From his college readings to legislation in Congress, the Vermont Senator has had unusual views on health.
On the day of his crushing victory in the New Hampshire primary, 74-year-old Bernie Sanders shot hoops with his grandkids. He has a good mid-range shot. Boom. Boom. Boom.
He sank it every time. “I have been blessed with good endurance and good health,” Sanders says, pointing to his athletic prowess.
As Sanders’ medical records make clear, he’s kept his good health through regular visits to the doctor for treatment of minor ailments. But he also has a long history of interest in alternative medicine, including a few ideas that are far outside the mainstream.
From linking sexual abstinence to cancer to blaming disease on the “ails of society,” Sanders has sometimes professed opinions on health as alternative as his political ideas. He penned essays in his twenties arguing that sexual repression causes cancer in women, and suggested through his late forties that the disease has psychosomatic causes.
Those ideas are nowhere to be found in Sanders’ current campaign proposals, but he has boosted them in the past, including in some freelance columns in alternative newspapers.
After he arrived in Congress in 1991, he backed legislation supporting acupuncture and other naturopathic remedies and held conferences on alternative health.
“No one denies the important roles that surgery and drugs play in treating disease, but people are now looking at different therapies in addition,” Sanders said at an alternative health conference in Burlington in 1996, one of several such forums he has sponsored.
The Vermont Senator’s free-thinking approach to medicine—which has ranged from the accepted to the unusual—is reflected in part by his home state and by his politics. The Green Mountain’s granola culture and 1960s expatriate population adheres to the alternative in everything, including medicine.
“I would classify [Bernie] as a huge supporter of alternative therapies and natural medicine,” said Michael Stadtmauer, a naturopathic doctor in Montpelier who attended an alternative health conference with Sanders in 2010. “In Vermont we have a general friendliness toward [alternative medicine] that doesn’t exist in other states.”
Sanders’ views on health appear to have changed over the years, but they began with some radical ideas.