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Recommended books, journals and newletters.
Thanks to Joe Magrath, Ph.D., for reviewing the book titles marked with an asterisk.
A close look at 'alternative' medicine
By Professor Shaun Holt. Published by Craig Potton Publishing, July 2010. ISBN 9781877517211. Contains 124 pages. Price $29.99: “This book provides an evidence-based overview of the use of complementary therapies for cancer. It has been written for anyone with cancer and for health care professionals who care for such patients…Whether we like it or not, our patients are using CAM and other natural therapies, and health care practitioners need to understand the basic principles of these therapies and know which have a solid scientific basis and can be recommended. This is particularly the case for patients with cancer, half of whom will use CAM therapies and almost all of the remainder will look at using them and seek information, often from their doctor. With respect to health care professionals, the utility of the book is neatly captured in the powerful forward written by Dr Belinda Scott who says....”no patient should waste their valuable energy, time or money on treatments that have not been scientifically proven...it matters to me that Shaun referred to sound scientific studies when recommending or dismissing a therapy.” In addition, the book is endorsed by the world’s leading expert on CAM therapies and the co-author of Trick or Treatment, Professor Edzard Ernst, who says in the cover notes...”this book is a much-needed assistance for vulnerable and often desperate people. It should be made available for all cancer patients who feel tempted to try some form of complementary medicine.” Some of the research findings are surprisingly robust, for example, a study of over 600 participants with chemotherapy-induced nausea not only demonstrated clear benefits of ginger but also determined a dose-response relationship. There are numerous fascinating facts; for example, shark cartilage is promoted as a cancer cure on the basis that sharks do not get cancer, whereas the reality is that over 40 types of cancer have been described in sharks.” Reviewed by Richard Beasley, Professor, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, Wellington. New Zealand Medical Journal (17th December 2010, Vol 123 No 1327)
FACT is a quarterly online review journal that aims to present the evidence on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in an analytical and impartial manner. All volumes of the journal can be accessed via this link by clicking on the 'contents' section. [Editor in Chief: Professor Edzard Ernst, Laing Chair in Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, UK.]
For forty-one year old Scott Tatro, owner of a successful excavation business, the summer of 2000 was typically busy until pain and soreness brought him to see a chiropractor, expecting to be back at work the next day. He would never return, instead relegated to a completely immobile position for months due to a brain stem stroke and resultant Locked-in Syndrome that occurred during treatment. His book, Locked In, completely compiled by using a mouth/headstick to type, details the unimaginable difficulties the condition presents and the heroic courage necessary to function at the most minimal level of movement. (January 2010)
Barrett, S. and W. T. Jarvis, eds. (Prometheus. 1993) This book is the best compendium of print reviews on various aspects of "alternative" medicine (AM) and consumer protection. There are 36 chapters on specific AM topics, fad diagnoses, and individual AM proponents as well as general consumer protection information on issues of health and nutrition. Although The Health Robbers does not cover the latest fads, most of the material remains current. S. Barrett produced a few earlier, less-complete versions of this book so be sure to get the 1993 edition.
Edited by Edzard Ernst (Societas Imprint Academic, 2008). The scientists writing this book are not 'against' complementary or alternative medicine (CAM), but they are very much 'for' evidence-based medicine and single standards. They aim to counter-balance the many uncritical books on CAM and to stimulate intelligent, well-informed public debate. Topics include: What is CAM? Why is it so popular? Patient choice; Reclaiming compassion; Teaching CAM at university; Research on CAM; CAM in court; Ethics and CAM; Politics and CAM; Homeopathy in context; Concepts of holism in medicine; Placebo, deceit and CAM; Healing but not curing; CAM and the media.
Written by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst (Bantam, 2008). In 'Trick or Treatment?', the truth about the efficacy of alternative medicine is rigorously addressed for the first time by the scientist uniquely qualified to do so: Professor Edzard Ernst, the world's first professor of complementary medicine. Writing with him is the respected science writer, Simon Singh, who also brings his considerable scientific knowledge and scrupulous impartiality to this most controversial subject. Together, they present a hard-hitting, groundbreaking examination of more than thirty of the most popular treatments, such as Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Reflexology, Chiropractic and Herbal medicines, delivering the ultimate verdict on all of them.
Written by R. Barker Bausell (Oxford 2007) For both the scientist and the non-scientist, this book has lots of examples and illustrations, and doesn't burden the reader with occult and arcane statistics. R. Barker Bausell, Ph.D., who served for five years as research director of the University of Maryland's NIH-funded Complementary Medicine Program (now called the Center for Integrated Medicine), bares the absurdities and lack of research support for "complementary and alternative" methods. After stating why "CAM" research should be regarded skeptically, he dissects the published evidence and concludes: "No CAM therapy has a scientifically plausible biochemical mechanism of action over and above those proposed for the placebo effect. Of course, just because there is no rational explanation for why something should benefit a medical condition or reduce a medical symptom doesn't mean that this something can't do so. Unfortunately, the results from high-quality, randomised, placebo-controlled trials and systematic reviews have demonstrated that CAM therapies don't do so, which regretfully leads me to conclude that CAM therapies are nothing more than cleverly packaged placebos. And that is almost all there is to say about the science of CAM."
