|Book Review - The Natural Pharmacist : Natural Health Bible from the Most Trusted Alternative Health Site in the World |
by Steven Bratman, M.D. with David J. Kroll, Ph.D.
Prima Publishing, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 20th 2002
The publisher of Natural Health Bible, PrimaHEALTH is
affiliated with The Natural Pharmacist, which has a major web
site devoted to describing and assessing medicinal herbs and supplements. The book is written
by Steven Bratman, M.D., medical director of TNP.com,
with David Kroll, Ph.D. who is a professor of pharmacology and
toxicology at the University of Colorado. In large print on the
back of the book is the assertion, "This book has been scientifically
and legally reviewed to be in full compliance with U.S. federal
law (Section 5 of DSHEA) as it pertains to the accuracy and balance
of third-party literature on dietary supplements." These
all seem like good credentials. Of course, even if one of
the editors is a highly qualified professor, that does not mean
that all of his judgments are correct, and there's no disclosure
in the book of the financial arrangement between the editors and
TNP.com; and finally, the fact that the information in this book
is in compliance with U.S. law is also no guarantee that it is
correct. All of this is merely to say that the book has to be
judged on its own merits.
The Natural Health Bible has 508 large-format pages, with
two main parts. First, it health problems and the main treatments
for those problems, and second, it has a larger part on "Herbs
and Supplements." The conditions listed are both physical
and mental; for each condition, or set of related conditions,
there is one or more principal proposed treatments, then a list
of other proposed treatments, and sometimes one or more "not
recommended" treatments. For example, for "Depression,"
the principal proposed treatment is St. John's Wort, the other
proposed treatments include 5-HTP, Ginkgo, SAMe, and Fish Oil,
and a not-recommended treatment is Yohimbe. Following these lists
are normally a few pages of extended discussion of the condition
and its treatments. In the depression entry, the book explains
that natural treatments are "useful only for mild to moderate
depressive symptoms consisting mainly of depressed mood, fatigue,
insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating." Then
a couple of paragraphs explain severe depression; they include
the following curiously worded claim:
"The emotional structure of the brain has frozen into a pattern
of misery that cannot be altered by willpower, a change of scenery,
or the most earnest efforts of friends. In a sense, the brain
has locked up like a crashed computer."
It goes onto say that electroshock treatment is "almost the
exact equivalent" of rebooting a computer, a claim that is
laughable in its inaccuracy. It proceeds to discuss antidepressant
medication, and claims that SSRIs like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil
do not cause fatigue, which again is a false claim, since these
medications can have sedating effects. These sorts of problems
in the text are a little troubling, since they suggest the author
does not have a firm understanding of the basics of depression.
But his expertise is on alternative treatments, so it is there
that the information should be most accurate and complete.
The discussion of St. John's Wort in this section is two pages
long, and explains the scientific evidence for its effectiveness,
the dosage, safety issues, and drug interactions, and there is
more discussion of St. John's Wort in the "Treatments"
section; both include references to the scientific literature,
but these are not actually in the book; you have to go to the
TNP.com website to
find them, and then you have to download a .zip file, unzip it,
and finally you get a folder with two large .txt files - so it
is hardly user-friendly. There's no recommendation of particular
brands of preparations of the herb, and one of the main worries
with herbal remedies is that there is great variability in quality
of product from one manufacturer to another, so customers may
still feel rather at a loss when looking at all the different
products on the shelves of a health store or through the web pages
of the many different online vendors.
The entry for Depression goes on to discuss other treatments;
for example, it has a about ¾ of a page on 5-HTP. It explains
that this substance is unproven as treatment for depression, although
one study of 63 people did show it had equally good results as
Prozac with fewer side effects. It has half a page on SAMe, explaining
that it also has some evidence for its effectiveness, but it is
So if I were looking for information about herbal remedies for
depression, the Natural Health Bible would be very useful,
despite the problems with its description of the illness and the
mainstream treatments. But it is important to point out that the
book gives little or no discussion of the importance of lifestyle
changes, exercise, or the wide range of other alternative approaches
to improving health; it only discusses herbs, vitamins and supplements
Most people I know are willing to try alternative treatments,
and this includes both older and younger people. My father, for
instance, who is now in his seventies, currently has high blood
pressure, and is taking medication to keep it down, and the medication
works by slowing down the metabolism, which means that he now
lacks energy and is gaining weight. These are very unwelcome side-effects.
Of course, he should get more exercise, which would very likely
help with his blood pressure, but now with this medication he
feels even less ready to go out for walks than he used to. I find
on looking up "hypertension" in the Natural Health
Bible that garlic can reduce blood pressure levels by about
5 to 10%. The entry on garlic in this part is short, but on looking
up garlic in the "Treatments" section, I find three
informative pages. When I told him about this, he was pleased
to have the information, and he says he will be taking odorless
garlic capsules in the hope that it will help with his blood pressure.
I am no expert on alternative treatments, so I cannot judge the
validity of the claims for their effectiveness in this book, but
the web site emphasizes that is uses only double blind studies,
which is of course the best way to test medications, and it does
certainly seem to provide a careful assessment of the relative
benefits and dangers of each treatment. The Natural Health
Bible does provide one of the most complete discussions of
herbs, supplements and vitamins that I've seen, and I will return
to it the next time I am looking for such information.
Note that TNP.com has an online Natural Health Encyclopedia,
which is based on the information in the Natural Health Bible,
and so may be serve as a useful alternative to buying the book.
It also includes sections on alternative therapies, and so in
some ways it is better than the book.
Note this review was corrected on January 22, 2002. TNP.com does not sell herbs, supplements, or medications. It only provides information, and thus has no financial incentive in promoting any particular products.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
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.