The Myth of Medicine or "Take 10 Pills and You're Fine"

drugs.jpgI frequently get emails or Facebook messages from people asking me for medical advice. They want me to tell them what herbs or supplements they should take for whatever disease they or a family member have been diagnosed with. In other cases, it's a client they are working with. But, in every case, the problem is that they are asking me how to treat a particular disease, and often they want to know what products in a specific product line will work for that disease.

These emails frustrate me because I like helping people, but I'm not a doctor and I'm not legally able to prescribe treatments for diseases. The medical practices act for the State of Utah specifies that you don't have to charge money to be accused of practicing medicine without a license, so dispensing even free advice about how to use natural remedies to treat a specific disease is asking me to cross a legal line I don't like to cross.

I think way too many herbalists and natural healers, and especially people who sell herbal products, supplements and essential oils, are ignorant of the laws concerning what they do. Which is why my free Running a Successful Consulting Business course will address this issue and teach people how to stay on the safe side of the law. It should be online in late January of 2015.

But, as I also address in this course, it's not just the legal issue that bothers me. Even if it was completely legal for me to answer questions about diseases, I'd still find it difficult to offer recommendations with which I'd feel comfortable. That's because I don't treat diseases—I help people build health. It's not just semantics either. There is a big difference in the mindset between these approaches—one is disease care and the other is health care.

It seems that no matter how hard I try to explain this concept, people in general seem to struggle with it. I believe this is because they have bought into the "myth of medicine." This is the idea that you get people healthy by naming a disease and then giving them a remedy for that disease. This idea has been drummed into the general populace both by tradition as well as education.

TV advertising re-inforces this idea even more, which is why I love the following parody done by the Capital Steps, a group in Washington, DC that makes musical fun of political and social issues. It's called "Take Ten Pills and You're Fine."

The song is humerously pointing us to an important truth. You can't get healthy by swallowing pills, even if those pills are herbs, vitamins and minerals. The same applies to essential oils and homeopathics. We have so bought into the idea that you recommend remedies (even natural ones) based on a disease name is so firmly rooted in our culture that its hard to get people to realize that its a horribly ineffective way to help people with their health problems.

Naming Diseases Isn't Good Diagnosis

John M. Scutter in his book Specific Diagnosis (1874) explains the how absurd this approach is as follows, “Diagnosis” has reference to the classification of disease according to received nosology [the classification of diseases]; that it means naming the affliction…[the doctors] travail in diagnosis until a suitable name is delivered. And then they consult their memory and books for [remedies] to throw at this name, which to them seems almost an entity."

The situation is even worse today as doctors have to come up with the appropriate disease code in order to get insurance re-imbursement. You also have to base your treatments on the standard treatments for that specific disease or the insurance company won't pay for the treatment.

Scutter continues his explaination of this problem as follows, "The student would certainly think, from this teaching, that getting a name for a disease, was the first and principle object in medical practice…men pride themselves on their skill in naming diseases—calling it diagnosis. What can be more natural than that medicines should be prescribed at names, when so much trouble is taken to affix them?"

Scutter even goes so far as to say: “'Do you mean to say,' asks the reader, 'that the present system of nosology [disease naming] is useless?' Yes, so far as curing the sick is concerned…Not only useless, but worthless—a curse to physician and patient—preventing the one from learning the healing art, and the other from getting well."

In short, for most doctors, alternative healers and the lay public as well, diagnosis means coming up with a name for a disease. Once we have "named" the disease they we can treat it based soley on the name. I agree with Scutter that naming diseases and prescribing treatments based on those names is worthless as far as creating health is concerned. It may be useful for easing disease symptoms or even stablizing the body in an extreme emergency, but as far as restoring health goes, it's completely off track.

Determining the Cause is the Key

As Samuel Thomson, a pioneer herbalist who greatly influenced my own thinking about health and disease, proclaimed, "names are aribrary things...cumin and anise...but in the knowledge of the origin of a malady, and it's antidote, lies the weighter matters of this science. All without is is real quakery." The origin of disease typically involves one or more violations of the principles of good health. So, to be able to get at the cause I need a lot more information than just a disease name. I need to know about the person's diet, how much water they drink, how much sleep they get and a lot more. Without this kind of information, I don't have enough information to even begin to make a decent recommendation.

