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Medicine & Myths.
  1. E Ernst
  1. Department of Complementary Medicine, School of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, UK;

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    Richard Heatley. (Pp 136; £14.99.) Published by, 2003. ISBN 0-95444-2105.

    Medicine is full of myths and sometimes we even recognise them as such. This book is an attempt to give us an overview of some of the myths common (mostly) in the western tradition. The text is ordered alphabetically according to “indication”—from abortion to whooping cough. The author did well in putting a strong disclaimer at the beginning which states, “don’t do this at home”. Most of the “myths” relate to herbal remedies used for centuries for certain conditions. Some of the “myths” turn out to be truths—for instance, kava is a herbal anxiolytic, and this is even supported by a positive Cochrane review.

    A book of this nature needs to be rated foremost on its entertainment qualities. The reader learns all sorts of interesting things. For instance, did you know that honey wine was touted as an aphrodisiac, hence the term “honeymoon”? Sadly, the reader is also often misled. Essiac, a herbal “cancer cure” has not been found to be “weakly effective” (p 42). The truth about Essiac is that there is not a single trial to suggest that it works.

    And here is where I find this book slightly tedious. I had expected a witty and entertaining bedtime read. Instead, I found a distinctly unfunny text containing lots of misinformation and plenty of inadequately researched pseudo-knowledge. Thus I wonder who will read this text; experts will not enjoy it because it contains too many mistakes, and the lay reader might find the pseudo-scientific gloss tiresome or unnecessary. The author mentions hops, valerian, and lavender for insomnia—sadly, based on my own single case study, I recommend this book for that indication.