Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil, MD, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1995, 309 pp, $12.95 PB; Audiobook Abridgement, Random House, 1995, 2 cassettes, $17.

Review by Del Meyer, MD

Spontaneous Healing is the sixth book by Doctor Andrew Weil on the subject of alternative and complementary medicine." The book explores holistic medicine, homeopathy, biofeedback, acupuncture, herbal medicine, naturopathy, hypnotherapy, along with a host of variations. Possibly because these topics have received considerable attention in the lay press, Weil’s book has become a bestseller.

Dr Weil’s stated theme is "How to discover and enhance your body’s natural ability to maintain and heal itself." He begins with several anecdotes about spontaneous healing, which he feels most physicians have observed on occasion: a man with metastatic cancer who is sent home to die and is now tumor free; the end stage cardiac failure patient who recovers; the motor cycle accident patient in a coma who was not expected to regain consciousness and is now doing fine. Weil feels that most doctors do not take these cases seriously preferring to regard them simply as "stories."

The second section of the book discusses how to "optimize" the healing system. After an overview, Weil delves into healing diets, the avoiding toxins, the importance of activity and rest, the use of tonics, and the mind-spirit interface. He concludes with a description of his eight-week program for optimal healing power.

The third and final section deals with the reality of "if you get sick." Weil strongly urges readers to be realistic as to what conventional medicine offers. He carefully notes that conventional medicine is the best for managing trauma, crises (hemorrhages, heart attacks, infections, diabetic comas, bowel obstructions, acute appendicitis), as well as any other severe symptoms out of the range of normal experience. He advises reader not to waste time before getting needed treatment.

In the afterword, Weil devotes several pages to "Prescriptions for Society." He notes the barriers to moving healthcare in the direction he proposes. The obstacles he identifies include: disease oriented medical education; distrust in the doctor/patient relationship; health-care payers whose reimbursement policies dictate how medicine is practiced; primitive or nonexistent research on alternative medicine; the biomedical model from which medical scientists work. Weil’s suggestions for removing these barriers involve some rather radical changes in medical education.

Spontaneous Healing is well researched and written, and it is a useful resource for physicians, if only because it informs them about the alternative methods their patients may be using. The audiotape version, which Weil reads himself, is also of interest. I believe that both the book and audiotape can be recommended to our patients.