Herbal Healing #2/4 ( By TIMEasia.com )

Even when a herbal prescription has centuries of use behind it, and when its production and sale are closely supervised by government agencies, things can go horribly wrong. Several dozen Japanese died in the late 1990s after taking a popular liver tonic called shosaikoto, which the national health insurance program had certified.

In the past few years, a quiet but historic campaign has been under way to subject traditional Asian treatments to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Governments in China, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong are pouring money into hard research on long-accepted cures. In his 1998 annual policy address, Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa vowed to make the city the world leader in research on traditional remedies, a drive that bore fruit with the opening in 2001 of the Institute of Chinese Medicine. Not to be outdone, Taiwan unveiled a $100 million plan that year, aimed at transforming itself into a "traditional Chinese medicine technology island" by 2006. Research into traditional cures is also blossoming at universities and other institutions outside Asia. The U.S. government's National Institutes of Health will spend $220 million on research and training in alternative medicines this year, a chunk of which will go toward the study of Asian remedies.

The forces driving the burst of interest in Chinese medicine vary from national pride to pure intellectual curiosity. And, of course, money. Herbal and other alternative medicaments clocked up a stunning $40 billion in sales in the U.S. alone last year.

Whatever the reasons, there is mounting evidence that these efforts to unlock the secrets of Asian remedies could produce tangible benefits for sufferers of diseases that have confounded both Western and Eastern schools of medicine―everyone from menopausal women to cancer patients. A number of new drugs spawned by this recent research boom are currently undergoing trials across Asia. The ailments they aim to treat range from the awful side effects of chemotherapy to the crippling pain of arthritis. As with all drug trials, the odds are heavily stacked against success. But if just one of these drugs makes it to the pharmacy shelves alongside artemisinin, the world's medicine chest, compartmentalized for centuries, will have grown immeasurably richer. And it will be yet another sign that what once seemed like two fundamentally opposed approaches to healing have finally begun to work in tandem.

It ought to be easy: take drug combinations that have been used for thousands of years and apply strict scientific tests to them to find out what makes them work. Then distill the active compound and make a pill. But life isn't that simple. The very fact that traditional remedies have been used successfully for centuries―precisely what should make them invaluable signposts to researchers―means that drugs developed from those formulas can't be patented. That, in turn, means that no international drug behemoth is driving this research. "Large pharmaceutical companies will only be interested if you can prove the medicine is a new treatment or you can derive new compounds from the traditional form," says Professor Ricky Man, who heads the department of pharmacology at the University of Hong Kong. Another daunting challenge, drugmakers say, lies in getting approval from the notoriously strict U.S. regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "The FDA requires that we prove how a certain medicine affects the body," explains a China-based executive with Swiss drug giant Roche. "That's easy with Western medicine but traditional Chinese medicine is like a recipe: you can't prove to the FDA what each ingredient does." Despite such obstacles, a few pharmaceutical titans, including Roche and Merck, do maintain small research projects in China. "We're very interested in traditional Chinese medicine, and we're acting on it," says an executive at Merck. "We're testing some plant ingredients to see how they affect the body."

There are theoretical hurdles too. Western science can't figure out what makes some of the most effective traditional methods work. Take acupuncture. While there is no longer any serious doubt in Western scientific circles that it works in alleviating pain and even lowering blood pressure, there is no convincing explanation of how it does so. As advocates of traditional Asian medicine see it, the West's narrow scientific approach misses the point of such ancient practices, which attempt to treat the body as a complex whole instead of trying to heal a specific illness. This quest for precision leads scientists to disassemble complex formulas in the hope of isolating a single compound that could cure one specific disease. That's anathema to Asian healers. "If you want to be true to traditional medicine, it is mixtures rather than one chemical that work," says Richard Eu, CEO of Singapore's 122-year-old traditional medicine maker Eu Yan Sang.

Western medicine approaches diseases in a "direct and unilateral way," says Ryoo Byung Hwan, vice president of life-science business planning for SK Chemicals, a pioneer company in herbal remedy research. Even when it works, says Ryoo, it fails to take into account the human body's complexity. By contrast, traditional cures are effective in combating chronic diseases caused by a variety of factors. "Traditional medicine doesn't analyze or attack the disease directly but it tries to return the body to balance, to its normal state."

