Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. My experience with traditional medicine only extends as far as my personal medical history (being treated, researching the ailments for myself, talking to others) and a handful of discussions with doctors. My personal experiences with alternative medicine are limited to a brief time I worked in a natural health/nutrition center in a department store, and a few years off and on I spent with people who lived deeply immersed in the “naturopath culture” and all that New-Age healing stuff.
My personal view on medicine is based on a few points which are as follows:
- Everyone’s body is different and unique. The parameters of “Ideal Body Weight” and other “universal” measures are about as accurate as “ideal height”, and as imprecise as defining different smells. While such measures serve as certain guidelines for a majority of the population (51% to 99%), I like to use caution in accepting such measures as “absolute”.
- Natural medicine has been used for thousands of years. Some of it, anyway. Some “natural medicine” is based on modern thought – often not very scientific – which attempts to hijack indigenous remedies and import them to a population that does not live in the geography, climate or lifestyle of those who have traditionally used such remedies. Because of this, a lot of “natural” remedies are unnatural. What works for a 4’ African tribesman who lives on grubs and roots and regularly runs through the desert barefoot is not necessarily going to do anything (or be safe!) for a 6’ European who eats high-fat and processed foods and lives in a temperate climate.
- Most modern medicines have some origin in a natural remedy. Aspirin came from a type of Willow Bark, for example. Any person who tells you an herbal supplement or other natural remedy is “safe” or “safer” because it is not a product of a big pharmaceutical company is dangerously ignorant! Herbal supplements are not regulated in the same way by the FDA, and can be on the shelf for months or years before being “recalled” because they are dangerous. These dangers can come from dosage, allergy, or interaction with other substances. In the past few years this was the case with a Chinese herb (Ma Huang) that was being added to ‘energy bars’ and ‘energy drinks’, and whose presence precipitated death when taken alongside another popular ‘energy’ item. The Chinese had been using it for centuries, but in America it reacted dangerously with another substance our society used in abundance.
- The most common reason the FDA forces a product off the shelf is that it causes liver damage. It is important to know that every medicine we consume must be processed by the liver, and most temporarily decrease our liver’s ability to process these things. Taking some medications or supplements with regularity, for longer than recommended (or in higher doses) can cause liver failure. Other herbs and vitamins when taken in over-abundance can cause other organ failure and system collapse. Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Vitamin A are just a few examples.
- Modern/Western/Traditional Medicine does have its place. With each new discovery, man’s ability to treat disease increases. Organ transplants, gene therapy, vaccines, penicillin, surgery, hormone therapies and most cancer treatments are beyond the scope and ability of the simple medicines (“alternative medicine”). In all honesty, I turn to western medicine first, only supplementing later (and with knowledge of my doctor!) with alternative medicines and practices.
- Western medicine has a different approach, though, and this is a very significant point to be aware of! Most western medicine focuses on disease and not on health. What I mean is that they focus on eliminating or relieving symptoms (pain, discomfort, measurements outside the ‘norm’, etc), rather than seeking to find the true underlying cause. I had a car once that was fairly new, but which began displaying the “check engine” light. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and neither could my mechanic. When the car started driving sluggishly, I took it to him again, and he finally identified an air intake sensor as the problem. He yanked it out and told me I didn’t really need it – it was simply something that helped the car pass the strict emissions controls in the State of California. My car drove great after that! A year later, however, it died … disabling the air sensor had caused the car to be less discriminating an its fuel mixture and eventually many pieces became fouled and dirty, and now it will cost more to repair and replace things. Modern medicine is like this – they remove tonsils, gall bladders, and snip nerves – when the true solution may have been an easier fix. People are now walking around missing organs that science – based on the theory of evolution – says we no longer need.
- I try to stay away from taking medications any longer than required, and almost always bypass pain medications altogether. Our bodies have a way of adapting to medicines (and recreational drugs) which, more often than not, causes us to have to increase a dosage to get the same effect. Looked at another way, these drugs cause our bodies to decrease their natural functions that would otherwise balance these things out. Taking medicines which alter the brain chemistry cause our brains to be more deficient in the things that make us “normal”, so when there is an accidental lapse in the medication, users can become unstable. Proton-Pump Inhibitors, like prilosec, stop our body’s production of stomach acid, so when these medications are ceased, acid comes back stronger than before for a period of time until the body can regain its equilibrium.
- I love animals, but veganism can be dangerous! People have the ability and choice to choose whether or not to eat meat, dairy and eggs. Our bodies are built to accommodate eating such things. If we do so “with thanks-giving” and eat meat sparingly, God is ok with it. With proper diet, it is possible to live only on vegetables and fruit, but few people (especially those not wealthy enough to afford the high-priced fare at places like Whole Foods) are able to live this way at a healthy level. I personally eat eggs and fish, sometimes chicken, and as much as I love a good steak, I rarely now eat meat besides these. I purposefully select vegetables that will provide me with more of the vitamins I am missing by not eating meat.
- More and more I am beginning to believe that God placed certain plants in certain climates to better enable our bodies to deal with those difficulties associated with these climates. I don’t know enough about the workings of regional foods and climates to give a detailed explanation – right now it is just a hunch – but I am coming to believe that each food has a season and a region, and if we were to eat more local & seasonal foods and herbs, our bodies might be more healthy.
- I have recently been trying out a pH diet that is built around the idea that too much acid in our bodies causes weight gain and other problems, and that our bodies should be slightly alkaline. When I looked at the diet online, the foods it suggested were already (for the most part) on the list of foods I’d been eating as a “low-heartburn diet”, and since I’d been losing weight on my diet as a pleasant side effect, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go with this pH thing. I’ll write more about this as I develop a solid opinion.
