Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

author: Simon Singh
name: Elaine
average rating: 4.01
book published: 2008
rating: 4
read at: 2009/06/07
date added: 2009/06/08
shelves: health, history, non-fiction, science
My tongue-in-cheek instinct is to say that I’m posting spoilers, but not really: acupuncture might work for nausea & pain; homeopathy is BS; chiropractic might work for lower back pain; and herbal remedies are a mixed bag, some quite effective, others not so much.

More seriously, I like the detailed approach to these fairly common "alternative" techniques. The authors start with a history of evidence-based medicine and the application of the scientific method to human health, before going on to each of the modalities in particular. And throughout they introduce and reinforce scientific techniques for evaluating proposed remedies. Plus they personalize science by describing how the techniques evolved and the people involved. (It had never occurred to me, btw, that placebo also boosts the benefits provided by truly effective techniques.)

I’ve not been much for alternative medicine, but even I was surprised at the evidence in some aspects. (Except for homeopathy. The whole idea of it makes me giggle.) Chiropractic in particular — some years back I saw a chiropractor for overpoweringly bad and frequent headaches. My regular doctor hadn’t been a lot of help: I had some medication that provided symptom relief, but whacked me out and didn’t reduce either the severity or the frequency.

To his credit, the chiropractor suggested massage (which I think gave genuine relief) and didn’t encourage me to keep going after the headaches started to trail off. But after reading this, I have to wonder about my crazy popping neck, which didn’t used to do that at all. Ultimately, it’s my take that the headaches were somewhat psychosomatic, and were eventually "cured" with therapy and later antidepressants. (But anecdote != data and all that.)

In any case, very engaging and thought-provoking. Includes an appendix with quick reviews of a couple dozen other modalities.

Caveats: I’m not sure how effective this would be with someone who was really into alternative medicine, except that one of the authors is a former homeopath. The tone occasionally tips into LOLcrackpots! territory. For US readers, a lot of the data is UK-centered, although I didn’t find that to be a huge barrier.