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Review of "The Medical Advisor"

By Editors of Time-Life Books
Time-Life Books, 1996
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 22nd 2002

The Medical Advisor (First Edition) is a large and heavy book, with 1152 large format pages.  It calls itself a complete guide to alternative and conventional treatments to both physical and mental problems.  Since it is published by Time-Life Books and has a lengthy list of consultants at prestigious institutions, one expects it to be well researched, conservative in its recommendations, and easy to use.  By-and-large, it lives up to these expectations.  (Note that the first edition is out of print; the second edition has the same number of pages.)

            The three main sections of the book are a small one on emergencies and first aid, then 800 pages on ailments and options, and an index of conventional and natural medicines.  It also contains a dictionary of conventional medicine and alternative therapies, a set of general guidelines to health, recommendations on eating, a visual diagnostic guide with photographs of problems visible on the surface of the body, an atlas of the body (I wonder why they do not use the word anatomy), and three appendices. 

            I will not pretend to have read the whole book, but I have owned it for about four years though, and my wife and I have consulted it on many occasions.  It is often a useful starting place when you are wondering what is wrong with you; it has plenty of pictures and diagrams, and it is user friendly.  Its great attraction is that it combines both conventional medical views with alternative treatments. 

            Sometimes one has strange aches or pains, one feels faint, or one has an odd combination of symptoms.  Browsing through a book like this can be helpful in working out if what the underlying problem might be, whether it is worth the time and expense to see a physician, and how one might deal with the problem.  But it can be also be a way to worry oneself needlessly.  A few years ago, my wife suddenly felt very faint and had intense chest pain.  Under fainting, this book lists seven possible causes: they include low blood pressure, low blood sugar, stress, stroke, or heart attack.  The cause was probably low blood sugar, stress, or maybe a panic attack, but I think we entertained the possibility that she had had a minor heart attack.  But this is a problem that arises when using any medical encyclopedia, and this book does say, Brief, infrequent fainting with no other symptoms usually is not a cause for concern.

            The Medical Advisor seems useful for mental health problems.  For example, suppose one wants to know if one is having a panic attack, and if so, what to do about it. Under Panic Attack, the book lists the symptoms, and says if you have recurrent panic attacks and persistent fear of panic attacks or change your behavior significantly because of such attacks, you have panic disorder.  It recommends that you should call your doctor.  It also tells you how to tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack.  (The idea that most people have a person they can call my doctor seems rather outdated in the age of managed care: those people lucky to have health coverage often just see the physician, physicians assistant or nurse who is available when they go in for an appointment.)

            The entry for Panic Attack goes on to explain that the underlying cause is not clear, and explains some of the possible candidates.  It mentions that some medical problems and medications, including antidepressants at high dosages can cause them.  For conventional treatments, it lists psychotherapy, antidepressants, and antianxiety drugs mentioning alprazolam specifically.  For alternative choices, it lists aromatherapy using oil of lavender, body work such as qigong and yoga, herbal therapies, including skullcap or valerian tea, hypnotherapy, mind/body medicine such as meditation, and under nutrition and diet, it recommends magnesium as well as avoiding caffeine, alcohol and sugar.  It also recommends ways to prevent panic attacks: learning to recognize them, reassuring yourself you can survive them, slow, deep breathing, taking your time, and going easy on yourself rather than being overly critical.

            Once you have got the basic information, you can use the rest of the book to learn more:

  • In the listing of conventional and natural medicines, one finds that alprazolam has the brand name Xanax.  It explains that it is in the benzodiazepine class of drugs, and says to see Benzodiazepines for further information on side effects and possible drug interactions.  It cautions not to confuse Xanax with Zantac I wasnt aware that people ever confused the two!  It also briefly lists some of the side effects of Xanax.
  • Theres very little information about qigong in the book, but there is an illustrated appendix on yoga position.
  • There are two listings for skullcap in the section on medicines, one as Chinese herb, and the other as a western herb.  It is interesting to compare the two and see the similarities and differences.  Both list target ailments, preparations, and side effects.
  • Turning to the section on eating for health, one finds that fish, green leafy vegetables, milk, nuts, seeds and whole grains are good sources of magnesium, and information about magnesium supplements. 

Although theres a bibliography, the entries themselves contain little information about the scientific studies that have been done of different treatments, so one must simply rely on the expertise of the authors.  This book is not as comprehensive in its coverage of alternative medicine as The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines & Healing Therapies, nor is it as scholarly or thorough as the Natural Health Bible in its discussion of herbs, supplements and vitamins.  But The Medical Advisor is an excellent all-round resource to have at home if you want to inform yourself about your health and how to treat health problems.

See the Second Edition at

Second edition also listed with table of contents at Barnes &
Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments
Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments

First edition listed at Barnes &
The Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments
The Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

    Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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