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7th June 1998

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Your Health

It's got to be Hip Wo Street when you fall ill

I remember won- dering on my first visit to Hong Kong whether the place was populated by hypochondriacs.

Virtually everywhere I turned - I came across traditional medicine shops - tiny little boutiques crammed with strange and surprising concoctions that had me staring wide eyed and open mouthed.

Spawned by the unlikely union of Queen Victoria's nation of shopkeepers and the enterprising and energetic sons of the yellow emperor, the British colony of Hong Kong lasted for a 150 years.

During this period it provided a home for a host of hardworking folk who, unhampered by self-serving politicians and myopic government regulations, got on with the single-minded purpose of making money for themselves.

When the British left last year, they handed back to China the fourth largest financial centre in the world, a region where the single biggest industry seems to be the creation of wealth.

But beneath the mercenary minded exterior of the average Hong Kong person there beats a traditional Asian heart - and nowhere is this more evident than when his health is at stake.

Get ill in Hong Kong and you have a whole cornucopia of traditional remedies to deal with your symptoms.

To some westernised minds, the traditional medicine shops of Hong Kong may seem nothing more than exotic quackery - until one remembers that not too long ago today's fashionable remedies like acupuncture, naturopathy and aromatherapy were all relegated to the realm of quack remedies. How times have changed!

The traditional Chinese medicine shops are full of exotic wares - quixotic concoctions such as ground gecko and crocodile bile to treat asthma - and even capsules (appropriately enough named Trumpet Brand ) for the relief of flatulence.

And you don't have to search for dubious advertisements in the newspapers to improve your performance in the bedroom. Sexual prowess being as common and serious a cause of anxiety here as everywhere else in the world, Great Lover Spray openly vies for space on the shelves with Strong Penis Pills. The latter, I was told, includes extracts of the male sex organs of seals, snakes and stags.

My favourite Chinese pharmacist Fung Sam had his shop in a mudukku alley off Hip Wo street, near the hospital where I used to work, where cramped up shops so reminiscent of Pettah spill over on to the crowded pavements.

Large wicker baskets overflowing with dried herbs greeted you as you walked through the entrance. Behind the counters, tiers of unmarked drawers held the secrets of fifty centuries of Chinese medicine, from chrysanthemum flowers to cicada skin. A couple of ancient functionaries would shuffle between the counters to weigh out these mysterious substances. Quick-witted octagenerians with minimal signs of senility or deformity, they were walking advertisements for the efficacy of their remedies.

Above the drawers, huge glass jars lined the shelves. They reminded me of the sweet shop of my childhood - but instead of bultos. and bull's eyes these jars contained monkey gallstones for ulcers, seal's testicles "to replace vital essences" and dried turtle shells for kidney ailments. The most expensive ingredients were laid out on satin cushions beneath the glass counters - items such as expensive ginseng from Manchuria and stag penises (known colloquially as deer's tails).

Not everything in these medicine shops originates in China - suppliers for the Chinese medicine trade range from deer ranchers in New Zealand to ginseng farmers in America. Wild animals are particularly vulnerable to poachers - on the mainland, the demands of the medicine men have greatly reduced the stocks of deer and bear.

Now I have great confidence that Sri Lanka, despite all its problems, is a good place to live in - and is a land blessed with some competent, caring doctors.

But if I have to fall ill, let me have the good fortune to do so in Hong Kong - amid those weird and wonderful medicine shops in Hip Wo street, where my old friend Fung Sam could fix me up with a concoction of rare roots and animal spare parts.

How much more interesting than a simple course of antibiotics!

That chelating feeling

Once a week a group of indi- viduals solemnly find their way to a room in one of Colombo's Private Hospitals like members of a secret fraternity. Three and a half hours later they emerge with plaster strips on their hands as if they had been stigmatized. Far from it. These are the folks who have been to Chelation Therapy. For the uninitiated Chelation is the infusion of various nutrients through the blood vessels that removes toxic heavy metals and deposits of calcium that help form plaque in the arteries.

Chelation which has been around for over thirty years was brought to Sri Lanka by our fearless leader and animal rights activist - one of the original "pennies" from Heaven. Having heard eloquent attributes of this therapy I decided to subject myself to be chelated. The experience was most chelating.

The diversity of the group who come for chelation - their varied backgrounds and their authoritative knowledge on a wide spectrum of subjects was initially overwhelming for a simple minded mortal like myself - who started as an eavesdropper but later was able to make miniscule contributions to the general discussions. Let me present a thumbnail sketch of the colourful and vociferous personalities who make up the group which I call the "Chelators Forum".

There is doctor "Gee" who saunters in looking cool, calm and collected in his cream safari suit and hanky around his neck. The good doctor is a prolific writer on subjects of self mastery, personal development and a host of such topics all designed to make his readers effective and successful human beings.

Next in line is Theo - the mobile encyclopaedia whose mental dexterity was phenomenal. From discussing complex financial structures and Corporate take overs he would pontificate on the breeding of dobermans (mind you the reds and the blues) to chlorination of wells, the preservation of frogs and the rearing of exotic fish. He would also use therapy time to browse through Fortune magazine and even calculate intricate construction details for his pet project. The only time he tainted his record was when he voluntarily admitted having partaken of a juicy steak - which he affirmed was after a lapse of two years. He was never absolved of this misdemeanour - and would often be reminded by our fearless leader of his weakness for nasi goreng in the days of his reckless past.

