Required Reading: Best Nutrition Textbook I've Seen

Vitamin Sourcebook


Textbook of Nutritional Medicine 
Melvyn Werbach, M.D., with Jeffrey Moss, D.D.S. (1999)
Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press. 740 pages. ISBN 0-9618550-9-6

Nobody is interested in vitamins. What people want is to know how to cure disease. This goes for preoccupied doctors as much as for desperate patients.  In 25 years of lecturing on natural health care, I have almost never had anyone (practitioner or layperson) come up to me afterwards and say, "tell me more about the biochemistry of vitamin therapy!" Rather, the ubiquitous follow up question is, "What vitamins should I use for (such and such an illness)?"

In righteously answering such a question, the task is to present the facts of vitamin therapy accurately and rapidly, without losing sight of the questioner's specific need. As Ward Cleaver demonstrated, the Beaver needs unbiased truth in shortened form, as applies to his specific situation.

It is as hard to provide that in a book as it is in a conversation.

The fundamental strength behind Dr. Melvyn Werbach's Textbook of Nutritional Medicine is that it fully appreciates the immediate need of the reader. This book is not about vitamins; it is about diseases treatable with vitamins. Should you ever want to put someone to sleep, just start lecturing on nutrition with the ever-boring "vitamins A through E and foods that contain them" approach. I guarantee that heads will be nodding long before you finish with the B-complex.

Textbook of Nutritional Medicine is that rarity among all health books: at 750 large pages, it is still remarkably concise. Almost all of it is organized by illness, not by nutrient. It is not preachy and it never overstates the role of nutrition. It takes only seconds to look up any one of over 80 diseases that are known to respond to nutritional therapy. And it is very heavily referenced.

The Textbook is an outgrowth of Dr. Werbach's 1988 Nutritional Influences on Illness, which was essentially a topic-by-topic collection of research abstracts. I liked that a lot, and required it as a textbook when I taught graduate clinical nutrition. The current Textbook is more complete in every way, and is well worth its $75 hard cover price. It provides far more direction to the open-minded practitioner or self-care minded general reader. To have an "alternative" health book written by a medical doctor (co-authored with dentist Dr. Jeffrey Moss) is very valuable to patients who are struggling upstream to convince their pharmophilic physicians to at least give vitamin therapy the time of day. There is nothing quite like pulling out a book like this one to shorten physicians' "supplements might hurt you so just eat a good diet" speeches. And even the most ostrich-like orthodox practitioner can not long resist the call of the literally thousands of peer-reviewed journal references that Dr Werbach has read, sorted, and summarized in his book.

So trot out the Textbook next time somebody tries to tell you that more research is needed before vitamins can be used to treat illness. 

There is a real possibility that your doctor will recoil when s/he is presented with all these references. This reaction, true to human nature, is nevertheless unscientific. It is embarrassing to doctors when patients know more about their case than they do. Yet there is no other rational choice.  If therapy exists, and is reasonably well-tested and safe, it is inexcusable to not try it. Doctors know this, but are so uneducated in nutrition that they are usually not in a position to supervise such therapy. Hence the embarrassment. The Textbook provides the continuing education they so sorely need.

Obviously, you need to read it first, but not all of it. It is a reference. Do you read the dictionary cover to cover? (You don't have to, because, as comic Steven Wright says, "The zebra did it.")  Just look up the diseases that are closest to home. You, your family, and your friends all stand to benefit from the hard work that Dr. Werbach has already done for you, distilling and sorting hundreds of studies into one lap-friendly volume.

Dr. Werbach's objectivity is so carefully maintained that, to a general reader, his well-balanced approach might seem like fence sitting. This is perhaps most notable in his cautious discussion of vitamin C against cancer. I also noticed that, in considering schizophrenia, the Hoffer-Osmond Adrenochrome Hypothesis was omitted. My personal opinion is that Dr. Werbach might have more to say in open support of really high divided doses of niacin (not just niacinamide in moderation) for anxiety and psychosis. The multiple sclerosis section makes no mention of the nutritional protocol of Frederick R. Klenner and Roger J. Williams is not cited in the otherwise very good section on alcoholism. Max Gerson is absent from the chapter on cancer. William J. McCormick is not mentioned in connection with vitamin C and cerebrovascular disease, and I found no references to Wilfrid or Evan Shute's pioneering work with vitamin E and heart disease. This may be because Dr. Werbach has chosen, perhaps because of limitations of space, to focus on more recent research. Additionally, I think chromium polynicotinate, zinc monomethionine, iron fumarate, and so-called colloidal minerals should be added to the section on "Elemental Mineral Content of Common Mineral Salts" used as supplements. 

Lest I appear to be nit-picking, let me assert that any book that calmly mentions vitamin E doses of up to 3,200 I.U., and maximum daily treatment dosages for vitamin C of 200,000 mg has my immediate and appreciative attention. Robert F. Cathcart, Ewan Cameron, Garnett Cheney, Ruth Harrell, John Ellis, William Kaufman, J.W. Anderson, and many other expert physicians and researchers are to be found fairly, and favorably, mentioned in the Textbook of Nutritional Medicine.  A number of these names are simply not to be found in any other nutrition textbook that I have ever seen. It is a pleasure to see them included here.

I am especially pleased that Dr. Werbach includes a considerable quantity of information on megavitamin treatment of AIDS patients. This bold and much needed inclusion opens the door for nutritional treatment of all viral illnesses. I am further delighted to see a section on nutrition and Down's syndrome. There are also seldom-mentioned-elsewhere nutritional approaches to Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, infertility, rosacea, lupus, and even myopia.  These sections make interesting reading indeed. Truth to be told, ANY section of the book makes for interesting reading.  I was somewhat surprised to fail to find Alzheimer's disease listed in either the table of contents or the index. Look under "Dementia" and you will find it; however, it should have its own listing.

Dr. Werbach's attitude towards and discussion of vitamin side effects is excellent. It is also conservative. He does not hesitate to caution when caution is due, and yet he clearly states (and proves) that the safety of megavitamin therapy is far greater than drug therapy.  Information on lab nutrition tests, label units and measurements, vitamin deficiencies, hints for successful practice of integrative medicine, and the entirely appropriate personal story of how he came to write his books, are all included.

But the heart of the Textbook is its nearly 700 pages of clinical recommendations and research summaries. Citations are clearly marked and reader-friendly; studies are mentioned within the text by authors' names in italics. Frequent and well-placed case histories are boxed in gray. There should be an overall author index as well as a topic index. Preparing such an index is not a job that I'd want; Dr. Werbach has over 140 full pages of references with about 40 citations per page.  That makes no fewer than 5,600 references in Textbook of Nutritional Medicine. Yet it is due to this very great number that the book requires more thorough indexing. 

I have relied on Dr. Werbach's work for ten years. When I prepare an article or lecture, I refer to his writings as a matter of habit. Before his books, one had to go back to Bicknell and Prescott's The Vitamins in Medicine (from the 1950's) for a really good single-volume collection of applied therapeutic nutrition research summaries. I am grateful for this latest, most impressive, and most practical update on a subject that is so important to us all.

Review copyright 2005 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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