Note: Links on book titles are Walmart links where the books can be purchased. Many of the books recommended are also typically available at health food stores and at some discount stores.
There are many excellent guides to herbs, supplements, and their uses. I have not read them all, and could be omitting many fine ones in this review, but those discussed below I have found useful. I have indeed studied many of the more popular and well-known works, and do not mention them here since I find most of these "mainstream complementary" works
lacking. This is not to say that they are without merit, and authors like
Mindell, Chopra, Weil, and the editors of Prevention magazine certainly have their place for cautious introductions to complementary health topics.
Following is a way that one could become a self-educated amateur naturopath and herbalist. If one finds he or she is interested in these topics and has the motivation and time, there are colleges which offer degrees in naturopathy. In the near past the only accredited one in the US was Bastyr College in Oregon. Michael Murray is a professor and Joseph Pizzorno the president of this college (see below), but there are now several.
To get started, first read Hulda Clark's Cure for all Diseases and temper everything subsequently studied with this information. A free electronic version of this book is available in the Hulda Clark Section. For more information on Hulda, see Who is Hulda Clark? or the complete Hulda Clark section. Pay special attention to the cleanup sections, because this will be a big challenge when solving health problems. Her explanations that parasites play a role in many diseases is just as important. Here's a rule I use based on Clark's work: If one has a fungal, viral, or bacterial infection that lasts more then a month, suspect parasite and/or toxin involvement. Although she does not really have the cures for all diseases and sometimes overlooks potential primary causes of some ailments, like nutrient deficiencies, I find her remedies are a lot more effective and inexpensive then any other complementary health practitioner's I have studied.
Then, read Murray and Pizzorno's Encyclopedia of Natural
Medicine. Almost all of Murray's recommendations, unlike Clark's, are based on objective clinical research, and I have learned a lot from his work. However, I find his treatments are often palliative, specifying perhaps better and less toxic palliatives than allopaths use, but still not addressing the causes of many problems. He is good at recognizing and treating nutrient deficiencies. Murray consults with Enzymatic Therapy and has formulated many of their excellent products.
Then, read Murray's Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements to learn about individual vitamins, minerals, aminos, and other supplements. Since he gives detailed information on supplements, this is a good guide when deciding the best products to use in a regimen. This can save one many dollars since he uses clinical data which implies whether supplements are effective for certain disorders, what the best form of the supplement is, and how best to take it. He also gives lie to many claims one will hear or read about supplements, even ones endorsed by MDs.
Then, read Murray's The Healing Power of Herbs. He gives detailed descriptions of a number of herbs, what diseases they treat, and has scores of references to studies on the topics. He gives reliable information about toxicity of herbs, unlike the apocrypha espoused by most herb books and even some "authorities."
Then, read Balch and Balch's Prescription for Nutritional Healing This is probably the best known complementary health guide in the US, and some of the information is valuable. Remedies given are very expensive since it usually calls for hundreds of dollars of supplements even for minor maladies, plus they typically also recommend palliatives and ones less effective than Murray's. Some of the supplements they recommend have been studied by Murray, who finds they have little or no effect in clinical studies, so it is worthwhile to read Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements before reading this book.
I bought the last five books mentioned at a "member warehouse", and all were very reasonably priced at $10 - 13.
Chevalier's Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants is a big, pretty herb book, and a very good guide to herbs and their uses. It is quite useful for research of little-known herbs. I use it a lot. Note that the updated version is called The Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine.
Maria Treben is a European complementary healer who wrote Health through God's Pharmacy, Health from God's Garden, and Maria Treben's Cures She has excellent treatments for some diseases, but some of the herbs she recommends are hard to find in the states. Even though she never mentions parasites as a common cause of disease, treatments she recommends usually take them into account where appropriate. The "Garden" book is pretty, with detailed colored drawings of herbs which may help with those who wildcraft.The Pharmacy book is hard to find, but well worth it if a good copy can be found.
Michael Tierra's The Way of Herbs is an excellent guide to treating illnesses. It contains many great formulas and makes bold use of some potentially dangerous, but very effective, herbs. Many herb shops carry his line of supplements called "Michaels" and Planetary Formulas products are also formulated by Tierra. Tierra also wrote The Way of Chinese Herbs.
