WHAT WORKS WHAT DOESN’T
The Guide to Alternative Healthcare
By Pat Thomas
Publisher: Newleaf (2002), 338 pages
PSYCHOTHERAPIST and counsellor Pat Thomas in this book details various alternative therapy methods in alphabetical order from Acupuncture to Yoga. She writes about what disorders each therapy is suitable for; how the therapy works; research findings backing the various claims and contraindications of each therapy.
In the introductory chapter Thomas compares alternative and conventional medicine. She notes how “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe”, and explains why very little research has gone into alternative therapies: the troubling issue of defining what constitutes proof; lack of funding; poor research skills of alternative practitioners (in general) and the small study sizes in existing research studies.
Thomas enlightens us with several nuggets of information which will prompt fastidious readers to investigate the source of their medications. We learn, for example, that Urokinase made by Enzymes of America is manufactured from men’s urine collected from 10,000 portable outhouses owned by its subsidiary PortaJohn. And the hormonal supplement Premarin is made from urine of pregnant mares, while the fertility drug Pergonal is produced from urine of post-menopausal women in Italy, Spain, Brazil and Argentina.
Most importantly, Thomas discusses drug-herb interactions involving the most commonly used herbal remedies. An easy reference table reveals that aloe should not be used with diuretics and other potassium-wasting medications because it may lead to a dangerous fall in serum potassium levels and impair heart function. Nor should blood-thinning ginkgo be used with anticoagulants such as aspirin or warfarin (coumarin).
Thomas also shows how certain herbs such as echinacea are misused. As an immune-stimulating herb it should be used only when needed, yet people who take it as a general tonic do not realise it could lead to a rebound effect (immuno-suppression) with long term use.
In a work of this nature, the author cannot please everyone. Alternative practitioners will question some of Thomas’ omissions. Thomas gives space to the Bowen therapeutic technique, but does not mention the similar Rosen Method. The Alexander Technique, for example, is not given its own section, instead being mentioned in passing under “Massage”.
Reiki too is given one line under “Massage” although it does not involve manipulation. Even reflexology, which is widely practised, gets only one page (urine therapy, in contrast, covers eight pages). Two other techniques that deserve further mention are Craniosacral Therapy (CST) and the immune-enhancing Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT).
Although Thomas gets carried away by going into technical details in some chapters, she manages to present the material in a readable style. She includes a 30-page scientific references section in the Appendix.
This book contains a listing of alternative therapy resources which are all based in Britain. Readers in this part of the world would find a listing including Indian/Chinese/Australian resources even more helpful.
But that is only a minor shortcoming, because this book is a handy reference and will make an essential addition to the home medical library. Other books by Pat Thomas include Cleaning Yourself to Death and Headaches – The Common Sense Approach.