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by C. Norman Shealy
Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012
Review by A. P. Bober on Oct 9th 2012
The neurosurgeon Doctor Shealy joins with six others to produce a work more than narrowly M. D.-oriented, touting "over 1000 remedies to prevent and cure common ailments." This founder of the American Holistic Medicine Association presents sections on Chinese and non-Chinese herbalism, ayurveda, traditional-home-folk modes, aromatherapy, homeopathy, flower remedies, and nutrition.
Each section introduces a medical-arts modality which often presents much new to us Western-enculturated readers. Ayurveda, more that 3000 years old, from from Sri Lanka and India, includes prana (chi, ki), eight moral ways from Buddhism, not a little on surgery, hygiene, and medicinal plants, as well as five elements, including ether, reminiscent of the earliest theories in Western philosophy. A very important part of this approach starts with various kinds of cleansing. The basic "bio-energies" (10), or doshas, also include moral characteristics like love of travel, luxury, and familiar places, as well as being business-like, jealous, and ambitious. Chinese herbal medicine dates from a few centuries BCE and elaborates the well-known Yin and Yang concepts to be kept in balance. Characteristics of dampness, wind, heat, and the like enter the Chinese practitioner's queries as to a patient's symptoms and history. Animal parts have traditionally been used, such as deer horn, along with a typical confluence of four to twenty herbs. (Is the well-known rhinoceros horn for impotence an example of sympathetic magic?) You have to include knowledge of the meridians along which qi or chi travels and which resides in the kidneys. (A t'ai chi instructor once said that the Chinese ask, "How are your kidneys?") Shealy adds cautions about Chinese patent remedies with animal products and idiosyncratic responses that may require a liver function test of debatable usefulness. Traditional/home/folk remedies appear specific and empirical—based on clinical experience, we might say—and include tisanes, tinctures, decoctions, infusions, and ointments. Shealy adds a caution about merely applying a "remedy" when, for example, headache peculiarities, occurrence of blood, fatigue, weight loss occur. He points out that much of what we now take for granted comes from historical formularies that discuss tea tree oil, aloe vera, aspirin from willow bark, and the like. Herbalism shares a lot with the remedies approach as to historic formulary sources and the use of tinctures, infusions, decoctions, poultices. The herbal professional, like other medical-arts adepts, asks about age, career, appetite, family, symptoms, etc. It is (89) "the oldest, most tested, and proven form of medicine in the world." It promotes rules of safe self-help as opposed to the medical view that such a person "has a fool for a doctor." Implied is the notion that use of "natural" substances is less likely than pharmaceuticals to have negative side-effects. Aromatherapy uses essential oils in a variety of oral-olfactory ways, as with massage, baths, vaporizers, skin applications, gargles, and compresses. Shealy lists cautions, as keeping oils from children, not using them when pregnant or if allergic or if suffering chronic illness. The initial meeting can last sixty to ninety minutes. The German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a chemist and author, grew dissatisfied with treatment methods of the day. An entry by Dr. Cullen on materia medica set Hahnemann on the road to founding homeopathy in that quinine mimicked the symptoms of malaria, thus, "like cures like," as noted by Hippocrates in the 5th century BCE. Better diluted substances actually had better effects in supporting the "vital force" in the body. Skeptics deride this belief while followers propound electromagnetic or electrochemical theories about an imprint or pattern impressing itself on the body. Homeopathy uses twelve tissue salts and focuses on the whole person. Dr. Edward Bach uses thirty-eight flower remedies that do not work in any biochemical way but which make use of a kind of distilled mother tincture. Because no physical part of the plant remains in the remedy, this approach faces criticism similar to that bestowed on homeopathy. There is a strong focus on the effect of negativity on health. A professional session can last fifteen minutes to more than an hour. The remedies aim at moral or (social) psychological issues, as kangaroo paw (211) "for people who are inexperienced, socially inept, or embarrassed" or sweet chestnut (212) for the "dark night of the soul." Finally, readers will find their comfort zone in the section on vitamins and minerals (and amino acids), at least as familiar to them as is the old-wives remedy section since it forms a substantial part of most nutrition courses. The usual issues of seeing a practitioner, doses for children and pregnant women, as well as the inadvisability of using supplements in place of a good diet come up.
The smaller Part 2 of the book deals with treatment of common ailments in sections with familiar names focused around parts of the body after a brief section on "disorders of the mind and emotions." Then come ailments peculiar to women, followed by emotional and physical issues among children.
Benefits the reader will gain from this book that requires a reasonable amount of attention are: help in organizing isolated bits of medical-arts knowledge, clues to the diminution of existing illnesses, and encouragement to further personal research and perhaps challenge the pharmaceutical approach of a primary MD. For example, the reviewer claims to have learned that true cinnamon seems to "time-capsule" food, reducing roller-coaster desire for sweets by slowing digestion and thus regulating the pancreas; that hypnotists put slowly disappearing iodine on warts that convinces the person that an immune response will drive away the virus; that the apparently straight-forward food challenge can relieve indigestion/gurd; that tongue-thrusting (mouth-breathing) from blocked sinuses can cause prognathism, perhaps grinding, and a high maxillar arch with the characteristic nose bump. The reader will also have insights to add to the text. Finally, the fact that the author repeats many herbs and substances across the various approaches deepens familiarity with their uses and effects.
There are drawbacks in the book's format as well:
--the book positively needs a glossary, as for terms like carminative and emmenogogic
--there are errors of misplacement and duplication that probably won't confuse the reader who verifies the clearly marked heading; examples: "licorice" (28) appears under nutmeg, the immediately preceding "hornbeam" (212) repeats under sweet chestnut
--Bach remedies seem to veer away from medicine toward social psychology, as with fuschia's ability (214) to aid stammerers
--the copy editor got caught napping as these linguistic-logical lapses, sure to annoy the careful reader, slipped through:
34: "the one (patient) will be given a completely different herbal formula to the patient who . . . ." (instead of: "than that given to another")
37: "it is important that the practitioner pay (not pays) particular attention . . . ." (The subjunctive after an implied command still exists in English, but stands apart only in the third person singular.)
67: "There 'are' a variety . . . ." (Though Strunk may not agree, many would argue that "a" means singular, even if used collectively.)
67: A particularly disastrous sentence, needing commas within the sections separated by semi-colons: "Symptoms . . . include: unusual or persistent headaches; chronic pain; blood in the urine; feces; or mucus; persistent fatigue or weight loss; and bleeding between menstrual periods." ("And" preceded by a semi-colon is a modern deviation from the traditional coordinating conjunction preceded by a comma.)
158: to advocate "the improvement of poor hygiene" logically means to favor poorer hygiene
159: "homoios," not "homios," is the transliterated Greek adjective/substantive for "similar"
Shealy presents all information as if it falls from the sky epistemologically. Yet, how shall we medical-arts-untrained consumers evaluate claimed remedies on our own? Should there be a section of results of double-blind studies equal in length to the book? How shall we evaluate "mere clinical observation," however systematic it may be? The alternative to our own critical judgment, even as regards advice of the medical doctors most of us grew up with, is enslavement to the criteria of others.
© 2012 Anthony P. Bober
A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.