Jethro Kloss's Back to Eden is an old popular herb and naturopathy guide that discusses all aspects of health and complementary healing. It is very thorough. Nowhere else have I seen more information on some of the more obscure treatments for some maladies, like poultices and water therapy. Much of the stuff is quite outdated since there are many more effective complementary treatments then there were in the days in which this book was written. There were few imported herbs available, so the book ignores some of the best Chinese, South American, African, and even European herbs. There were very few premade supplements in the days this was written, so of course they are little discussed. But, Kloss identifies almost every North American herb, plant, and tree that has medicinal properties, so this is a good guide for NA wildcrafters.
Herman Aihara's Acid and Alkaline is the most popular and easy-to-understand explanation of dietary aspects of body pH. It also discusses Oriental concepts like yin and yang as they relate to diet. It has been out of print for a while, although sometimes Amazon has a copy or two, and it can also occasionaly be found in health food store book sections.
Udo Erasmus' Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill (originally known as Fats and Oils) is a definitive work on this misunderstood topic and has helped a good deal.
Barry Sears' The Zone is necessary reading to understand the effects protein, carbohydrates, and fat have on the body and in particular hormone (prostaglandin) production or lack of it. Following this diet at least loosely, getting adequate protein and (good) fats and limiting starches and sugars in the diet, can be very helpful for many disorders. The Zone is written in too technical a manner for most lay people, but Sears has written a lot of other books on the Zone diet which are more accessible, such as A Week in the Zone, What to Eat in the Zone, Zone Perfect Meals in Minutes, and Mastering the Zone. He also has a misguided The Soy Zone - see the Problems with Soy section - but admittedly it would be otherwise difficult to follow the Zone diet while eating vegetarian.
Peter D'Adamo's Eat Right 4 Your Type details the effects of food lectins on different blood types. Although I disagree with many of his suggetions that are not based on lectin testing (most of the supplement and herb recommendations), I think this is an important work. I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what I knew was a missing link in my understanding of some disorders (like ones caused by or contributed to by circulating endotoxins) and previously tried to overcome this effect with antiallergens and herbs which reduce endotoxins. This book allows one to recommend more effective and less expensive regimens for these types of maladies. D'Adamo also has another book in the series, Cook Right 4 Your Type.
Rodale's Encyclopedia of Herbs is a cautionary herb guide, recommending that some of the best herbs for certain conditions not be used since there is potential toxicity. A main criteria they use to determine an herb's toxicity is comparing it to coffee. If it the herb is as potentially dangerous or more so than coffee, they generally recommend it not be used. See Murray's books for much more reliable information and results of clinical studies on herb toxicity. This is a great guide, however, for growing and cooking herbs and using them for other-than-medicinal purposes, such as cloth dyes.
Adelle Davis, author of Let's Get Well and many other books, was an complementary health advocate popular in the 1960's. She wrote extensively about many aspects of complementary health right up to the time she developed cancer, a topic she had discussed on how to prevent. She did not take molds or many other toxins into account, and from her writing, probably took in a great deal of molds herself from extensive use of whole grains, and at one time recommended using bone meal, a common source of heavy metals. Too bad she did not have the insight of Clark to not ingest so many toxins. But... even though she primarily wrote in the 1960s, she was an expert on nutrition and especially vitamin supplements and gives very good information on ones that are useful for treating disease.
Because of arcane laws that have recently been modified, herb products were prevented in the past from making health claims even if there was extensive clinical evidence backing the claim. So, they would set up a cover organization and distribute books of formulas for their combinations and single herb uses without mentioning the brand name. One such is done by Gaia Herbs and is called "Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas." It is very skimpy on its description of single herb uses, but contains good formulas for various diseases. These formulas usually call for fresh plant extracts and tinctures so can be difficult to replicate it making it oneself, but they are also descriptions of Gaia's produts. Solaray, Nature's Herbs, Nature's Way, and others also put out these guides. Ask an herb store clerk about them.