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Herbal Healing #1/4 ( By TIMEasia.com )

Could Asia's traditional medicine chest hold the cures to age-old ills―and can Western science finally unlock its secrets? Simon Elegant investigates

Son Sarun came to the town of pailin in Cambodia's desolate northwest because of the stories he had heard: the $100,000 ruby found just over the next hill, the $25,000 sapphire that tumbled out of trousers being laundered in the river. He hadn't heard that the once gem-rich area had been largely mined out and all that remained was swamp and mosquitoes. When the 38-year-old former soldier came down with a headache and fever last year, he couldn't afford a doctor. He was no richer when blood appeared in his urine, sputum and excrement. One morning in December he collapsed.

"The doctor said the virus had already entered my brain," says the gaunt, hollow-eyed Sarun. The diagnosis: advanced cerebral malaria. In the past, that would have been a death sentence in Pailin, where the malaria parasite is resistant to all the main forms of quinine, the once miraculous antimalaria agent discovered in the bark of a South American tree four centuries ago. But Sarun's doctor wielded a potent new weapon, a non-quinine-based drug called artemisinin. After a week of daily shots, Sarun was back squatting in the muddy river, sifting rock and sand.

In the world of disease and medicine, artemisinin is like a gem discovered in a riverbed. For thousands of years, the plant it is derived from was used in traditional Chinese medicine to subdue fever. During China's brief war with Vietnam in 1979, the Chinese government gave its soldiers a crudely distilled antimalaria pill based on artemisinin―and it worked. Today, scientists at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, where artemisinin was first isolated, have further refined the compound into what is now "simply the most effective antimalarial drug we've ever had," says FranCois Nosten, a physician who has spent 16 years combating malaria on the Thai-Burmese border under a program run by Mahidol University in Thailand and Oxford University in England.

After a five-year delay caused in part by skepticism that a drug based on a Chinese herbal remedy could be effective, the World Health Organization recently gave official backing for the distribution of an artemisinin-based medicine in Africa. "We have the drug that will save lives," Nosten says. "Now it is a question of getting enough cash to pay for

it and then getting it to the people who are sick." The payoff could be huge. In Africa, where resistance to quinine is spreading rapidly, 2 million people, mostly children, die from the disease annually.

Artemisinin is the biotech world's moniker for qing haosu, a crystalline compound extracted from sweet wormwood, a weedy plant indigenous to China. The curative powers of such plants are the basis of Asian traditional medicine―and from China through the rest of the continent there are literally millions of plants, combinations, shamanistic traditions and household remedies claiming to beat disease or boost health. The vast majority of Asians believe in them, and many use them loyally. For decades, however, this seemingly blind faith has sparked deep suspicion among Western scientists.

In some cases, such skepticism is richly deserved. Consider the 30 fretful souls lined up outside a shabby row house in a suburb of Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. They're waiting eagerly on this steamy afternoon to see a man they call simply Shifu, or master. Inside, a ponytailed Chinese man in his late 50s sits at a wooden table. Each interview, conducted in full view of the expectant throng, takes just minutes. There's a quick feel of the pulse and blood pressure, a scan of the face and eyes, a pause to hear what's wrong, followed by a grim diagnosis ("your intestines are full of toxins, very dirty, your liver is gone, you are full of worms") and a prescription for medicine that will "detoxify" the patient. The Shifu mixes his own medicine upstairs (strictly no entry). He doesn't reveal his ingredients and his patients don't ask; they just glug down the brown liquid obediently. "I think I feel better," ventures a woman in her 40s after three weeks of this daily sludge and little else. "Anyway, I lost weight, though that might be because I spent so much time going to the toilet after I took the medicine."

Self-appointed herbal healers like this have long epitomized the world of traditional Asian medicine for many Western scientists: a chaotic, unregulated realm in which for every legitimate practitioner who spent years studying such texts as the "Taiping Royal Prescriptions"―first published in 992 and containing 16,800 formulas―there is some street-corner charlatan sweeping dried leaves and God-knows-what into jars that sell like crazy. All of which has led Western skeptics to dismiss much of traditional Asian healing as little better than witch doctoring.

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What You Can Do to live long and well ( By TIME - Jun. 13. 2004 )

Regular exercise not only helps to maintain flexibility, joint resilience and balance but it also keeps the mind alert and the cardiovascular system healthy. Walking and yoga are particularly good for maintaining fit abdominal muscles. A Canadian study published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that participants with weak abs suffered a higher death rate.

Asia's most elderly have suffered extreme stress in their lifetimes―multiple wars, hardship and the loss of loved ones. But many share a positive and easygoing attitude that lets them roll with the punches. A study of female centenarians done at the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts found they tend to be less neurotic than average, as did a similar study in Japan. Gerontologists report that psychological health is far more important than physical health for maintaining well-being in later life.

