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CRENSHAW : Holistic Healer's Remedy: Eat Right

June 04, 1995|ERIN J. AUBRY

Three months ago, Florence McClain was at wit's end.

The 59-year-old mother of seven was overweight, suffering from a hernia and peptic ulcers, and in constant pain. Three doctors prescribed a total of 10 drugs, but they did nothing to remedy a situation that was quickly going from bad to worse.

"I couldn't make it up the stairs by myself. I couldn't sit, stand or sleep," recalled McClain. "I was really sick."

Desperate for relief, she sought out Nathan Rabb Jr., a holistic medicine practitioner recommended by a cousin. Though Rabb's office was a scant block from McClain's house, she had never heard of him, nor did she understand the finer points of holistic healing.

All that has changed: Today, McClain is 60 pounds lighter, pain-free and an enthusiastic advocate of Rabb's diet and herb regimens.

"I feel good, good, good," she declared. "I'm a total vegetarian now. This was really a blessing."

To the scores of African Americans like McClain, burdened with ailments from heartburn to cancer, Rabb has a simple message: Heal thyself. The minister and naturopathic herbalist, one of a few in South-Central Los Angeles, lives by these words.

Since launching his Holistic Health Services practice four years ago, Rabb has ministered to South-Central Los Angeles and beyond with dietary regimens that he insists are key to individual--and sociological--health.

"Dietary habits determine the quality in life in many ways," said Rabb, seated in his upstairs office at 7050 Madden Ave. "I believe a number of health problems--heart disease, cancer--are linked to diet. Among blacks, the percentage is even higher."

If he had his way, Rabb, an ordained minister raised in the African Methodist Episcopal church, says he would replace traditional Sunday dinners of fried chicken and other fatty, greasy food with his stock in trade: a diet that eschews fried foods, white flour, meat and processed sugar. On Rabb's plate: fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and herbs.

"There is a systematic way to be healthy, and this is it," said Rabb, who at 54 appears strikingly youthful. "[Black people] hang on to a slave diet. We're also locked into a county system that dictates to us what food to eat, what kind of health treatment we get."

Developed in the 1800s, holistic medicine is actually a contradiction of modern-day terms, since holistic practitioners such as Rabb hold no medical degrees and prescribe no drugs.

Many doctors find such alternative medicine hard to swallow because of its lack of scientific basis. But the unconventional methods have been gaining acceptance in the mainstream medical establishment. Last year, an affiliate of the Sharp HealthCare medical conglomerate began offering Indian folk medicine as part of its range of treatment.

While the medical establishment agrees that a proper diet is an essential part of good health, Rabb goes several steps further in declaring that diet is the most important factor.

Like many other holistic practitioners, he focuses not on cures--he promises none--but on helping the body to build up its own natural defenses through colon cleansing, vitamin therapy and other holistic methods.

He admits that he can do little for patients who come to him in the later stages of serious diseases. But for those seeking preventive health measures, or trying to shake a general run-down feeling, Rabb says he can do much. His treatments start at $50 and usually go no more than $140.

Rabb knows well the power of self-determination. In the late 1970s, he was working in aerospace at McDonnell Douglas, making a comfortable salary as a manager, yet the study and practice of holistic medicine held far more allure for him. In 1992, he finally "stepped out in faith" and went to holistic healing full time. Rabb also hosts a weekly talk show on KTYM (1460-AM) and conducts frequent seminars on the history and principles of holistic treatments.

"Look, nutrition may not get you to heaven," he says, "but it makes life here a little easier."

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