Beyond herbs and other supplements, there are complementary bioelectronic methods of treating disease. One will have a good start on this by reading Hulda's work and experimenting with a zapper, but there are many more devices besides Clark's. One of the more popular is James Bare's reincarnation of Royal Rife's work, usually called the Rife-Bare plasma tube generator. See the Bioelectronics section of this website for much more on this and other devices like EMEMs, function generators, Tesla devices, and such. Bare also has a book called Resonant Frequency Therapy - Building the Rife Beam Ray Device for those who want to build their own device. For a brief history of Rife's work, see Barry Lyne's The Cancer Cure that Worked. Books which provide some information on possible effects of bioelectronics on the body include The Body Electric by Robert Becker
The most valuable learning experience of all is to get on the net and read about and talk to people and the remedies they have used successfully. There is always a new technique or supplement coming along, and it might be very effective but not yet studied enough to make published herb book recommendations so all there is to go on is anecdotes provided by people who have tried it for various purposes. For example, cat's claw was little known a few years ago, but it is a very good
antiparasitic, immune stimulant, and antioxodant/antiinflammatory, but no book I have mentions it except briefly. Glucosamine sulfate, a supplement effective in treating arthritis and other connective tissue disorders, is not mentioned in any of the
older alt health books I have.
Boswellian, a relatively recent addition to the US herb market, is an effective antiinflammatory but may hold much more promise as a cancer treatment for hard-to-treat growths like brain tumors. Keeping up to date with new supplement guides and reviewing anecdotes on the net is essential.
One useful exercise that will greatly sharpen one's skills is to read anecdotes and explain the therapeutic action for every successful treatment. A good example of this was reading of a severe case of childhood eczema where the baby solved his own problem by getting into a stick of butter and eating half of it. Within hours, the mother said, he was greatly improved and subsequent (small) daily doses of butter cured his problem. I thought at first that he wasn't getting enough EFAs and the butter somehow solved this. But butter only has tiny amounts of EFAs, so this did not satisfy me. It was about a year later that I read how butyric acid and other components of butter were good stimulants for beneficial intestinal flora. A common cause of eczema is a lack of certain B vitamins, which are produced in the small intestine by (mostly) bifidus strains of bacteria. Bifidus strains benefit the most from butter. Voila! A much better explanation and one that satisfied me, but took a year to find.
I have found the books mentioned above and net anecdotes very helpful in my quest to learn about naturopathy and herbalism. Once they are studied, digested, and experimented, then one will usually be competent to at least provide adjunct regimen suggestions for most minor ailments. Providing ones for people that conventional medicine has failed is more challenging.
Remember my motto: "Don't stake your health on one thing you read. You could die of a misprint." It is important to cross reference any new supplement and be completely familiar with it before recommending dosage since many herb books have errors. Some of these errors can be dangerous. For example, in an old book called "Do Herbs", vitamin K and potassium are confused a few times. In one of Murray's books he recommends (once) to take 200mg selenium (1000x the normal supplement amount of 200mcg). Balch and Balch seem to think that evening primrose oil and flax seed oil can be used interchangably. Lesser herb books make even more egregious errors. One book I have of particularly crappy remedies is an encyclopedia of complementary health. It confuses magnesium and mangenese multiple times. One wildcrafting herb guide I have makes little mention of toxicity of plants it discusses and does not recommend dosage of potentially dangerous ones like mistletoe, poke weed, and chaparral (which all can useful if prepared correctly and carefully dosed).
And then there are herbalists not aware of dangers. Jethro Kloss gives directions to make linaments (external use) out of isopropyl alcohol, and this and other older works imply this and other toxic products are okay to use. In the last 20 years, I have seen no reputable alt healer recommend using them on or in the body.
To be able to recommend supplements for maladies, it is necessary to visit herb shops and see what is available. One can learn a lot studying the formulations used by various manufacturers for specific illnesses. Enzymatic Therapy, in general, has the highest quality widely available supplements which are well tested and formulated, using the latest and greatest advances in nutrition to make supplements with the best absorption and utilization. Even though the prices on Enzymatic Therapy are higher than most, they are very often the best for the money. Another line of formulas which are good values are produced by FutureBiotics, but there are now many fine formulations by a large number of companies. I am glad to have these to recommend since in the past it was difficult to put together plans for illnesses when there are so often so many herbs and nutrients necessary for maximum effect.
