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Review of "The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines"

By Michael Murray
Bantam Books, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 12th 2003
The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines

This large book has over 1000 pages on ore than 250 popular natural health aids.  It is divided into six sections:

I.  Vitamins

II. Minerals

III. Accessory Nutrients and Other Natural Products

IV. Herbal Products

V. Natural Ingredients Used in Topical Preparations

VI. Common Health Conditions.

At the start of the book there are 12 pages of instruction about how to use it, but it is not really necessary to read that part in order to get information quickly.  For example, suppose that one wants information about vitamin E.  At the start of the entry in the vitamin section, it says that it is used for Alzheimer's disease prevention, cancer prevention, diabetes, fibrocystic breast disease, heart disease and stroke prevention, intermittent claudication, low immunity and immune support, and tardive diskinesia.  For each condition, it grades the effectiveness and safety of the vitamin -- it gets mostly "B+"s for effectiveness and "A"s for safety.  Following this table is text expanding on what is known about the use of vitamin E for these various conditions, and when there is solid scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the treatment, it says so.  So, for example, it says that several double blind studies have been shown to be effective in helping tardive diskinesia, and it is most effective when given to patients who have been on antipsychotic medication for less than five years.  The entry goes on to list possible dangers and side effects, forms the product comes in, dosages, and information relevant to special populations such as pregnant women, children and seniors.  To give another example, one might be curious about the herbal product valerian.  The book explains that it is especially effective ("A" grade) in treating insomnia, and it may also be useful for anxiety.  It explains the different forms the herb comes in, and dosages for these different preparations. 

The book is not enthusiastic about all herbal medicines.  For example, it gives kudzu only a "C" grade for the treatment of alcohol cravings, since while it has been proven effective in some animal studies, there have not been any controlled studies with humans.  It also says that kava is effective in treating anxiety, and is less addictive than the benzodiazepines.  However, it only gives kava a "C" grade for safety because it can have unwelcome effects if mixed with alcohol or other psychotropic drugs, and it can worsen the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.  What's more extended use of kava may be linked with liver damage.  So the standards of this book seem relatively stringent in assessing safety. 

The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines has a good index and is relatively easy to use.  For example, if one looks up "depression," one comes up with a large number of possible treatments.  I am in no position to assess the truth of its claims, but it seems to be carefully researched.  It could be a useful resource for people looking for natural remedies of their health problems. 


© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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