The Right To Take Veggies As Medicine

COMMENT

January 17, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

I should be dead by now.

That's what Dr. Ahmad Shamim's holistic diet regimen seems to be telling me. Thirty-two years of hamburgers, ice cream, chocolate cake and fluoride toothpaste should have done me in. Not to mention that I've never had carrot juice or a side order of seaweed.

You thought you were making progress by taking the skin off your chicken and striving for five fruits and veggies a day? Dream on. One look at Dr. Shamim's recommendations for disease prevention and you wonder how you're walking around.

No refined sugar, white flour or anything made from them. No white rice. No coffee, no tea, no chocolate. No Coke or Pepsi ("We must save the young from the dangerous cola habit," the doctor writes).

No commercial anything. No canned anything. No lunch meat, hot dogs or pork. No fast food. No ice cream, commercial peanut butter or store-bought eggs. Only fresh juices (preferably made from organic carrots, cabbage, spinach and other vegetables) made in your own juicer.

The list goes on and on. Plus, there are all sorts of vitamins to take and an "intestinal cleansing program," a truly frightening process involving a seven-day liquid diet and coffee enemas.

So what's the story? Is Dr. Shamim a medical visionary? Or a loose cannon who must be stopped before he hurts somebody?

This is Dr. Shamim's dilemma. He's the Laurel doctor the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance has accused of incompetence and hit with a 2 1/2 -year suspension of his medical license.

Dr. Shamim and his legion of patients say the mainstream medical establishment persecutes him and other holistic doctors because it doesn't understand nutritional therapies. But none of Maryland's other 10 holistic doctors have been disciplined in the past four years.

The board says he mishandled treatment, kept poor records and didn't inform patients his methods were unorthodox. But The Sun has heard from more than 100 patients who say they sought Dr. Shamim specifically because he practices holistic medicine.

Dr. Shamim admits his documentation may have been less than adequate. He's been censured before, and even other holistic doctors have said at least one of the cases cited by the board showed poor judgment.

Is this reason to discipline him? Probably. To take away his

license? That seems extreme, considering no malpractice suits have been filed and no one has complained of being harmed by his treatments.

One thing is certain: No matter how the rest of us white flour-eating, cola-drinking skeptics feel about holistic medicine, there is a serious demand for it. Many people suspect mainstream medicine, and they feel passionately about their right to an alternative.

The medical board's "arrogance and belligerency is matched only by the most ruthless of dictatorships," writes the Rev. Herbert H. Eaton of Columbia.

Some patients, such as Pasadena's Betty Williams and E. June Offenderlein of Wernersville, Pa., swear they'll sue if Dr. Shamim loses his license.

Mrs. Williams, 58, certainly looks healthy. She practiced her own brand of nutritional medicine before she turned to Dr. Shamim last August. She's never trusted regular doctors or drugs; she talks about Nuprin as if it were cyanide.

"Doctors set themselves up as gods," she says. "I'm reasonable. If I thought I had a cancerous mole and they could take it off with a laser, I wouldn't be completely against it. But as a normal practice, I try to stay out of doctors' offices."

Mrs. Offenderlein's story is a doozie. A biopsy showed she had breast cancer in 1976, but she refused the mastectomy her surgeon recommended and turned to Dr. Shamim. While he did not rule out surgery, she chose alternative treatments which, she claims, cured her.

When she suffered a ruptured appendix 12 years ago, she says her body "built a wall of scar tissue around the appendix, shielding my body from the poison, and it healed by itself!"

What would people like this do if a holistic doctor weren't around? Mrs. Williams says she'd go back to treating herself. It's a safe bet many others would either forgo treatment or, worse, resort to potentially dangerous, non-regulated health clinics.

Isn't it better for them to go to a holistic medical doctor than risk their lives with quackery?

Dr. Shamim's diet may be extreme. But aren't the principles behind it the same ones health experts have preached for years -- less fat, more fruits, vegetables and fiber? Isn't his belief in sleep, fresh air and exercise common sense?

One huge problem with holistic medicine is that the evidence supporting it is anecdotal -- stories of miraculous recoveries akin those told by believers in faith healing. Until there is more analytical data, skepticism will persist. Still, there's no reason why people who want to go this route should be stopped as long as they know their options.

Spinach juice and seaweed, it's not for me. But, hey, it's a free world.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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