Book Review: Healing Bipolar Disorder and Depression Without Drugs

November 1, 2009 at 6:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I would like to like every book I review here, and I would like to keep an open mind about wellness possibilities. However, I have to admit that Gracelyn Guyol’s Healing Bipolar Disorder and Depression Without Drugs pissed me off and, yes, depressed me. There are some valuable ideas in here, but they’re overshadowed by a dangerous emphasis on going entirely medication-free. I know that many people believe that it’s possible and even necessary to get off of psych drugs, but my own experience without them has been so downright terrifying that I get annoyed when writers suggest that you should just drop the drugs and start acupuncture. Or whatever.

The funny thing is, I’ve tried a lot of the alternative therapies suggested in this book, and, of course, none of them worked. I’ve taken every imaginable herb and supplement, been treated for yeast overgrowth and food allergies (neither of which I actually have), and had acupuncture. Each time I started out with a rush of enthusiasm, then ground to a halt as the depression returned or simply continued unabated.

These sorts of books have a fairly simple premise: depression and bipolar disorder are typically caused by other underlying conditions — anything from worms to unbalanced chi — and simple, cheap therapies will effect a miraculous cure. The author buys into the usual conspiracy theory that doctors don’t try these therapies because they aren’t profitable to the major pharmaceutical companies. Now, I’m just as cynical about big pharma as the next person, but you can’t tell me that supplement and herb companies aren’t raking it in by pushing 5-HTP, Chinese herbs, amino acids, and what-all. The New Age treatments that such authors always suggest are easily available, and I find it hard to believe that people wouldn’t be flocking to practitioners if any of these things actually worked. Of course, every chapter cites a couple of studies or an anecdote or two. The studies consistently lack control groups, however, or are sponsored by the very guy who just happens to have created the wonder supplement being studied. As a result, the book has a dangerous sheen of science, but actually relies primarily on anecdotal evidence to support many of its claims. A person could very well come away feeling that science shows that, say, reflexology can cure bipolar disorder. This is a dangerous belief, to say the least.

The opening chapters are probably the best researched, and seem to offer the best science. They primarily concern vitamins and amino acids, both of which are essential to the body’s ability to use psych drugs. In fact, I realized after reading the chapter on vitamin supplements that I had all of the symptoms of a B2 deficiency. It swiftly goes downhill from there, descending into a mishmash of Kerlian auras, chakras, prana, and every other known form of witchdoctoring. Don’t get me wrong — I believe that yoga, meditation, and perhaps even acupuncture can be beneficial. However, I think it’s incredibly irresponsible to suggest that any combination of alternative therapies can completely cure a good, solid case of bipolar disorder.

What enrages me the most is how much I want to believe. I found myself dog-earing pages on omega-3 fatty acids and glyconeutrients, and plotting a buying spree at the health food store. In the end, though, as much as I’d like to, I can’t believe. One of the worst things about having a poorly understood chronic illness is that people will suggest all sorts of goofy therapies. Some of them may even be mildly beneficial. But none of them is going to cure a lifelong, degenerative disease.

Grr. Enough of that. For some reason, I felt like I had to write that review before moving forward with this blog. The book depressed me and angered me a lot more than I anticipated, and I didn’t think it would be a pleasant read. I just hate to think of the alternating hope and despair that I experienced while searching for a diagnosis and cure, when, in fact, no cure exists.

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