Health Care, Not Sick Care

Published August 2, 2012

Review of Get Well and Stay Well: Optimal Health through Transformational Medicine, by Steve Amoils, M.D., and Sandi Amoils, M.D., Integrative Medicine Foundation, July 1, 2012. $19.77

I could not have started this book more skeptical of its value. As a strong critic of homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, and the entire basket of nontraditional medicines, I expected to fly through this book with little chance of getting drawn in. It was not long before I changed my mind, and you may too.

Although over the years I have reviewed hundreds of books for publication, of greater importance here is that health has been my highest priority since college and it has paid off handsomely for me. For years I have been lecturing on the fact that America has a sick care system, not a health care system. But the Amoils are making every effort to create the latter.

Knowledge Silos and Illness

These two South African doctors set out around the world to study every imaginable healing protocol and find the roots of people’s pain and health problems. They emigrated to the United States and founded the Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine in Cincinnati. Their approach runs counter to the “silver bullet” theory of medicine predominant today, where patients want and doctors offer antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and anti-cancer agents—which, according to the Amoils, too often represents a quick fix with little or no depth of investigation.

The authors describe medical silos in which each specialty generally operates independent of most others. Unfortunately, since conventional medicine is so focused on finding a single cause of each illness, doctors sometimes get caught up in a search for the one single thing (such as a virus or high cholesterol) that might have caused the illness. In reality, most illnesses are caused by a constellation of factors coming together.

The Amoils support all their teachings with real patient stories. The goals of their Integrative Medicine are personalized, proactive, preventive, patient-centered, and empowering. They divide the knowledge they impart into five categories of diagnosis and then five protocols of treatment. The book is an amazing combination of common sense with the biology and psychology of illness that anyone can understand.

Diminishing Stress, Improving Health

While the authors tell us that sunshine, water, rest, air, exercise, and diet are the best doctors, they go into detail on how to create a fully healthy lifestyle. It is not too long before they clearly and comprehensively explain that some form of stress is responsible for many of the illnesses we face daily. They do so in a very lucid manner and walk the reader through the effective (though not necessarily simple) steps to reduce stress and transform it into positive aspects of one’s life.

Their advice: Simplify your life, Manage your time, Listen to your body. Exercise. Develop healthy ways to dissipate stress, Use social connections, Avoid stimulants and eat well, Take time every day just for yourself.

There is no stronger part of this book than this section, which will transform the reader from one who may have a general idea of the relationship between stress and illness into one who truly understands it and can thus make effective efforts to avoid it.

Don’t Rush to Drugs

The authors are strong on vitamin supplements they believe can be useful, but they advise avoiding drug treatment. They generally believe that inherent in every stressful situation is the energy required to overcome and transcend that situation and avoid a drug-based solution.

Their chapter on inflammation now known to be connected to a variety of illnesses is outstanding, as is their explanation of the error made by half of society in swallowing antacids at the first sign of stomach upset with the mistaken belief that stomach acid is a bad thing. People end up exacerbating the problem and laying the groundwork for continuing stomach problems such as acid reflux.

The authors clearly explain, “mundane, underappreciated, even maligned, the hydrochloric acid that is produced in the stomach begins the digestive process for everything we eat. Without it, we have trouble digesting food properly.” Yet to watch television ads, you might think everyone in our country has an excess of stomach acid. The authors’ explanation of what is right and wrong on this subject is worth the price of the book to save a family member from the wrong self-medication.

Chemophobia, Acupuncture

The authors hold some ideas that clearly run counter to my own beliefs and experiences. For example, they mistrust the use of chemicals in agriculture to keep food safe. They fear things in the diet with no valid evidence, they tend to believe in some psychosomatic illnesses that I do not, and in my opinion they place too much reliance on acupuncture’s benefits.

But having said that, this book remains invaluable. It offers excellent information and advice about exercise and diet, and as good a tutorial on genetics and health as you are likely to read anywhere.

The book reminds me of a funny joke about flossing. Dentists say that if you do not have time to floss all your teeth, just floss the ones you want to keep. In this case, you should feel free to read only those parts of this book that relate to illnesses you wish to avoid.