman's average daily secretion of the hormone.
The Food & Drug Administration sees no evidence that estrogen in such amounts can cause trouble, yet, as the Consumer Reports very justly remarks, estrogen is a very potent substance, and the way it works and the effects it has are by no means fully known. This reservation is borne out in a statement by Prof. Hakon Rydin of Stockholm, head of the state pharmaceutical laboratory, and a specialist in biological research, who warned (Washington D.C. Times-Herald, February 17) that hormone preparations -- including some cosmetics, skin ointments and beauty creams -- are dangerous if used without medical supervision, since they effect changes in human cells and tissues. "They particularly affect the sexual organs of women," Prof. Rykin asserted, "and may cause alterations or changes which can result in pathological growths and profound transformations." He cited the case of a 17-year-old girl who showed as many as 16 different changes in her sexual organs after treatment with hormone skin cream, and stated that cases of bleeding and pre-natal difficulties may be traced to the indiscriminate use of hormone preparations. Growths which may be mistaken for cancer also have occurred, and have been operated on in the belief that they were cancerous, he added.

Prof. Rykin suggested in a report to the state medical board that the best safeguard was to list hormone preparations among medicines which cannot be obtained without a doctor's prescription, and to inquiries from worried women and cosmetic manufacturers, he stated that his warning was primarily directed against strong preparations. "At the same time," he concluded, "face creams and other beauty preparations must be investigated very seriously. Either these preparations contain hormones in sufficient quantity to be effective, in which case they are liable to be dangerous, or they have such weak concentration of hormones that they are harmless."


Radiologists and public health authorities are showing increasing concern over the practice of fitting shoes in retail shoe stores with the aid of fluoroscopes. These machines employ X-ray tubes which emit roentgen rays. The fluoroscopic method of shoe fitting is used most often on children. As the Consumer Reports for April remarks--

the bones of children are highly susceptible to the harmful influences of X rays. An intensity of X rays that succeeds in making visible the bones of the foot is potentially capable, in a child, of injuring the sensitive "epiphyses," or growing margins. Such injury, resulting in possible bony malformations, can result from repeated fittings of shoes with the fluoroscope. Since children are likely to need new shoes several times a year, during the first years, and since several pairs of shoes may be tried on at each fitting, X-ray exposure sufficient to cause injury to the bones may easily occur.
The salesmen (and anyone else in the range of the radiations) may be exposed to considerable amounts of radiation and the risk of acute radiation burns, with subsequent inclination to skin cancer. The logic of using the fluoroscopic method is not discernible to orthopedic specialists, almost all of whom are agreed that there is no necessity for such a "colorful bit of salesmanship." The J.A.M.A. (January 28) reported that "the minimal stunting dose of roentgen rays has been stated to be a quarter of the erythema dose for infants and half the erythema dose in older children," and the New England Journal of Medicine (September 1, 1949) continued: "Supposing a child is exposed to an erythema dose ... (on several machines this is reached with a few exposures) the delay of a week or two before skin changes manifest themselves allows them to be unnoticed or at best to be attributed to irritating socks or hot feet."


The safety of other phases of X-ray therapy is also much disputed in medical circles. An editorial answer in the J.A.M.A. (January 28) on the question of roentgen therapy for sterility in women quoted the following statement from Dr. J. P. Greenhill's Year Book of Obstetrics and Gynecology (1948):

F. Crainz ... made a very extensive study of the literature on this subject. He found that in nearly all experimental irradiation of plants, insects and small mammalia it is possible to bring about true mutations, which are always of the recessive type and never result in improvement of the race.... The author concludes that although no one can now say with certainty that irradiation can cause hereditary anomalies in humans, it is equally impossible to deny this eventuality....

H. J. Muller, in a talk on "Radiation Damage of Genetic Origin" at the University of Chicago, said that important damage to the individual can result from a repetition of doses far too small to produce such obvious effects as reddening of the skin, loss of hair, changes in the blood count or other signs previously used in calculating harmful effects from radioactive substances.... The radiation dose received by a person during a single x-ray examination of the abdomen probably is sufficient to cause as many changes in the genes as would occur naturally in the course of the individual's reproductive life. He also said that each such dose probably carries about a 10 per cent chance of handicapping or killing a descendant in some (usually remote) future generation. These are strong words but they show what one prominent geneticist thinks about the use of x-ray to overcome amenorrhea and sterility in women.


An editorial in the J.A.M.A. (January 28) examines the dangers involved in indiscriminate use of thyroid extract, dangers ranging from tachycardia (excessive rate of heart beat), auricular fibrillation (muscular tremor of heart), nervousness, and insomnia, to damage to the liver through over-stimulation of the adrenals. "There is suggestive evidence," the editorial adds, "that the use of excessive doses by pregnant women may damage the nervous system of the unborn child and lead to mongolism." The reason advanced for the dangers attending improper use of this product is that the thyroid extract exerts its effect directly or indirectly on a chain of endocrine glands which interact with each other, e.g., thyroid, pituitary, adrenal and sex glands. The effect of thyroid medication is therefore not limited to one type of tissue. The editorial points out that one chief factor in the abuse of thyroid extract is that "some of the laity" -- particularly, obese women -- have learned that the drug can cause reduction in weight, and have therefore either increased the dosage prescribed by their physician, or have purchased it without doctor's advice either as thyroid or concealed under some fancy name in patent medicine. The reduction in weight is not a sign of recovery of normal body balance, but exactly the reverse, as it is due to disturbances in metabolism.


Dr. Theodore Cornbleet, University of Illinois dermatologist, urged at a session of the 1950 A.M.A. meeting that unrestricted sale of bromides be banned, on the ground that bromide accumulations often cause a variety of skin eruptions and may bring on symptoms of serious mental diseases. Maintaining that bromide "addicts" are on the increase, Dr. Cornbleet pointed out that the drug, which piles up in the body because of the system's inability to pass it off readily, will sometimes bring on simulated psychoses, such as manic-depression, which persist until the drug is counteracted. The figures on bromide-induced mental disease are difficult to obtain because the bromide cause is not easily detected. The average mental hospital does not have laboratory equipment fine enough to determine bromine levels in the blood, he maintained. Dr. Cornbleet recommended that the drug be sold only on non-repeatable prescription (N.Y. Herald Tribune, July 1).


The foregoing accounts of seven questionable practices indicate that "cures" and formulas may play havoc with a totally different portion of the body than the one being treated, or with the emotions and the mind -- all of which combines to suggest that not only new remedies, but a new appreciation of the body's integrity is in order. (On this point, readers may wish to review the teachings of Avicenna, discussed in THEOSOPHY, January and February, 1949.) [Note: Both articles follow this one. --Compiler.] As dearly-won "experience" shows medical wonders to have an insecure basis, the lay public, it is hoped, will exercise caution as to "new" desperate and drastic forms of treatment, seeking instead simple correctives -- with a confidence in nature's own therapeutic defenses. Avicenna, Paracelsus, and every philosophical physician before or since, have had the conviction that each person can do much to keep himself well, and theosophic doctrines will help this conviction to spread for the benefit of doctor and patient alike.

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