What we call health care could be more accurately be called sickness care. When we care for our health, and when factors out of our control don’t compromise our health, we don’t need the services associated with the health care industry. It is when we are sick or injured that we need doctors and medicine the most.
Similarly, health insurance doesn’t insure health. When a privileged person has health insurance, it may help pay for the inhumanely high cost of sickness care. When we are healthy, health insurance does absolutely nothing to insure our health.
Everyone knows the old adage, “Prevention is the best medicine.” Prevention is the real health care, and the real health insurance. Happily, while medical services and health insurance are prohibitively expensive for most people on earth, wellness is free, because wellness is about making choices.
And in those cases that a healthy person becomes sick or injured due to factors beyond their control, a healthy society takes care it’s people. So at a deeper level, health care and health insurance are social responsibilities. It is our personal responsibility to create a healthy society that cares for everyones’ health and takes care of people who get sick. The development of a healthy society starts with the development of healthy individuals.
One step on that path is to reframe our use of pharmaceutical medicines. Instead of lumping them all into one category called “medicine,” we can look at each situation to determine whether or not the pharmaceuticals that our doctor prescribes treat the disease, or the symptoms, or both. Also, we can consider the long-term and short-term side-effects to determine whether or not the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Once we understand more about what is happening in our bodies when we are sick or injured, and how the pharmaceuticals will effect us, then we can talk to our doctors about all of our options.
For example, when a person has Type 1 Diabetes, without a specific diet coupled with regular insulin shots, the disease quickly becomes debilitating and deadly. If a Type 1 diabetic were to ask their doctor if there were any good non-pharmaceutical options, the doctor would likely reply, “No.” With a specific diet and regular insulin shots, a person with Type 1 Diabetes becomes fully functional and healthy. In this case, the pharmaceutical insulin is an excellent form of treatment with minimal side-effects.
However, when a person has dangerously high blood pressure caused by their food choices and lack of exercise, the most effective “medicine” may be no medicine at all – a different diet and more exercise can usually cure the disease. Pharmaceutical medication may be helpful to bring a person with high blood pressure out of immediate danger, but the ultimate solution isn’t medication. If a person with high blood pressure were to ask their doctor if there were any good non-pharmaceutical options, the doctor would likely reply, “Yes.”
In many cases, doctors will prescribe pharmaceutical medicines that do not address the root of the problem the way insulin does. Instead, the medicine simply masks the symptoms. For example, when a person has low back pain, a doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxers, and sometimes even opiates. Those kinds of medicines reduce pain, but unlike insulin which directly treats the problem of diabetes, pain medications do nothing to solve the causes of back pain. And, their side-effects often create new problems. If you go to the doctor for treatment of your low back pain and they prescribe anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and/or opiates, you can study long-term and short-term side effects of the medications, and then ask your doctor if there are any non-pharmaceutical treatments that you can try. A well-educated doctor will say, “Yes, of course,” and direct you toward relaxation, exercise, diet, and complimentary alternative medicine.
With that in mind, we might define medicine as anything that improves health. Some things that are not technically medicine, such as food and exercise, are fundamental keys to health. And some things that are called medicine do not improve health. Instead, they mask symptoms, and in many cases, deplete health. Awareness of the effects that medicines have on our bodies can help us make informed choices about if, how, and when to use them.
Here are some Middleway suggestions for the use of medicine:
- Use rest, relaxation, nourishing foods, water, herbal medicines, complementary alternative medicine, and love in all cases of illness and injury.
- Before you take them, educate yourself about what prescription medicines do and why.
- If you or your child has a bacterial infection of the ear/nose/throat, or a mildly infected wound, ask your doctor how long it is safe to wait before using antibiotics. Many infections heal on their own with proper care. Follow antibiotic treatment with probiotic foods such as yogurt and fresh sauerkraut.
- Ask your doctor to prescribe non-habit-forming alternatives to opioids (codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone) for pain management whenever possible.
- Minimize the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain medications (ibuprofen and acetaminophen) to short durations (5 days max) at standard dosages in acute situations, followed by at least a 24-hour period of non-medication to assess symptoms and allow your liver and digestive system to rest and recover. Use for no more than two weeks, then consult your health care provider for other treatment options. Or, eliminate NASAID’s from your life entirely and seek the advice of a health care professional that works without them.
- Do not use anti-inflammatories and/or analgesics (pain medications) to mask the symptoms of an illness or injury so that you can continue to do the thing that injured you or made you sick in the first place. When injured or sick, give yourself time to heal. This recommendation is one of the most challenging and most rewarding of the Middleway suggestions. It can change your life.
- Ask your doctor to prescribe muscle relaxants, BETA blockers, and GABA analogs only as a palliative to unbearable discomfort after trying milder medications first, and then report all side-effects to your doctor.
- Do not use opioids, anti-seizure, anti-psychotic, and anti-anxiety medications for pleasure, escape, or distraction. Use only as prescribed for debilitating illness.
- Ask your doctor to minimize the use of steroids to one injection or one oral dosage for cases of debilitating inflammation. During the period of medication (approx. 10 days), minimize activities that contribute to tissue damage, even when you’re feeling better.