- At a couple times in my life, I have suffered from high blood pressure. I have learned to lower my blood pressure (in part) through breathing exercises. That doesn’t mean that it would work for everyone, but these have worked for me, and they remove a lot of my daily stress. I first “got the hang of it” by using the StressEraser. I got mine pretty cheap on eBay, but a new one in the box will run you around $180. If you can afford one, get it – it will make the breathing exercises easier. It was the first such device to get FDA approval (it does what it claims to do for your health). Essentially, it is a biofeedback device that measures your pulse and the amount of oxygen in your blood. It helps you set some daily ‘point goals’ , and provides a visual feedback of what you are accomplishing, in real-time. If you can’t afford one, what it teaches is pretty simple: you need to breathe deeply in a steady pace, slowly and smoothly. If you do this for a few minutes each day, you will feel more relaxed and your blood pressure may go down slightly.
- Stress, for me anyway, causes a lot of problems. Muscle cramps, high blood pressure and heartburn and ulcer pain are a few of the “physical” problems, while dis-coordination and “mental fog” are other complications. Though heartburn and ulcers are not actually “caused” by stress, the pain from these conditions is aggravated by tensing of the abdominal muscles, which, in turn, is usually from some form of stress. To get rid of stress (or at least lessen it), I do breathing exercises (see above), eat lighter meals, and listen to mellow, boring music (which I have eventually grown to find “exciting” and “interesting”), like classical, church hymns and the kind of New-Age stuff they play on “Echoes”. When I have the opportunity to go do something physical (walking, biking, etc), I find that my stress level goes way down. Another big lifestyle change: committing myself to less obligations and deadlines. While it may seem selfish, scheduling time for meditation, contemplation, or even a nap has provided me a few breaks from stress, and the relaxation it brings enables me to be more effective when I am involved in other projects. I have to be mindful of how I use my free time, however: Blogging, videogames, certain news and other “confrontation and clash” pastimes only make stress worse.
- Just like the caution you should use in giving your credit card information to a phone salesperson, or buying that mystery cleaner from the door-to-door salesman, I think people ought to exercise caution and discernment when visiting both “real” doctors and alternative medicine practitioners. Doctors and hospitals are regularly courted (literally taken out to lunch invited to retreats, given gifts) by pharmaceutical companies, and are encouraged to make use of sample medicines. When your doctor prescribes any medicine, you should check it out before taking it, but that is especially true with samples they send home with you. Samples are especially dangerous, because they indicate a product the companies are currently pushing, which is an indicator that the product is new (and therefore not enough time has passed for consumers to issue ‘grass-roots’ alerts about the side effects), or the products have waned in popularity (usually because of ill effects or because there is a better option available). At the same time, when you go to nearly ANY alternative medicine practitioner (or veterinarian!), you’ll see bottles of pills and promotional magazines (the kind made by the manufactures of the medicines, rather than legitimate magazines) everywhere you turn. Part of the reason for this is that these doctors need to supplement their income, so they sell pills on the side. Part of the reason, too, is that most small herbal remedy manufacturers lack the money to place ads in major media (or to scientifically test their pills, or to manufacture them safely, or to accurately measure the ingredients …), so it is easier for them to work an agreement with them to carry their product in his office, so his customer demographic – the kind of people more likely to try these alternative pills in the first place – are more likely to see them and try them. Sadly, most people who visit alternative medicine places are not analytically-minded, and are going to believe that any “medicine” their “doctor” has in his office is going to be “safe” – the very kind of dangerous faith people who go to “regular” doctors have. Be wary of any doctor who seems to be using a sales pitch to sell you medicines/herbal supplements/vitamins: “I’ve found that this company uses superior ingredients”, “The stuff you find at Wal-Mart isn’t going to work”, “These might be more expensive than the other brands, but they’re worth the price”. A true professional would give you the pros and cons of any substance they are suggesting you take, would let you know of equally effective “generics”, and would tell you exactly what kind to take, and when and how to take it.
- I try to educate myself on any conditions or medications that are related to the reason I am seeing the doctor. This might seem “paranoid” or “hypochondriac”-like to some, but without exception, EVERY doctor I’ve been to, where I’ve educated myself in advance, has spent more time with me discussing treatment options and alternatives, and most have gone as far as to engage in interesting conversation about medicine, sometimes not even related to my reason for being there. To contrast, those times I have been to a doctor and have not asked “the right questions”, the doctor or nurse who sees me is in and out and treats me like a number, giving me a lot less confidence in their skill. (I once had one of those not even listen to my symptoms before telling me to take an antibiotic and call back if I remained ill).
- Again seeming like a hypochondriac, it is a good idea to keep a personal health record of treatments, doctors, medicines, immunizations, and nutritional information (what you eat regularly). I also like to take daily blood pressure readings, temperature, weight/BMI, and (because of the pH diet), pH readings. Some of this (temperature, for example) is just out of curiosity, but having a historical list of blood pressure readings or what/when medications can sometimes help your doctor review your condition faster. As gross as it may sound, it’s also a good idea to watch your stool and urine, as changes can be indicative of chemical changes in your body (urine is particularly important when you are taking any kind of supplement, because it can help as an indicator of kidney problems).
- Finally, I’ve said variations of this a few times already, but it is important enough to get its own bullet point: ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH. Go online to find out the good and bad things people are saying about a supplement/vitamin/herb/medicine, its side-effects, reasons it is prescribed, and overdose symptoms. Look up drug interactions between it and ALL medicines and foods you are taking. Check the FDA website to see if there have been any complaints/recalls. Don’t just go to one or two sites – an MD site is usually going to go along the “Big Pharma” lines and not tell you all the side effects (“because they are not established”), while an herbal supplement site might be playing up the benefits of their treatment or product, excluding dangerous side effects. The truth is usually somewhere in between, but you’ll never find it if you only patronize one side.