Cross referencing and experience with multiple modalities are necessary to be able to suggest the best and most cost effective remedies for maladies. As mentioned earlier, temper all studies and regimens with Clark's work, even if there are clinical studies on other supplements which show promise. As an example of suggesting Clark versus Murray solutions to problems,
I once wrote in a regimen for IBS that Murray mentions that peppermint oil is clinically proven to palliate IBS symptoms. I suggested this only because I sometimes get tired of suggesting to people that they try a Clark remedy when they say "Show me the study." I said in the regimen that peppermint oil was much less effective and much more expensive than the suggested (Clark) treatment of turmeric and fennel seeds, but at least it's clinically proven.
Someone wrote to me saying that he had found that peppermint oil was effective in palliating his IBS, but he could no longer find the capsules and was wondering if I knew a source. I asked him if he had tried the turmeric and fennel seeds. "No." "Well, you could try them until you find the peppermint oil." He happened to have some fennel seed powder and took the recommended dose and was amazed that it was "10 times more effective than peppermint oil at about 1/100 the cost." He did this for a week until he got the turmeric, and within another week his problem was cured (after 6 years).
Unlike the gentleman in this anecdote, one will find many MANY people who will not even TRY a low cost remedy if there are not clinical studies on the topic, or at least a lot of anecdotes that they have read. Do not waste time trying to convince anyone who does not "believe" in complementary medicine to try a remedy, even if it's something that will cure a chronic affliction for 10 cents.
I started corresponding with the above guy because of a post I made to a digestive disorder newsgroup stating the simple regimen, which is mostly turmeric and fennel seeds (which cures perhaps 50% of mild cases) and adds antiparasitics, beneficial bacteria, and cleanups if these alone fail. There was no discussion on this proposed regimen except a lot of vitriole from a person who thought I was loony, and that something this easy cannot possibly cure an affliction for which he has suffered for so many years. I asked him if he would try the turmeric and fennel seeds for a few days since he said he in fact had some in his spice rack. "Not unless you show me the studies." "But it won't cost you a thing - you ALREADY have the stuff." As far as I know, he never tried it.
Of course, people interested in complementary health are much more receptive than those who get on a newsgroup looking for the latest conventional medicine palliative. I used to feel obligated to read some of the non-alt health newsgroups and respond to those who needed help, with simple, cost-effective regimens for diseases with which I am most familiar. This was very ungratifying, and I suggest only counseling people who have the wherewithall to consider complementary health measures. Do not waste time trying to save the world. Do the most good with the least work by only suggesting regimens to those likely to heed them. A Chinese quote: "When you have wisdom that another person knows that he needs, you give it freely. But, when the other person doesn't yet know that he needs your wisdom, you keep it to yourself. Food only looks good to a hungry man."
Not too many years ago in the early 1990s, I looked at complementary health practitioners and advocates as nuts - perhaps well-meaning and caring, but still a bit off their rocker. After all, MDs are more extensively trained and schooled than almost every other professional and make some of the highest professional salaries. Why should I follow the advice of some tie-died hippie who mixes up herb combinations in his or her kitchen as opposed to a health care professional who wears a white coat, has hospitals and multi-million dollar labs at his or her disposal, and was schooled for 10 or more years in the profession?
A revelation came to me in the early 1990s. It was due to a minor item in the local news. It said that results from a university clinical trial showed that kudzu root worked much better to treat alcoholism than the most commonly prescribed medication, and did it without the harmful side effects. It went on to mention that the Chinese had used kudzu root for this purpose for thousands of years.
I thought, "What the $%^& hell? Don't doctors consider remedies that have been around for thousands of years before prescribing ones that are less effective, more expensive, and have harmful side effects? I thought I was paying them the big bucks to prescribe the BEST treatment! Do *I* have to learn this kind of stuff on my own? Why the hell do you make so much money if you don't know these things? Weren't you trained to use what works best for the least cost and with the least negative side effects?" If doctors were held to the same standards as other professionals such as engineers, 99% of them would be fired.
I was finally getting around to reading on complementary health matters a few years later when a family member was diagnosed with a serious illness. My casual interest in this matter suddenly turned into an intense drive to learn as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. The speed at which I learned could literally mean the difference between life and death. My true schooling began.
