Thursday, February 23, 2012

My mistrust of Western medicine.

To be honest, I have a general mistrust of Western medicine. I would say that this one feeling of mine is the thing that consistently evokes gasps and raised eyebrows. I have a lot of strong opinions on a lot of subjects, from breastfeeding to birth to grammar to mental health and many other things, but when I question listening to ones doctor, or maybe treating conditions at home rather than rushing to a doctors office, people are consistently shocked.

I'm a true believer in "Alternative Medicine", which anything that hasn't been proven by The Scientific Community is labeled. Treatments that have been safely and effectively used in other cultures for thousands of years are scoffed at and deemed "unable to be proven" or even "ineffective." My belief in alternative medicine is not unfounded, though, I believe in it because it has consistently WORKED for me. Western physicians have generally given me answers such as "I don't know what it is, but take this pill/use this ointment/get this shot and it *should* go away" whereas alternative medicine has given me the tools to take my health into my own hands. Among many of my experiences with Western-style doctors I have had a mysterious skin rash on my wrist that came and went at random for many months; the same kind of skin rash under my eyes, but only during the winter, for 3 or 4 years in a row; a poorly timed induction for no valid medical reason and a resulting c-section; and a child who suffered through more than a dozen ear infections, many of them double infections, and became resistant to two antibiotics along the way. Alternative medicine, which I started turning to out of desperation when nothing seemed to get rid of Bug's ear infections and night-time vomiting, has given me the knowledge to handle most problems at home.

This really strikes a kind of panic into the hearts of a lot of well meaning people, and I just don't understand that. None of us are wasting away from cancer or autoimmune disease while I refuse medical treatment and insist on home remedies. I may prefer to deal with alternative medicine, but I do believe that Western medicine has a time and a place. I think it's particularly good for emergency care, and for repairing injuries, and I've had really good experiences on the receiving end of both of those kinds of medical treatment.

With illness, disease, mental health, long-term care, maternity, pediatrics, and many other conditions and life stages, though, I simply, personally believe that the disease-based, almost factory style of the health care system as a whole in our country is not the right way to create health and wellness. And I, personally, believe that the goal should be health and wellness, not medical treatment and management of every uncomfortable symptom along the way. We treat the knee pain, the back pain, the heartburn, the minor infections, the sleep apnea, the depression, and the type 2 diabetes but we don't look at the person as a whole and figure out how to heal from the root of the problem. We don't look at the big picture of how all of the symptoms are related and what can be done to create a lifestyle of health, choosing instead to buy prescriptions for various pills, creams, and injections to manage our symptoms. Well, not unless we step outside the traditional American Medical Box.

I don't intend to grow old taking a handful of prescription drugs every morning and evening. Supplements to support my wellness, such as calcium/magnesium, C/zinc combinations, and fish oil capsules are a different story, I will continue to take those because they help to keep my immune system strong and my body healthy. I do believe it's a good idea to get yearly or semi-yearly physical exams (and blood work is always a good idea, in my opinion) but I use the results from these exams as a picture of my general physical health and then I do what I can at home to support my health and wellness. Minor problems with digestion, blood pressure, weight, pain, and many other symptoms can often be remedied at home with diet changes, vitamin supplements, mineral supplements, and drinking more water. I often hear about interesting research into "proving" traditional, natural remedies. Not too long ago I heard an advertisement on the radio, a local university was looking for volunteers for a study on prostate cancer. They were looking to see whether a healthy diet would help treat prostate cancer. I was shocked that anyone would think a healthy diet WOULDN'T help treat it!

When I was younger I remember hearing about the ban on comfrey. Apparently the FDA majorly freaked out and declared this herb highly toxic and ordered it removed from products. My mom, and other people like her who were backyard gardeners with a little comfrey patch for use in healing balms and salves, were suddenly very nervous about whether they were violating the law by continuing to keep this plant for home remedies. Now, the Almighty Scientific Studies that were conducted on comfrey were based on large internal doses of the plant. I can only speak for myself, but in the sort of folklore herbal healing knowledge that has been passed down to me, I've learned that comfrey isn't meant to be taken internally. It makes a wonderful addition to anything that will heal the skin, though, and I've very successfully used it in many ointments, washes, and poultice-packs. Any remedy has the potential for misuse, and many have the potential to cause harm when not used properly. I, personally, feel more comfortable healing my body and supporting my health through these kinds of traditional medicines than by going to a doctor every time I have a cold or an ache.

I am not implying that doctors are bad people. One person who had a remarkable impact on my knowledge and understanding of health and the human body was our former family doctor. He was a kind and respectful man who always presented the different options and left the final decision up to us. He recommended breast milk to treat pinkeye, delaying certain vaccinations until the immune system was a little stronger, and a dairy free diet to help with a string of various ear infections and stomach bugs. He was so excited for us when I got pregnant with Boo Boo, and when I told him about my planned home birth he fondly reminisced about some of the home births he attended when he did house calls. After having been patients at a pediatric practice where you never knew which pediatrician you'd see, vaccinations were always done on time, and antibiotics were automatically given, I learned so much from that family doctor, and since then I've always made a point to have our whole family be patients at the same general practitioner office wherever we've lived.

When it comes to my own health, and the health of my family, we've had much better results from modifying our diets, taking the right supplements, and using natural remedies such as homeopathy and herbal blends than we've had from most visits to a regular doctor. If we can't take care of a problem at home, or it seems to keep getting worse, or if we start seeing symptoms that indicate an emergency, then it's time for a trip to the doctor. Honestly, though, it very rarely gets to that point. I very strongly believe that our lifestyle of supporting health and wellness has helped to strengthen our immune systems to the point where MOST of the time we're able to fight off the various bugs and viruses that come our way without the assistance of any medication.

It feels empowering to take our health into our own hands. It feels wonderful to know that we are in great shape, our kids are active and healthy, my husband and I have lost a lot of weight, improved our health, have stronger immune systems than we used to have, and we have brought about these results ourselves, through our own education and efforts. We plan our own treatments for coughs, colds, flus, allergies, minor injuries, digestive discomforts, and common childhood ailments. I birthed our second baby in the comfort of our own home and used herbal blends and vitamin and mineral supplements in my postpartum recovery, and it was a deeply empowering experience. The homeopathic cold remedies that we use have never been associated with the scary risks of over the counter drugs, many of which have been pulled from the shelves due to frightening side effects. We also know that when we DO need to get emergency treatment from a doctor, such as antibiotics, the treatment will be much more effective because we're not putting lots of other doses of antibiotics for lots of other ailments into our bodies.

I don't fuss too much about scientific studies that "prove" whether or not something works. I do a lot of my own research, and whenever possible I choose the simplest and most natural option. This hasn't failed me yet. When there are indications that a treatment or remedy may be risky, I look seriously at the whole story. Is it something that's just blatantly dangerous across the board, or is it something that's not appropriate for certain uses? Is it, for instance, meant to be used topically, and it's dangerous when ingested? There are plenty of prescription medications that have dangerous risks when not used correctly, or even when used correctly, but these seem to be handed out like candy. We haven't yet had a cold or flu that wasn't easily managed with fluids, lots of rest, nutritionally dense foods, and some Chestal syrup to soothe the nighttime coughs.

I do believe that everyone should check in at least somewhat regularly with a primary care physician, and I think it's a good idea to be willing to turn to a doctor or hospital in the case of an emergency. In the case of most common problems, though, I feel far more confident in my home remedies than in the treatments that will be offered at a doctor's office.


  1. I agree with your post completely! I really enjoyed reading it, it was very insightful! <3