Our next personality is Fareed - the legal luminary from the hills - whose fund of quotations was limitless. His arrival was always anticipated with delight - because he would literally bring with him - the fruits of labour in the form of juicy mandarins, oranges and apples. Partaking of these fruits -particularly freely given by a member of the legal profession (generally known for their taking ways) made them even more enjoyable. As an exponent of the theory of selective ethics he would expound various illuminating theories and beliefs.

He started off as a quiet onlooker - but quickly warmed up to be an active participant of the Forum. This is Nalla - also from the hills whose knowledge of the Bible - and his formidable wealth of trivia was mind boggling. One of his favourite preoccupations would be to ascertain the levels of various metallic substances in his body and to do so he would read diligently and quiz the doctors. I was somewhat mystified by this - but later realized he must have been concerned about attracting lightning ! Nalla's collection of trivia was universal - in fact it was his disclosure that the cost of producing potatoes locally was Rs. 24/- per kilo - something I was totally ignorant of. He could wander from poultry farming, cattle breeding and a host of other nuggets of wisdom with the speed of a cursor on a computer. He once narrated a story - on how Eskimos slit seals, stuffed them with small birds then buried the lot for a year after which it was exhumed and feasted on. This was definitely one story that did not find favour with our fearless leader - while the rest of the Forum thought it was pretty innovative for Eskimos to "seal" a banquet for a whole year!

Every Forum needs a receptive audience - the Chelators Forum is no ' exception. Equally varied are the folks - there is Mahinda who makes his livelihood exposing others - who together with his sister would wander down memory lane with ease. Her presence also gave us all the added bonus of Yoga breathing exercises - while being chelated.

In addition to the others there was Lumpy and Yours truly who would contribute from the sidelines whenever it was possible to get a word in edgeways. I almost forgot Doctor "Etch" - who despite his clean honest demeanour was suspected of speeding up the drip - something he vowed he never did. Guess he was not convincing enough to dispel such wicked, suspicion, shame!

The Forum would also be graced by none other than "Ravi P.C." who would breeze in - and exchange pleasantries with all those assembled. In case you are curious about Ravi's credentials - let me set the record straight. Unlike the usual "P.C.'s" who are a dime a dozen - this unique title stands for "Pioneer Chelator". In fact it was Ravi's personal experience with chelation that prompted our fearless leader to bring the therapy to Sri Lanka. Just to show he has not lost touch with we common chelators - Ravi himself subjected himself one afternoon for therapy. Despite the incessant chatter he slept almost through the entire session - a picture of total relaxation.

Long may the Forum flourish !!

Ken the Khelator

What's it all about?

For 30 years, chelation therapy has been the target of a bare-knuckled attack from nearly every camp in the medical-industrial complex - professional organizations, medical journals, government regulatory boards and the insurance industry.

The reason: It provides a safe, effective and inexpensive alternative to the drugs and surgery used to treat illnesses such as heart disease. In other words, chelation therapy threatens the viability of some powerful industries, including the multibillion-dollar-a-year cardiovascular and coronary-by-pass field.

How does it work? In its most common application, chelation therapy overcomes the arterial clogging that leads to angina in a simple but elegant way. The synthetic amino acid EDTA is infused into the bloodstream, it then travels through the blood vessels and removes toxic heavy metals and deposits of calcium that help form plaque. As the level of plaque decreases, more blood can flow to the heart and body.

EDTA also mobilizes the calcium in soft tissues, where it should not be stored, and moves it to the bones. By acting as a calcium-channel blocker, it may reduce blood pressure by 10 to 20 points and eventually eliminate the need for medication. Chelation therapy is not only safer than the conventional methods of treating such ailments, but also far more powerful.

People with hardening of the arteries often experience an improvement of 90 percent or better from chelation therapy, according to Kirk Morgan, M.D. director of the Morgan Medical Clinic and assistant clinical professor at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. In his treatment of heart patients over the past ten years, some needed 40 treatments to improve while others needed only 10 or 20. "There is increasing evidence," he says, " that chelation using EDTA is a relatively inexpensive, effective, safe and even preferential but often neglected technique for medical management of cardiovascular and related diseases." While the effects of by-pass surgery are limited to heart functioning, chelation therapy enhances the entire circulatory system by cleansing vessels and organs.

"We have seen dramatic results with people who have vascular disease in the legs and who have sores from diabetes or other causes," says Michael Janson, a Cambridge physician and director of the Center for Preventive Medicine on Cape Cod.

Chelation may also be effective against a slew of other illnesses, including macular degeneration (a disease that causes blindness and that many ophthalmologists believe untreatable), scleroderma, hypertension, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and high cholesterol. And yet, despite the evidence, the medical establishment has maligned chelation therapy ever since articles about the treatment first began to surface.

Is the controversy based on facts about chelation or on a reluctance by medical associations to endorse alternative treatments? If chelation therapy flourishes, after all, costly procedures such as by-pass surgery and expensive drugs may be harder to market.

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