Go with your gut—that’s the basic advice of Honest Medicine, by local author, Julia Schopick. She already has a web presence with a blog and many articles on health issues but this is her first book.

I recently spent an evening at Cosi Restaurant talking to Schopick and found her well-informed, articulate and interesting.  But I admit to approaching the book with some trepidation. It is about four low-cost but incredibly effective medical treatments that are not being used by most medical practitioners today. The treatments that Schopick describes in the book are Silverlon, Intravenous Alpha Lipoic Acid, the Ketogenic Diet and Low Dose Naltrexone.

As much as I enjoyed talking to the author and as reasonable as she sounded, I still expected a diatribe. A screed about rotten doctors and injured patients.  Schopick offered to sign the copy of the book she gave me to review but I demurred—I was pretty sure I was going to write a scathing review and didn’t want to pretend that I was on board with this.

The book is well-written and carefully researched. I think that was the most pleasant surprise of all. The author and the contributors do not gloss over the fact that these treatments lack the large-scale, double-blind trials that are required by the FDA for approval for the uses outlined in the book. They explain that because these treatments are not patentable and their cost is relatively low, it is not economically feasible for a large drug company to conduct the research, which is enormously expensive. The federal government has scaled back on its research dramatically, so there is no system in place to test treatments of this type. The evidence for these treatments comes from individual patients.

The author and contributors insist, however, that these are worthy treatments that work as well or better than the more expensive ones currently in use for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, some autoimmune disorders and wound-healing. Two of the treatments involve medications that are already approved for other medical uses. It is legal for physicians to prescribe off-label use of medications but many are reluctant to do that without more data about its safety and are cautious about what they call anecdotal reports of treatment efficacy. This caution makes those who suffer from these diseases and who use mainstream medicine leery too.  But I must admit that these treatments sound effective. They have minimal or no side-effects and they are not toxic. I know—sounds too good to be true.

One treatment for childhood epilepsy, the ketogenic diet, has been used at Johns Hopkins Hospital since the 1920s. It seems to work very well but it is harder to implement than taking meds. It requires a long-term commitment from the family, a thorough understanding of the theory behind it, and oversight by an experienced dietician. It’s not a simple treatment but it is far less toxic than many current medications and patient outcomes are impressive. It certainly seems to be something that should be in the array of treatment options offered for young patients.

As I continued to read the book, one thing that I particularly liked was that the editor and contributors advocated that these treatments be other options for patients, not that everything else should be thrown out and only this allowed. They stressed the need for patients to be informed and to make decisions based on what they thought were good options. One doctor, Burt Berkson, said, “I would never want to force anything on anyone, and I don’t want anyone to force anything on me. People should be free to use any reasonable medical treatment protocol they think will help them.”

If he is able to trust that patients are not only capable of doing this, but that his job is to assist them in making decisions, not imposing his viewpoint, then he is someone who believes that the evidence speaks for itself.  He also recognizes that there is rarely one treatment approach that works for everybody. The amazing diversity of people makes treatments that work all the time unlikely.  

One of my biases, after years of working with mental health professionals as I sought treatment for two children with serious mental illness, was that most of the time the professionals had one approach to solving the problem and that was it. If I thought it might not be the right approach, I was “resistant” or “sabotaging treatment” or “misinformed” but never right. I developed a deep skepticism of claims that anything worked. In my experience, the more vociferously a treatment was defended as “leading edge” the more likely it was bunk. That experience also made me highly suspicious of untested treatments for children with serious mental illness. Some of them were downright kooky and a few resulted in the death of children. I have come to be highly skeptical about both mainstream and alternate medicine and to try to keep my distance as much as possible.

The reasonable tone of this book won me over though. I would advise anyone who has epilepsy, non-healing wounds, or an autoimmune disorder to look at the book. Then decide for yourself. That’s what this author is advocating—information and choice.  She is also advocating that we not ignore treatments because they don’t cost a lot of money. It’s not about getting what you pay for. And I think I would be glad that there are people out there willing to advocate for choices, even if I decided that those particular treatments were not for me.

There are several issues addressed in this book—big pharmaceutical companies and their influence on treatment in the U.S., the high cost of medical treatment, the bias against new treatments, and the need for patient self-advocacy.

The book is available through Amazon or Schopick’s website: www. HonestMedicine.com.

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Helen Kossler

Helen Kossler loves reading aloud to her grandchildren and is not ashamed to admit that she almost always likes the book better than the movie. She has been buying, borrowing, begging and stealing (well—not...

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