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Review of "The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines & Healing Therapies"

By Editors of Physicians Desk Reference
Ballantine, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 22nd 2002
The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines & Healing Therapies

Two of the five parts of this book take up the bulk of the 615 pages: a guide to 51 alternative and complementary therapies, and a guide to natural medicines.  I am no expert on natural medicine, so I am in no position to comment on the accuracy of the information in the book, but simply having the initials PDR in the title provides some assurance that it should be a reliable guide.  The book also includes 16 pages of color photographs of plants from which medicines are made, a discussion of the role of alternative medicine in health care today, a guide to nutritional therapy, and a treatment finder to help readers find their way about the book if they are looking for specific information. 

            In reviewing this book, I am comparing it with two comparable publications, The Natural Pharmacist Natural Health Bible published by Prima Health, and Time Lifes The Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments.  The most obvious distinctive feature of this PDR Family Guide is its small size, smaller but thicker than most paperback novels; maybe this is how the publishers keep its price so low, making it far cheaper than its competitors.  But it is also the least user-friendly of the three books; the obvious defect is that treatments are not organized according to their health problems. 

For example, if I want to know what alternative medicine has to offer to relieve my stress, I need to look in the back of the book to the list of treatments organized by illness, and I find a list of 11 kinds of treatment in different parts of the book: Alexander Technique on page 57, Aromatherapy on page 65, massage therapy on page 181, rolfing on page 231, and so on.  It means that you have to do a lot of flipping around, consulting the index again and again.  If I want to know about natural medicines for stress, it at first seems that I am out of luck, because Stress is not listed in the list of Natural Medicines Indexed by Illness.  Theres nothing under Anxiety either.  Its only when I search through the list and find Nervousness that I find a useful looking list: Kava on page 410, Passion Flower on page 459, Valerian on page 525.  It seems that the people who organized the different indexes did not consult with each other, and indeed nervousness is a rather old-fashioned word, reminiscent of the nineteenth century.  I do not remember the last time I heard someone describe himself or herself as suffering from nervousness.

            The explanations of different kinds of treatment are helpful.  For instance, the description of the Alexander Technique explains that it is a method of getting the bodys muscles back into harmony and can be helpful for a wide range of problems.  The entry explains that there is no scientific proof that it is helpful but that many people vouch for its effectiveness.  The entry goes on to explain how the treatment is given, how long it should take, how often it should be given, how many sessions it might take, and how it differs from other related treatments.  It assures the reader that there are no known dangers of the treatment, and gives information about how to find therapists and ways to ensure that the therapist is a legitimate operator.  It gives the addresses and phone numbers of two main organizations (but no web addresses or e-mail addresses) and a short list of further reading.  The whole entry is less than three pages; it is written in clear language and seems to provide a useful starting place if I wanted to explore this treatment. 

            The Natural Health Bible has no information about the Alexander Technique or most other non-medicinal therapies; for stress, its main entry says the principle proposed treatment is ginseng.  The Medical Advisor has only one short entry on the Alexander Technique; for stress, its main entry explains that the main conventional treatments are antianxiety drugs and psychotherapy, and the main alternative choices are aromatherapy, body work, herbal therapies, exercise, and mind/body medicine such as yoga and biofeedback.  It also has recommendations about how to prevent becoming stressed in the first place.  But the information it does give about each individual treatment is rather sketchy, and it does not point the reader where to go to look if he or she wants to learn more.  It seems that the PDR Family Guide gives the most complete information about alternative treatments for stress, but it is hard to use the information or compare the different treatments, and it places little emphasis on lifestyle changes.  If I was looking for information about stress relief, Id probably want to use a combination of these two books, and then Id probably go to the Internet to see what else I could find. 

            But maybe Id want to try some alternative medicinal therapy.  Strangely, the PDR guide does not even list ginseng as a treatment for nervousness, and its entry for ginseng says that it is used to treat fatigue.  It has information about how to prepare ginseng, typical dosages, and the dangers of overdosage.  In contrast, the Natural Health Bible has pages of discussion of ginseng both in its Stress entry and also in its separate listing of herbs and supplements.  It explains what ginseng does, what the scientific studies show, dosage, and safety issues.  This is also far more comprehensive than the listing for ginseng in The Medical Advisor, which simply has a brief listing of the root, the target ailments (Chinese and Western), preparations and side effects.  

            I like the PDR Family Guide for its comprehensiveness and its readiness to point out the weaknesses of some alternative treatments.  For instance, I have a friend who used to periodically fast for several days to clean out her system.  But the Guide says that although fasting can be useful for temporary weight loss, it is not good as a long-term weight control method, and theres no evidence that it has any long-term therapeutic effects.  Indeed, it can be dangerous.  Neither of the other two books I am comparing the Guide with have any significant information about fasting. 

            In sum, the PDR Family Guide is an excellent resource and great value.  Its main weakness is that it is hard to use if one is simply looking for the best treatment for a particular problem.  Its more useful if one is looking for information about particular treatments.  It would be greatly improved if a single comprehensive index were added. 


Other reviews:

·          Natural Health Bible

·          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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