Dimming the lights and putting on some mood music might have more benefits than simple stress reduction. A 1997 study published in the British Medical Journal tracked 918 men aged 45 to 59 for a decade and found that those who ejaculated less than once a month were twice as likely to die during the study period than men who had orgasms at least twice a week.

Increased sexual activity, however, does not mean that swinging singles have any advantage over their coupled counterparts. A 1996 report by the RAND Center for the Study of Aging confirms that married men live longer than confirmed singles. Gerontologists suspect that better nutrition, attentive care during illnesses and the stress-reducing benefits afforded by a steady home life are possible factors. Professor Jean Woo, head of Hong Kong's Sau Po Center on Aging, says stimulating companionship in old age is an additional indicator of longevity.

Mature couples may hesitate to have children, citing studies that link older mothers with an increased risk of birth defects. But a recent study in the British journal Nature found that women who begin childbearing in their 30s or 40s tend to live longer than average. An earlier Harvard study suggests centenarians are four times more likely than average to have had their first child while in their 40s.

Shut-eye is essential for repairing daily cell damage, which over time could lead to cancer and breakdown of organ function. A recent survey by the American Cancer Society found that participants who slept an average of seven hours a day had the lowest mortality rates. Too much sleep, however, might be worse than not enough: nine hours per night was more risky than four. David Phillips, associate director of the Asia Pacific Institute of Aging Studies, points out that excess sleep can lead to depression, sloth and mental inactivity―proven impediments to long life.

After good genes, smart eating habits might be the single most important longevity factor. The standard platitudes apply: fruits, vegetables and unprocessed carbohydrates such as rice should make up most of your diet; protein should come mostly from fish or legumes (lentils, chick peas or soy beans); and go easy on the red meat. Moderate consumption of alcohol is O.K. A long-term study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that daily consumption of a glass of wine, beer or any other kind of alcohol can significantly reduce the risk of coronary disease and heart attack.

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Mr. Yanagisawa(71),front center. from the top of the highest mountain

Japanese ex-junior highschool teacher. Mr. K. Yanagisawa. was reported to have conquered successfully the world tallest mountain. Mount Everest(8848m) 22. May.

He was 71years and 62days old and oldest person ever to reach the summit of the mountain.

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The Fires Within #1/8 ( By TIME - Feb. 23. 2004 )

What does a stubbed toe or a splinter in a finger have to do with your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, suffering a heart attack or succumbing to colon cancer? More than you might think. As scientists delve deeper into the fundamental causes of those and other illnesses, they are starting to see links to an age-old immunological defense mechanism called inflammation--the same biological process that turns the tissue around a splinter red and causes swelling in an injured toe. If they are right--and the evidence is starting to look pretty good--it could radically change doctors' concept of what makes us sick. It could also prove a bonanza to pharmaceutical companies looking for new ways to keep us well.

Most of the time, inflammation is a lifesaver that enables our bodies to fend off various disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites. (Yes, even in the industrialized world, we are constantly bombarded by pathogens.) The instant any of these potentially deadly microbes slips into the body, inflammation marshals a defensive attack that lays waste to both invader and any tissue it may have infected. Then just as quickly, the process subsides and healing begins.

Every once in a while, however, the whole feverish production doesn't shut down on cue. Sometimes the problem is a genetic predisposition; other times something like smoking or high blood pressure keeps the process going. In any event, inflammation becomes chronic rather than transitory. When that occurs, the body turns on itself--like an ornery child who can't resist picking a scab--with aftereffects that seem to underlie a wide variety of diseases.

Suddenly, inflammation has become one of the hottest areas of medical research. Hardly a week goes by without the publication of yet another study uncovering a new way that chronic inflammation does harm to the body. It destabilizes cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attacks and potentially even strokes. It chews up nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer's victims. It may even foster the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitate their transformation into cancer. In other words, chronic inflammation may be the engine that drives many of the most feared illnesses of middle and old age.

This concept is so intriguing because it suggests a new and possibly much simpler way of warding off disease. Instead of different treatments for, say, heart disease, Alzheimer's and colon cancer, there might be a single, inflammation-reducing remedy that would prevent all three.

Chronic inflammation also fascinates scientists because it indicates that our bodies may have, from an evolutionary perspective, become victims of their own success. "We evolved as a species because of our ability to fight off microbial invaders," says Dr. Peter Libby, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "The strategies our bodies used for survival were important in a time when we didn't have processing plants to purify our water, when we didn't have sewers to protect us."

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