The Future of Healing
The Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at UC Irvine is a clinical, educational, and research organization where ancient and once-exotic therapies such as acupuncture, naturopathy, herbalism, tai chi, and yoga are documented and used to help heal Orange County's medically adventurous.
For example, Dwight Nance, who studies the therapeutic properties of bee venom, probiotics, and garlic extract, has established that the juice of the goji berry (Lycium barbarum), long used therapeutically in China, can increase an individual's subjective assessment of "energy level, athletic performance, quality of sleep, ease of awakening, ability to focus on activities, mental acuity, calmness, and feelings of health, contentment, and happiness."
In the first rigorous scientific study done outside China, Nance and fellow researcher Harunobu Amagase found that goji juice, which costs about a dollar a day to use, "significantly reduced subjective ratings of fatigue and stress, and improved regularity of gastrointestinal function" when used daily for 14 days.
"There is a real, statistically significant effect," Nance says.
Since that first study, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Nance has replicated his experiment three more times with independent groups and gotten the same results. "Replication is the all-important thing in scientific studies," says Longhurst. "You have to show the same results more than once to convince people."
To ensure the objectivity of his goji juice study, Nance designed it as a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment. Half of the study subjects received goji juice while others received a similar drink with no active ingredients, and neither the researchers nor subjects knew who was getting the real juice until the results of the experiment were recorded.
After demonstrating that goji juice works, Nance moved on to studies aimed at unraveling how it works, studying the blood chemistry of subjects who are taking the juice or an extract of it in a clinical setting, measuring changes in stress hormones, antioxidant enzymes, and a group of compounds called cytokines that provide information about the immune system.
Gradually, thanks to such studies, those respected-but-unproven cures are moving from folklore and testimonials toward accepted and scientifically supported clinical practices.
There's no question the Samueli Center's affiliation with prestigious UC Irvine helps legitimize alternative and complementary medicine in many ways. Besides the impact of the scientific research, the school's seal of approval on the enterprise elevates it in the community and among professionals. Longhurst and Nance are tenured faculty members at UC Irvine, which means they are eminent in their respective fields. Skeptics can't help but be swayed to see successful scientists and academics devoting their careers to the study and practice of alternative and integrative medicine.
"Because it is such a prestigious institution, the quality of the research is assured," says Najm. "People who have resistance to this area of medicine see the university's involvement and think maybe they should be more open to the idea."
Having the Samueli Center integrated into the University of California "is remarkably important," says Dr. Gena Kadar, a chiropractor who chairs the Samueli Center's annual Women's Wellness Day event. "It is huge in terms of perception, both to the medical community and the public."
Having the center at UC Irvine also means that future doctors are learning about alternative medicine from the beginning of their careers, an important factor in removing the stigma from this type of care.
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