Paperback version published on 7th May 2009. (See link below for a review of the book.)
Hurley, Dan, (Broadway Books, 2006) The word "natural" in the title refers to illness and death caused by use of natural products. In the USA, one can put anything in a bottle (without evidence for safety and efficacy, or purity), call it a "dietary supplement," append a vague claim (such as supports immunity) and sell it with impunity. However, the book describes the general problems of using herbs that are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals. For example, an herb (stephania) in Belgium was found to be contaminated with aristolochia in 1993. Aristolochia caused kidney failure, and then kidney cancer, the same problem was found shortly thereafter in the USA.
Shelton, Jay, (Prometheus, 2004) The subtitle of this book should probably be: "Why it Sometimes Seems to Work." This is a detailed explanation of the tenets of homeopathy and its major variants, and how perceptions mask facts. I do not like the author's writing style, and any general text on "alternative medicine" is likely to have an adequate description of homeopathy for most people. However, Shelton provides abundant references, and obscure information such as how long it takes to make any given dilution.
Tavris, Carol, Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Lynn and Jeffrey Lohr, eds. (Guilford Press, 2003) This compendium is for people seeking reliable information on the status of controversial methods of clinical psychology. The sixteen chapters are divided into five subjects: "Controversies in Assessment and Diagnosis," "General controversies in Psychotherapy," "Controversies in the Treatment of Specific Adult Diseases," "Controversies in the Treatment of Specific Child Disorders" and "Controversies Regarding Self-Help and the Media." Specific topics include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, stress disorders, and "recovered memory." Current fad treatments (e.g., "eye movement desensitization and reprocessing," and "thought field therapy") are criticized in the book. Even old, well-established tests, such as the Rohrschach ink blot, are critically re-examined by the authors. Although this is written as a textbook, it is easy to understand by the layman.
Homola, Samuel, (Prometheus, 1999) This is the definitive text on chiropractic. Samuel Homola, D.C., who is retired after more than 40 years of practice, has authoritatively criticized chiropractic since the start of his career. This book gives his ultimate assessment of the business. However, Homola thinks that chiropractors can mend their ways and adopt evidence-based treatments, much like physical therapists. That seems to have been true for him; but I doubt many other chiropractors are capable of it.
Barrett, Stephen and Ronald Gots, (Prometheus. 1998, 212p. index. LC 97-53181 ISBN 1-57392-195-5 $32) From Chapter 1: "Many recipients of these diagnoses wind up being financially exploited as well as mistreated." Specifically, there are chapters on "multiple chemical sensitivity," "candidiasis," "sick buildings," "mercury-amalgam," and the "Gulf War connection." The first four chapters remain useful, the last is out of date. The bottom line is that people given those (first four) diagnoses are seriously ill and in need of treatment; they just do not have the disorders implied by those descriptions.
Magner, George, (Prometheus, 1995) This book is an excellent adjunct to Inside Chiropractic. The author founded an organization called Victims of Chiropractic; yet, despite his potential bias, this is a painstakingly researched and accurate criticism of the profession. In addition, although Magner is less sympathetic to the profession than Homola, he also offers suggestions for change.
Barrett, Stephen and Victor Herbert, (Prometheus, 1994) This volume is the culmination of twenty years of research into the "health food" industry. Chapter 2 of this book (Thirty Ways to Spot Quacks and Pushers), alone, makes the book worthwhile. According to the preface, the text addresses four questions: 1) How is the industry organized? 2) How are the salespeople trained? 3) How do they convince the public to believe false ideas? 4) How do they get away with it? The book contains valid nutrition information and exposes the misinformation available in health food stores.
Butler, Kurt, (Prometheus, 1992) The Consumer's Guide is less extensive than Health Robbers. However, it contains complementary information that is useful to a student of AM (Alternative Medicine), and readers may prefer its less formal writing style. In particular, Chapter 5 reviews some topics not found in Health Robbers, and Chapter 6 discusses tabloid journalism from a different point of view. The most popular forms of AM are gathered and discussed concisely in Chapter 4.
Written by Edzard Ernst (Ed.), Max H. Pittler (Ed.), Barbara Wider (Ed.) (Mosby, 2nd edition, June 2006) The new edition of this highly successful essential desk reference provides evidence-based information on 69 popular forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and 46 common conditions frequently treated with CAM. Each section includes an analysis of the most up-to-date research available.
Written by C. Heneghan and D. Badenoch (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2nd edition, 2006) This booklet sets out the concepts of EBM in its most simple and understandable terms. To the novice it can serve as an ideal, brief introduction. To the more experienced healthcare professional it can be a quick reminder of the essential points.