Pentagon should consider alternative battlefield medicine
By Pat Linton and Dr. Wayne B. Jonas
As the war in Afghanistan has shown, wars of the future will not be fought in places like the Normandy beaches or the plains of Central Europe.
Advertiser library photo Feb. 5, 2002
Studies indicate acupuncture can relieve pain and could be helpful to wounded combatants.
Advertiser library photo Feb. 5, 2002
That landscape also was supported medically by stockpiled arrays of medicines for battlefield use and well-equipped hospitals near major European cities behind the front lines. But today, in the remote corners of mountainous Afghanistan, or perhaps the lonely stretches of sand of Kuwait or Iraq, this type of access for the wounded is not possible.
Rather, far from the nearest M.A.S.H. unit or military hospital, wounded soldiers will need innovative kinds of medical approaches. And with the threat of biological and chemical warfare with new weapons and few new ways to defend against them the search for new medical knowledge and simple treatments is more vital than ever.
But life-saving devices can't be simply taken off the Pentagon shelf, and healthcare breakthroughs don't happen overnight. Promising medical treatments require years of careful, demanding scientific research. If we hope to save soldiers' lives tomorrow, we must make wise healthcare investments today.
As Congress and the country rally to support our military, one of the surest ways to give soldiers the clinical tools they need in the battlefield and to give their families and other civilians the security they deserve is by studying the merits of research-based complementary and alternative medicine treatments to serve troops on the battlefield.
Earlier this year, in a ground-breaking report, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy recommended that the Defense Department undertake a bold research effort examining the role of complementary and alternative medicine in military operations.
As medical research including work under way today in Hawai'i confirms the value of innovative approaches to reducing pain, stopping bleeding and treating wounds, this new medical knowledge will help save lives, both military and civilian.
The idea behind using complementary and alternative medicine in military environments is simple and urgent.
For example: Research already has proved that pain can be relieved or stopped through acupuncture, a relatively simple form of treatment that soldiers can administer themselves.
Newer research shows that innovative techniques, such as low-level lasers, can accelerate the rate of wound healing in the skin and in the eyes. Bleeding may be eased, and scarring can be reduced, through bioelectromagnetic treatment. And low doses of homeopathic medicines and herbs the kind of natural salves and ointments that have been used for centuries, long before the development of high-tech medicine can speed the recovery time of wounds and treat infections.
All of these treatments can be applied on the spot, helping wounded or ill soldiers before they can be evacuated to far-away field hospitals.
Chemical and biological warfare will surely remain a threat on the new battlefields of the Third World. Protecting troops and civilians from these fearsome new weapons will require more research in the laboratory. Luckily, promising progress already is under way. If bioterrorist agents such as anthrax and viruses are a threat, homeopathic approaches may help protect those who are exposed to them. For example, ultra-low-dose exposure to the potential biowarfare agent tularemia has been shown to reduce mortality from that agent in laboratory animals by 22 percent. Ultra-low doses of the neurotoxin glutamate can, according to lab research, reduce brain damage from stroke by 40 to 50 percent.
Recent alarm over the possibility of a radiological weapon a so-called "dirty bomb" should prod defense and homeland security agencies to plan for radiation damage.
Homeopathic doses of Apis melifica a form of bee venom and histamine have the potential to reduce radiation injury. The damage caused by ionizing radiation might also be eased, research suggests, by enhancing the bioenergy radiating off the human body.
The discovery of advanced scientific applications to support the healthcare needs of the military in the past has resulted in the translation of these interventions into similar important improvements in the medical care of civilians.
One pertinent example in this initiative derives from 20 years of research at Princeton University, supported in part by Defense Department programs and private support.
This research is uncovering the "biology of precognition." This is not science fiction, but rigorous investigation into early detection and remote viewing of future events.
Any advance warning about a potential terrorist attack could help lead to an orderly civilian evacuation while the suspected threat is assessed, thus helping save time and save lives.
The war against terrorism requires a mobilization on many fronts. Our military must fight enemies it pinpoints. National security planners must fight outlaw regimes and terrorist cells that wish us harm. Scientists must do their part, too: fighting enemies such as disease, biological agents and radiation weapons that terrorists may someday try to unleash, aiming to kill American troops as well large parts of the civilian population.
Our national security can be diluted if we fail to anticipate new kinds of threats or are reluctant to invest in new kinds of safeguards. Developing ways that complementary and alternative medicine can be used on the battlefield and the homeland will help scientists prepare innovative defenses against the new dangers we face.
This is an era when scientific knowledge will be more valuable than ever in the fight to preserve our safety, health and liberty.
Patrick Linton is executive director of Five Mountains Hawai'i, which advocates healthy living on the Big Island, and founding chief executive of North Hawaii Community Hospital, an integrated-medicine, acute-care facility on the Big Island.
Dr. Wayne B. Jonas is director of the Samueli Institute for Information Biology in Corona del Mar, Calif., and Alexandria, Va. A former Army physician, he was director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health from 1995 to 1999.