THE FIRST TEN MILLION
Healthcare Reform Begins With Awareness
Let’s take everything we’ve been discussing about how the body works, the nature of disease, obstacles to cure, and chronic illness, and look at how we can utilize this information in the most practical way: How can we apply what we’ve explored in our first four blogs to help us understand the proper role of medicine?
As we have observed may times throughout these initial posts, conventional medicine mostly relies on pharmaceutical drugs to treat disease. We’ve discussed at length the limitations and challenges of this approach. But how did it get this way?
Antibiotics: The turning point
The discovery of antibiotics in the 1930’s seems to be the turning point. Prior to this time, the scourge of infectious disease held life expectancy to under 60 years. Penicillin was a monumental discovery that truly changed the course of human history. The remarkable effectiveness of penicillin and other antibiotics provided the medical community with a great deal of prestige and confidence about their ability to develop additional “magic bullets” to treat any and all diseases.
However, the success of pharmaceutical medicines has been marginal at best since the discovery of antibiotics. Antibiotics differ from most other pharmaceuticals in one critical way: they DO address root cause. Antibiotics are intended to kill bacteria, and many infectious diseases are caused by bacteria. They tend to be indiscriminate killers (in that they kill both good and bad bacteria), but in the case of a serious bacterial infection, it’s a treatment most find worthwhile.
Chronic illness is a different animal
With chronic illness, root cause is not so simple. This is not an invading pathogen; it’s an imbalance in the body. But conventional medicine treats it the same way. Pharmaceutical companies focus on treatments that either reduce risk factors (such as statins for high cholesterol) or improve quality of life by reducing symptoms (such as Imitrex for migraine). They do not cure the disease like the antibiotics do so successfully with infections. This is, very simply, because medical researchers do not target the root causes of chronic illnesses.
The other issue with drugs (and the reason their effectiveness is limited) is the wide range of side-effects that are stimulated by their use. In previous posts, we’ve highlighted the human organism’s tremendous capacity for self-healing. When we investigate the “mechanisms of action” of most medicines, we begin to see more clearly why their effectiveness is limited and side effects are inevitable.
How heartburn medication works
A good first example would be heartburn and GERD medications such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium. These are all PPIs (proton pump inhibitors), which work by stopping the production of stomach acid. They are very effective at relieving the symptoms of heartburn and GERD. However, their mechanism of action, stopping the production of stomach acid, has a negative impact on a critical function of the human body. Stomach acid is essential to the digestion of protein. The use of PPIs causes the digestion that is supposed to occur in the stomach to be passed on to the intestines. The intestines are equipped to finish the job of protein digestion, not take it on entirely. This can lead to a plethora of health complications.
The concern about this impact was so immediate to the FDA that when they initially approved these drugs, the guidelines included the statement that a proper use protocol would be 14 days. (FOURTEEN DAYS.) We now have patients who have taken these medications daily for years. This, of course, has led to increasing evidence of long term-side effects, including increased risk for bone loss and fractures, C difficile (a serious digestive infection), vitamin B12 deficiency, increased risk of drug interactions, and perhaps most alarming an increased risk of dementia.
Side-effects indicate deepening imbalance
Please understand that “side effects” of medications are the natural reaction of the body to the fact that the mechanism of action of the drug is unnatural to the body. In its attempt to counter the powerful impact of the medication, the body often manifests additional “symptoms” which are simply its efforts to clear the secondary imbalance that was caused by the drug. This is why we often see friends and family members who start one medication and are soon on two or three to treat the symptoms caused by the first.
There’s no way around it: When we treat symptoms with chemical drugs, we create further and further imbalance, challenging homeostasis even more. This does not mean that drugs can’t be beneficial in their ability to limit symptoms and improve quality of life. We are simply explaining what is happening within the body.
Antidepressants and serotonin
Let’s look at an example of another popular medication. The neurotransmitter serotonin has a natural cycle within the body. When required for its various roles, serotonin is secreted by specialized cells. When its role is complete and no longer necessary, there are cells that reabsorb any excess serotonin. Anti-depressant medications like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc. are thought to work by delaying the reabsorption of serotonin. Medical researchers still do not understand why this seems to ease depression, anxiety and other neurological symptoms, but it seems to, at least for some patients.
