Maharishi’s medical research gains respect

Major universities are exploring alternative medicine and seeking the Iowa school’s help.
Des Moines Register, Aug. 19, 2002

Fairfield, Ia. – Most major medical schools just a few years ago would have turned up their noses at the studies going on at Maharishi University of Management.

Things have changed.

Major universities are asking the Fairfield college to join them in research on alternative medicine and therapies, millions of dollars are coming in from the National Institutes of Health, and medical journals are publishing more studies on which the university has worked.

The University of Iowa, University of California-Irvine and University of Hawaii are among schools conducting research with the school. Maharishi turned away a few other institutions because the small school lacked enough staff to work with them all.

“Now all the big universities are getting into this field,” said Dr. Robert Schneider, director of Maharishi’s Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention. “They have never done it before, so they are turning to people like us who have been doing it for 30-some years.”

With the growing interest in alternative approaches to medicine, such as meditation and herbal treatments, Maharishi is gaining respect around the country.

“We are pioneers. Pioneers are rarely understood in their time,” said Bill Crist, a Maharishi spokesman. “The people that were frowning at us a few years ago are starting to take notice.”

The new respect is due, in part, to the fact that “a growing number of American people use complementary and alternative medicine and want to know” which therapies work, said Anita Greene, spokeswoman for the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The establishment of the National Institutes of Health’s alternative medicine center in 1998 also lent more credibility to the field because it applied rigorous scientific standards to relevant research, Greene said.

Following the federal government’s lead, many universities that had done little with alternative medicine began to explore the area.

The University of Iowa set up a complementary and alternative medicine program that same year and held its first conference on the topic, said Dr. Nicole Nisly, associate professor of internal medicine and director of the alternative medicine program at University Hospitals.

The U of I held its third such conference Thursday and Friday in Iowa City. It focused on therapies not commonly taught in medical schools or used in hospitals, such as acupuncture, herbs, massage therapy, meditation and yoga, Nisly said.

In 1999, the U of I added an optional class on alternative medicine for students going into various medical fields, she said.

“Many surveys have been conducted showing there is a growing interest for a variety of reasons,” Nisly said. “Those include a fear of drugs, a desire to participate more in one’s own care, and also for philosophical reasons or personal beliefs, such as an interest in things that are natural.”

Maharishi University, where the natural-medicine center has received nearly $18 million from the National Institutes of Health over the past 15 years, has found that its researchers are strict about scientific standards because they work more often with other, larger universities, Crist said.

The work also is more likely to be published in scientific journals, where such standards are important, he said.

“The research has to be impeccable and much more carefully done because everyone is looking at us now,” Crist said.

Kenneth Walton, a fellow at the Maharishi natural-medicine center and an associate professor, worked with St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago on a study that was published in the April edition of the American Journal of Cardiology. The study suggests that senior citizens can reduce hardening of the arteries, a condition that can lead to heart disease, by following a Maharishi Vedic Medicine routine that includes special exercises, dietary changes, stress reduction through transcendental meditation, and herbal food supplements.

“I think it will help us to have people understand that the approaches we are working on are helping with physical health, not just social health,” Walton said.

Maharishi and the U of I are just beginning to work together in a similar study on whether holistic therapy can slow or reverse the progression of heart disease.

Jill Panzer, a Fairfield resident and graduate student at Maharishi, said as interest grows in natural medicine, it’s only to be expected that more people will look to Maharishi.

“It makes perfect sense to me that all these other universities are coming to us,” said Panzer, sitting in a Fairfield Amoco that encourages customers to “Try our Organic Coffee!”

Her friend Linda Fitzsimmons said it’s difficult to judge whether local residents who aren’t interested in meditation and other nontraditional therapies are changing their attitude toward the school along with those in higher education.

“Most of my friends do meditate, so I’m not sure what those who don’t think of us,” said Fitzsimmons, who attended the university in the early 1990s. “I’m sure it probably would help” the reputation of the school, though, to work with major universities.

Nisly, from the U of I, warned that not all alternative medicine programs should be considered viable. A large amount of research must be conducted to prove that certain treatments help rather than harm, she said.

“Some are safe, some are dangerous. Some are based on science, some are not,” Nisly said. “So I would say that, in general, the therapies are receiving greater acceptance both on the public side and within the health-care community, but they still have to be looked at one practice at a time.”

Complementary and alternative medicine

WHAT: Defined by the federal government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a group of diverse medical and health-care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.


* Alternative medical systems, which include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine.

* Mind-body interventions, which include meditation and prayer.

* Biologically based therapies, which include substances found in nature, such as herbs.

* Manipulative and body-based methods, which involve movement of body parts, such as chiropractic manipulation or massage.

* Energy therapy, which includes the use of so-called energy fields.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 26, 2002.
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