This was no easy task. The hardest part was determining the therapies and products that offered some benefit from the ones that were mostly hype. Like any good scientist, I wanted to first determine what the proven therapies were. Sure there are many books and articles by Michael Murray, Durk and Sandy at lef.org, and to a lesser degree, Balch, chock full of clinical studies proving their complementary recommendations but most books offer no proof of their recommendations except for some anecdotes, and these from a biased source.
Lucky this was in the early days of the internet. For the first time, people from different backgrounds who shared a common interest could easily converse with people from all over the world. You did not have to be in a clinical practice or speak to book authors to ask about their anecdotal sources, you could often find these people who had no financial interests in offering their stories. Also, instead of asking a doctor something like "Is there any evidence that this wacky therapy has any benefits?" and being told "there have been no clinical studies to prove its benefits", you could find many people who had tried it with varying degrees of success.
You might find some complementary therapy that offered a great deal of benefit to all the people who tried it, and there was a "health professional" MD telling you there is no evidence of its effectiveness, even warning you away from simple, effective, and inexpensive solutions. Hell, you may even find a therapy that was 100% successful in all cases you could find, like Cansema for skin cancer, magnesium and other minerals for restless legs syndrome and a host of other maladies, or a black walnut antiparasitic combination for endometriosis, and here was an MD instead recommending you use some conventional therapy that was less effective (or not effective at all), more expensive by hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and full of harmful side effects. Who do you blame? The MD? The school that educated him or her? The AMA?
I am an engineer. A basic premise of this profession is that engineers are expected to make processes or products Better, Cheaper, and/or Faster, preferably all three. What good is a product or service if it does not provide one of these benefits over existing technology? When an engineer is given a task to design a new process or product, he is expected to know the existing technology. What good is it to reinvent the wheel?
What if I were a pretty sharp guy technically but a complete nincompoop when it came to common sense. I went to work for a large corporation designing the next generation mousetrap. I incorporated a laser detector that when the beam was broken it injected poisonous gas into the trap to kill the mouse. The Laser Detection Mouse Trap 3000. I can get the cost of production down to $200 per unit long term, but will charge $500 the first few years to defray development costs. After all, it took many man hours and resources to develop it.
During testing it is found that the device works no better than a 10 cent mousetrap, maybe even worse. Some mice are not killed by the gas even though it is made as toxic as possible without only the remote chance of causing nearby humans to have seizures or worse. Plus there is the chance that the expensive mousetrap catches the house on fire when it is tripped, but this only happens about once in 100,000 cases. And the possibility that the toxic gas could cause long term health problems with the human inhabitants of the house. But they only display symptoms of this about once every 50,000 uses.
There is no way in the world that this type of mousetrap could sell, is there? Ahh, enter the government. You put many hours and dollars into developing the LDMT3000. It is certainly worth your while to spend a few additional dollars to lobby your friendly neighborhood congressman to outlaw 10 cent mousetraps as being too dangerous - after all, a kid could break his finger if he stuck it in a low tech mousetrap and what are laws and regulations for but to protect "the children?"
Hardware stores everywhere are put on notice that their business licenses will be revoked if they are caught selling 10 cent mousetraps. They have no alternative but to sell the LDMT3000 or other government approved mousetrap or none at all.
The problem is not the AMA. The AMA is merely a union organization. Like other unions, its primary reason for being is not to ensure the quality or efficiency of the services and products its members produce. It is to promote the financial health and job security of its members.
The problem is not the pharmaceutical companies. Sure, they are out there developing the LDMT3000, LDMT3001, and LDMT4000. They want to make a profit and recoup their investments, like any business. But, we don't have to buy their products? Do we?
Yes we do, if we need that product and the government dictates that no other products that perform the task for a cheaper price are legal, even if they perform it safer and better for a much much cheaper price.
Besides the government, I blame the doctors themselves. Sure, I could learn all about lasers, poisonous gas injection systems, electronics, etc, but will I be too stupid to study existing technology before I spend years building something that is less effective, more expensive, more dangerous, and slower than a cheap piece of wood with a hoop and a spring? Well, I might be if I knew that I would be prohibited from building simple devices so what's the use of studying them. And where's the profit potential in designing another 10 cent mousetrap?