Good for the Body and for the Soul?

Thank you for the article on reiki, "Light Touch in the Operating Room" [July 26]. I practice a variant healing energy system called seichim. Belief certainly enhances a positive result. My use of seichim this winter, and my belief in its effectiveness, prevented a bad episode of flu and sinusitis from progressing into pneumonia. I have also had success using this technique to reduce panic attacks in myself. But seichim and reiki are more than belief. Living organisms are electrical in nature. Because of this fact alone, it is hard for me to believe that healing energy, and a way to channel and direct it, would not exist.

Marianne G. Petrino-Schaad

Arlington

The article was well-written and informative -- to a point. It did a good job describing the tensions perceived in the integration of conventional and alternative health care. I was pleased to see an honest discussion of criticisms of reiki and other so-called touch therapies. Mention of the Quackwatch Web site was especially welcome; I often direct my patients to this site for useful discussion of nonconventional care.

What was distinctly lacking was mention of the spiritual concerns that use of reiki raises. This technique was developed by a Zen Buddhist monk in the 19th century. It is based upon a theory common to Eastern religions involving the existence of a life force or energy that must flow uninterrupted in order to maintain health. Disruptions in energy flow are accordingly believed to cause disease. At the highest level of reiki practice, masters learn how to contact spirit guides and use them in their techniques. The Post's Christian and Jewish readers will want to know this because such practices are antithetical to their beliefs and contradict biblical teachings. Patients who receive a recommendation to consider reiki therapy should discuss the matter not just with their physicians but also with their pastors and rabbis. The article takes reiki seriously as a possible physical healing technique; The Post should not ignore the potential spiritual consequences.

Kenneth L. Abbott, MD

Prince Frederick, Md.

That reiki has made its way into the inpatient settings of various hospitals certainly seems to reflect people's basic desire for human touch in a world of ever increasing medical technology. I am encouraged that researchers are pursuing and investigating the effectiveness of this (and other) modalities, based on "impressive anecdotal evidence."

For two years we have been offering "Reiki for Relaxation" outpatient sessions in a group setting. A group of dedicated and committed volunteer reiki masters treat 15 -- 25 patients (including a few caregivers) during the course of a session. Though you quote NCCAM that "none (of these therapies -- i.e. reiki and similar) has been proven scientifically to be effective," we have been able to gather some impressive self-reported benefits from our reiki recipients.

Life with Cancer is a community-supported program, with the mission to "enhance the quality of life of those affected by cancer by providing education, information, and support." All programs are offered free of charge.

Sabine Gnesdiloff, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C

Program Manager

Life with Cancer

Inova Fairfax Hospital

Falls Church

A Surprising Omission in Abortion Story

The decline in the abortion rate during the 1990s is a subject that has received little coverage from either the academy or the mainstream media, and I appreciate your willingness in "Abortion: Just the Data" [July 19] to give this topic some attention.

However, I must say that I was somewhat disappointed that none of the experts quoted in the article cite legislation as a factor in this decline. While one can only speculate about the impact of other factors, considerable social science evidence indicates that state-level pro-life legislation has played a role in the 1990s abortion decline. For instance:

* In 1992, virtually no states were enforcing or had informed-consent laws; by 2000, 27 states had informed-consent laws in effect.

* In 1992, no states had banned or restricted partial-birth abortion; by 2000, 12 states had bans or restrictions in effect.

* In 1992, only 20 states were enforcing parental-involvement statutes; by 2000, 32 states were enforcing these laws.

A number of academic studies find that these types of legislation result in abortion declines. Furthermore, a comprehensive study published by the Heritage Foundation analyzed abortion data from every state from every year between 1985 and 1999. Holding a variety of economic and demographic factors constant, the study found that parental-involvement laws, Medicaid funding restrictions, informed-consent laws and partial-birth abortion bans each resulted in reductions in state abortion rates.

Michael J. New, PhD

Visiting Health Policy Fellow

Heritage Foundation

Washington

Their Loss Is Their Gain

I was one of four "Successful Losers" [Lean Plate Club, July 26] profiled in the Health section. The article was written in celebration of the anniversary of the Lean Plate Club, an online gathering place for people interested in weight loss and good health.

Having lost more than 160 pounds, I was eager to share my experience with Washington Post readers. While I enjoyed seeing my name in print, I felt the story missed the most important point of my transformation by focusing on my efforts at exercise only. The article neglected to mention that I attribute my diet, a regimen that includes natural sources of fat like butter, coconut oil, lard and raw dairy, as the chief catalyst responsible for my success.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence that supports alternatives to the low-fat, high-grain diet that has failed to stem the rising tide of obesity in this country. As a former 400-pound chain-dieter, I was a worst-case example of America's obesity problem. I think readers deserve to know the whole story and then be allowed to make up their own minds about what may work best for them.

Richard Morris III

Woodbridge

I was quite surprised that you reported that studies show that "20 percent of overweight people not only manage to lose pounds but maintain a healthier weight long-term." I wonder if the studies were conducted on representative samples of the American population that is overweight.

The last item I read in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that fully 95 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese and who lose weight, regain the lost weight within five years.

Donald W. MacCorquodale, MD, MSPH

Washington