SSRIs and side-effects
However, serotonin is much more than a “feel good” chemical. It plays multiple roles in the body, and these types of drugs (known as SSRIs) can have a negative impact on serotonin’s other responsibilities. For example, serotonin plays a role in the peristaltic reflex, which moves our digested food and waste along the intestinal tract. This explains the common side effect of diarrhea when a patient first starts these medications, which is often followed by constipation problems as the cells become desensitized to the constant presence of serotonin.
Many of the most common side-effects of SSRIs (dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, migraines, insomnia, etc.) are also tied directly to serotonin. Any time you force the body to do something unnatural, you WILL impact numerous other functions, and each “side effect” represents a new level of imbalance that further challenges homeostasis. (Obviously anyone who is suffering and finds relief with these drugs is free to make the best personal choice for them; we are simply addressing the complexities.)
People are beginning to wake up
The general public is becoming more aware of the limitations of the pharmaceutical approach to health and wellness. It is not uncommon when discussing health issues with others to hear comments that are increasingly dismissive of the dominant medical community:
“They just want us to take medications forever so they can make more money.”;
“The doctors are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies.”;
“Did you see that list of side effects?! Why would anyone take those drugs?”
All these are examples of common attitudes these days. Most of us have seen friends and family members on what seems to be an ever-expanding list of medications with no obvious benefit.
That said, I am not a conspiracy theorist. In my interactions with doctors throughout the years, I’ve found the vast majority to be sincere, intelligent, well-intended people. I do believe most chose a career in medicine out of a genuine desire to help others. The problem seems to be more with the industry as a whole. In a future post, we’ll take a closer look at how pharmaceutical interventions came to be the first choice of treatment. It wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to stay this way.
“Go see a specialist.”
In addition to the focus on drugs, there is another component of the dominant medical system that limits its ability to effectively treat chronic illness: Specialization. Specialization (gastroenterology, cardiology, endocrinology, orthopediatrics, neurology, etc.) can be invaluable in a medical crisis, but this aptitude does not translate well to the treatment of chronic illness.
As we’ve said, chronic illness is imbalance, a whole-body situation. The human organism is far greater than the sum of its parts. You simply cannot narrow focus to one specific organ or system and expect to heal a whole person. Despite their specific expertise, specialists lack the [broad] perspective required to help the body return to balance.
The dangers of “polypharmacy”
Another concern with specialization is that specialists often prescribe pharmaceutical interventions without appropriate consideration for the other protocols/medications directed by other specialists a person is seeing for other issues. Instead of a program that works harmoniously, we often instead end up with a cocktail of disjointed prescriptive directives. Beyond the issue of “interactions,” it can be incredibly taxing on the body to handle so many chemical compounds, so much biological interference, all at once.
The issue of “polypharmacy” (most commonly defined as taking 5 or more medications at the same time) is only now beginning to receive attention within the medical community. Statistics are revealing some alarming correlations* between the number of drugs one is taking and the incidence of falls, hospital visits and drug interaction problems, particularly in the elderly.
The bottom line
Clearly, modern medicine’s remarkable progress treating infectious disease and trauma does not translate into the arena of chronic illness. The above are only a few brief insights into why. There is much more we could say, but we think the message is clear: Conventional methods can’t heal this type of dis-ease. Our intention, however, is not to condemn the system, but to simply empower and inform you so that you may make wiser choices for your body.
In our next post, we will take an in-depth look at a paradigm that honors the wisdom of the body, works with the natural energy of homeostasis, focuses on removing the obstacles to cure, and offers the best chance of recovery from chronic illness. Stay tuned!
Tom is the founder of ForeverWell and has spent decades studying and working with some of the most gifted healers in the field of natural medicine. Recognizing that our healthcare system is failing us in the area of chronic illness, he is passionately committed to helping catalyze a paradigm shift driven by education, awareness, and individual empowerment.