I belong to several health forums and it always surprises me how people are so willing to throw out suggestions for herbs and supplements with no more information than a disease name. This isn't true on the professional herbalist's forum I belong to. People who ask about cases there usually tell you the age, sex, height, weight, basic diet, constitutional type, personality and a complete list of the person's symptoms when they ask for help with a case. With this information you have enough to make reasonable recommendations. Without it, you're just guessing.

To illustrate, let me share one case I once had. After reviewing the case history and looking at her tongue and skin, it was clear to me that this elderly woman was severely dehydrated. She hated water and her only fluid intake was two cups of green tea a day. When I explained that she needed to drink more water, she was unwilling to do so. She wanted me to recommend a pill that would fix her problems. What pill is there that will hydrate a person? I suggested perhaps making some herbal teas and drinking at least two or three quarts a day but she was totally unwilling and still wanted the "magic pill" that would solve her problems.

That's why it's impossible to make good recommendations to a person without an adequate case history. I sometimes tell people who email me that I'm willing to make suggestions (even for free), but only if they download and fill out my informed consent statement and intake form. It suprising how many people are simply unwilling to do this. They just want to know what to do for their disease name

Health is the Goal, But What is Health?

healthy.jpgI believe that the root cause of this mindset arises from the way we define health. We define it in the negative, instead of the positive, by seeing health as an absence of disease. So, the thought is, that if I can get rid of this disease, I'll be healthy again.

It's obvious that this isn't true, because people who have no diagnosable disease often don't feel healthy. Their lack of ease means they are in a state of dis-ease, even if they aren’t overtly ill. So exactly what is health?

I’ve seen the definition of health as high-level wellness, but what’s wellness? To me, wellness and health are the same thing, so that’s like defining health as high-level health, which doesn’t define health at all. Health is really life and as Samuel Thomson suggested in his writings, disease is a loss of life and a movement towards death. In other words, disease is not a something, it is an absence, or at least a reduction, of something.

I think of health as a state of harmonious balance in the function of the body that involves a high level of energy. Imbalances in our life and the resulting loss of energy in the body create the state of disease. But the disease is not a separate entity from the person. It is simply the discomfort that results from the struggle they are having trying to cope with the internal imbalance and disharmony.

Scutter puts it this way, "Man has but one life, and it is the same in all parts. The normal manifestations of this life we call health; the abnormal manifestations of it disease. If we can always think of disease as a method of life, in a living body, we will have gotten rid of an old error…Disease, then, is not an entity—something to be forcibly expelled from a living body—but is actually a method of life."

My first herb teacher, Edward Milo Millet, taught me that health, life and light were interconnected, as were disease, death and darkness.  In fact, Ed taught me that light was life, which means that health is also a function of light. The idea made sense to me, and now 35 years later I believe he was absolutely correct. But, even if this isn't true, it makes for a useful analogy that helps us see the difference between health care and disease care.

We don’t define light as the absence of darkness, do we? Instead, we see darkness as the absense of light. So, why don't we see disease as simply an absense of health, not health as an absence of disease? This distinction is important because we know that we "fix" darkness by shinning a light into it. We don't treat the darkness to restore light. If you can get that idea clearly in your mind, they you'll understand that you can't restore health by treating disease. You get rid of disease by increasing health.

Moving from Disease Care to Health Care

If you give me a disease name I can make some suggestions that might improve the person's health because I have enough experience to know the kinds of dietary, lifestyle and emotional imbalances people with that disease often have. But, it's just a guess and I'm often wrong when I know nothing about their personality, lifestyle or habits. If I know nothing about their life, then I know nothing about their health, because health is life.

Again, this isn't just semantics. I'm not playing with words here. I'm trying to explain a different mind-set. When you stop trying to treat diseases and instead try to figure out how to build health, that is when you really discover what health care is all about. It's about taking good care of yourself and this body you've been given. In fact, switching to thinking about health care, rather than disease care, is just one way of switching from negative thinking to positive thinking.

I'm not in the disease care business, and don't want to be. I'm in the health care business. I've spend 35 years trying to understand light, life and health and really don't know much about disease at all. My entire goal has been to try to figure out how to optimize my own health and help others to do the same.

If you'd like to learn more about this approach take some of my courses. These basic ideas are laid out in Seven Keys to Effective Natural Healing (an online course that's only $39) and then developed more fully in the Fundamentals of Natural Healing and the ABC+D Approach to Natural Healing courses. All of these courses are part of our Family Herbalist Certification. For more about the legal and consulting aspects of this, take my free Running a Successful Consulting Business class. It's not online yet, but it will be by the end of the month.