The Other Medicines. By Richard Grossman. Doubleday. Hardcover $19.95. Paperback $10.95.
More than 100 patients are being treated each day with ear acupuncture as part of a New York clinic's program for hard-core drug addicts.
And at least 60 percent of the clients at the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the South Bronx are remaining drug- and alcohol-free for several months after the series of daily treatments -- dramatic proof that alternate therapies do produce results, Richard Grossman writes.
In his book, Grossman, who is on the faculty at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, presents another way of looking at health and healing.
The 224-page volume -- which is acutually two books in one -- offers lay persons and medical practitioners alike a cross-cultural smorgasbord of non-traditonal techniques that may prevent many modern ailments or promote recovery.
In the first 140 pages, Grossman discusses the historical significance of such practices as Chinese medicine and acupuncture, Hindu and Yogic therapy, herbalism, massage, homeopathy and mental imagery or shiatsu.
He maintains that the persistence of these practices through the centuries proves that these techniques are not just freakish alternatives of last resort but are complementary techniques to scientific medicine.
The second half of the book is an illustrated natural first aid handbook that gives the reader easy-to-follow directions for preparing and applying herbal and folk medicines and performing exercises for such common ailments as colds, fever, burns, bites, insomnia and stress.
Grossman's advice, especially when it comes to massage or acupressure for neck and back strain or herbal teas for insomnia, menstrual cramps and stress, seems judiciously doled out and is refreshing in an era when reaching for prescription drugs is often the automatic response.
Grossman also mentions increasing Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) about a week before the beginning of menstruation -- without specifying the amount -- as one several dietary supplements (along with bananas, peanut butter, dates, asparagus and cantaloupes) designed to increase potassium and reduce water retention. He fails to note, however, that recent research indicates that B6 may be toxic if taken for long periods in amounts as low as 600 milligrams.
But in most cases, his tinctures and teas, poultices and foot massages seem to err on the side of caution.
"The Other Medicines" tries to integrate holistic and conventional methods of enhancing health and relieving pain rather than pitting the two views of medicine against one another.
In his historical discussion of several ancient medical systems, Grossman provides a bridge between what western man has come to call orthodox medicine and a totally separate set of beliefs that have played a significant role in the science of healing for centuries.
He says scientific medicine has achieved such vise-like control of western thinking that "Inevitably, any theraputic approach that does not stem directly from the Western physics and chemistry that are the bedrock of cosmopolitan medicine is seen as occult, and is considered not only different, but inferior."
"Fringe medicine," "marginal medicine" and "alternative medicine" are some of the labels given these healing approaches.
Grossman says even the term "holistic" has become so loose as to be "virtually bankrupt and meaningless. Any moment now we'll see a chain of holistic donut shops."
The aggressive health consumerism of the 1970s and '80s combined with the growing awareness of the interrelationship of man's mind and body with the environment slowly forced traditional medicine to reevaluate its "disease orientation" in favor of one promoting overall health through preventive strategies.
In "The Other Medicines," Grossman tries to solidify this emerging alliance between East and West, the sophisticated and the primitive, scientific medicine and "grandmotherly" cures.
For example, Grossman takes great pains to demythologize acupuncture -- including the fear of needles and the worry of post-treatment infection -- by describing his own acupuncture sessions for an acute sinus condition and the dramatic relief he received.
In the chapter on homeopathy, Grossman describes how a patient's first visit with a homeopath and subsequent treatment will differ from traditional physicians' aproaches. Patients are urged to describe not only the specific symptoms that are bothering them but "nervous feelings" of every kind.
"Likes and dislikes, fears, timidity, hurried feelings, lack of interest, persistent thoughts, discouragements, whether critical, irritable, easily confused, if he suffers from aversion to business or work, absentmindedness, whether he is easily started from sleep, annoyed by talk of others or presence of children, etc . . . In other words, the 'strange, rare and peculiar' symptoms homeopaths believe are so crucial to diagnosis."
Homeopaths will then prescribe drugs or substances that they believe will activate the body's own healing mechanisms.
The powers and applications of several of the more well-known plants, herbs and teas are detailed in the last half of the book. Each household is urged to have an aloe vera plant nearby because of its proven healing and soothing effect on abrasions and sunburns.
Grossman includes specific pressure points and how to use them to alleviate neck or back pain, along with an explanation of the therapeutic value of foot massage and directions for concocting a tea to sooth anxiety or insomnia.
He is also extremely careful to caution readers against using unknown plants or taking any that are known narcotics.
The chapter on folk remedies includes a section on cultural beliefs that are unhygienic or medically unsound as well as a long list of toxic plants.
"The Other Medicines" makes for good reading both for the medical history buff and for the patient interested in taking a more active role in personal wellness.