Naturopathy's Black Book

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Recently I became aware of a reference book—commonly referred to as the "Black Book"—which Bastyr University students could use as a treatment guide. It has no identified author or publication date, but the information appears to have been reproduced in 2005 from a set of 14 floppy discs that contained a total of 269 topics, each in a separate file. When I received the files, I assembled them into a searchable 631-page PDF document. A former Bastyr student whom I asked about the book has told me:

Naturopathy students are required to compile/create a "clinic notebook" which contains naturopathic pearls of info that we picked up throughout our training. I assume that the black book grew out of this requirement. I don't think it was an official publication of the school, but it was available electronically to students on Bastyr's intranet so we could download it and use the information as we desired. Students used it as a reference book to help create treatment plans for patients and to study for tests. I don't remember being given instructions for its use, but do I recall knowing it was available as a resource and that I was allowed to reference it during my clinic shifts. I don't know whether it is still posted, but it was available in 2016 when I still had access to the school's server.

The information is presented in outline form, most commonly under the headings: Definition; Etiology; Signs and Symptoms; Lab Findings; Course/Prognosis; Differential Diagnosis; Nutrition; Avoid; Supplements; Hydrotherapy, Physiotherapy; Botanicals; and Homeopathy. A few contains recommendations for spinal manipulation. About half of the entries briefly mention conventional (medical) treatments under the heading Course/Prognosis but say little about when they should be used and nothing about whether they are superior.

Most conditions have long lists of dietary supplements, botanicals (herbal products), and homeopathic products. These recommendations, which total in the thousands, could not possibly be supported by scientific evidence because they would require thousands of supportive clinical trials to test them and thousands more to demonstrate that they are more effective than standard medical care. No such volume of studies exists for supplements and herbals, and no homeopathic product has ever been proven effective against any health problem.

Here are a few illustrations of what the black book recommends:

Permitting the disreputable methodology of Hoxsey, Burzynski, Manner, and Nieper to be promoted through Bastyr's server is a serious black mark against the school.

The nonsensical homeopathic recommendations for angina (chest pain due to heart disease) further document the utter silliness of naturopathic education. Are students actually expected to use them?

  1. Aconitum napellus: from exposure to cold; with intense anxiety; coldness; pain radiating from head in all directions; numbness, tingling, parenthesis
  2. Ammonium carbonicum: short breath, with choking, on going upstairs; shooting in the chest and sides, particularly when breathing, singing, stooping, walking; at night, with inability to lie for any time on the side affected
  3. Amyl nitrite: acute attacks; heart is rapid and tumultuous; feeling of a band around heart; oppressed breathing; face flushed
  4. Apis mellifica: pain extending from the precordium to right side of the chest with suffocation; feeble action of the heart; heart sensitive to the least pressure; pulse almost imperceptible at wrist; accelerated and full, very frequent and hard; wiry; irregular and slow pulse, intermittent
  5. Aurum metallicum: pressing pain; pressure on sternum, as from a heavy weight; continuous aching in left side of the chest; incisive, shooting pain near the sternum; great mental depression; suicidal
  6. Cactus grandiflorus: in organic disease of the heart; feels like an iron band gripping the heart; soreness, pressing pain; pain extending from the precordium down the left arm to the hand and fingers, < daytime, better lying on back with shoulders elevated
  7. Actaea racemosa: severe pains; heart's action suddenly ceases; sense of impending suffocation; pulse weak, feeble; pains radiating all over the chest with a sensation as if the left arm is bound to the side; patient may become unconscious
  8. Crataegus oxyacantha: sudden, terrible pain on the left side of the chest radiating over the heart and the left arm; despondent and fearing death; main remedy for all heart diseases
  9. Digitalis: in morning, after coitus; thready, slow pulse, irregular, worse lying left side, > lying on back
  10. Glonoinum: with hypertension, throbbing in whole body, burning between shoulders; heart beat reverberates into head, < sun, heat
  11. Lachesis: sensation of fullness in chest; dry, hacking cough provoked by touching throat
  12. Latrodectus mactans: tearing pain in the heart; anxiety with violent pain, extending from the precordium to the axilla, down the left arm to the hand/fingers; perhaps the most important a remedy for angina pectoris
  13. Naja: stitching severe pain in the heart; pain from the precordium to the left hand/fingers and to the back; feeling of depression and uneasiness about the heart; pulse slow, irregular in rhythm and force; weak and thready, barely perceptible; or pulse rapid and full
  14. Oxalic acid: pain extending from the precordium to the epigastrium, left hand/fingers; pain extending up the sternum and darting across the chest; must keep perfectly quiet; pulse increased, almost imperceptible with coldness and clammy sweat
  15. Rhus toxicodendron: pain extending from the precordium to the left hand/finger; weakness and sensation of trembling in the heart; violent palpitation of the heart while sitting quietly; painful sensation of paralysis and numbness of the left arm; pulse rapid, small, compressible
  16. Spigelia: drawing pain, soreness in the heart; pain extending to the nape of neck, left clavicle/shoulder, back, left hand/fingers; also to the right arm; anguishing substernal pain; irregular pulse, tendency to syncope, palpitation and sharp stitches; pulse weak and irregular or full and bounding; < least motion, > lying on right side with head high
  17. Spongia tosta: constricting, stinging, pressing pain; sense of suffocation; loud cough great alarm, agitation, anxiety and difficult respiration; pulse hard, full and frequent
  18. Tabacum: "tobacco heart" or uneasy pains about the heart due to tobacco (tabacum 3X has cured cases of angina pectoris in patients with atherosclerosis)

The works cited in the Black Book include 30 books published between cited in the book were published between 1988 and 1997 and 11 sets of "class notes" recorded between from 1995 and 1998. I was able to identify most of the note-takers as graduates of the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM), some of whom later became faculty members. This suggests that the information was originally produced and distributed by NCNM students at a time when it and Bastyr were the only 4-year naturopathic schools in the United States.

This article was posted on September 24, 2018.

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