A green medical approach seeks innovation and is open to all healing methodologies, new or old, Western or Eastern, left-brained or right. Green medicine brings together the best of conventional and alternative resources. It is not about eliminating one in favor of the other. It is about achieving a balanced approach that seeks unity but respects diversity. Let's now examine some of the factors that have led to the crisis of confidence in modern medicine's ability to provide for our medical needs.
The Shortcomings of a Symptomatic Approach:
Medicine's symptom-oriented approach is often shortsighted and frequently causes more health problems than it solves. Treating symptoms in isolation, without consideration for their connection to the whole, tends to generate unforeseen consequences that medicine rarely acknowledges. This is largely due to its uniquely fragmented view of illness that fails to connect the dots. In the majority of cases this overly simplistic symptomatic approach does not lead to greater health or well-being. To the contrary, it tends to lead to a downward symptomatic spiral as we begin to use more drugs for the side effects of our drugs, not unlike a dog chasing its own tail.
Treatment focused on symptoms has no larger purpose or conscious goal that leads toward greater health. This strategy is emblematic of a war against disease mentality that views symptoms as the enemy rather than as the manifestations of the body's innate healing mechanism. Green healing is not congruent with such a misreading of the nature and intent of symptoms. Real healing seeks to understand the body/heart/mind/soul and its symptomatic expressions in order to work with it rather than against it. Real healing leads to greater health, vitality, maturity and self-awareness.
Green medicine takes into account the whole person and the connections between symptoms even when they occur in seemingly unrelated parts of the body and even when they are separated by time. Perhaps one of the most useful tools employed by green practitioners is the timeline. "This particular event in my life was followed by that symptom, which was treated with this drug, after which these other symptoms emerged," is often the best way to shed light upon connections that are rarely ever acknowledged in the specialized and dissociated world of conventional medicine.
The Purpose of Symptoms in the Healing Process:
When we come to understand that symptoms are almost never random and, in fact, have a purpose, this changes our entire attitude toward illness. The human body has a self-regulating capacity that manifests through the symptoms it generates. In other words, symptoms almost always represent the body's attempt to heal itself. Much of the time it succeeds but sometimes it needs assistance. Our medicalized culture encourages us to pop pills -- pills that are available for virtually any symptom we can imagine -- without any awareness of this self-healing truth. Any shortsighted therapy that simply aims to eliminate the most recent symptom is a therapy that potentially works against the body's own self-healing wisdom.
Movement toward or away from greater health is an unfolding process that takes place over time. One's health history is definitely not a set of isolated events. Like a movie, they must be taken together in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of the whole. Parts cannot be treated in isolation without potential repercussions for the whole. An antibiotic that "cures" a case of bronchitis should not be considered an actual cure if it leads to successive episodes of bronchitis further down the road. When a child's eczema seems to disappear after application of topical cortisone it cannot be considered a cure when it is followed by a string of ear infections. We can no longer arbitrarily dissociate medical events that occur over time simply because medical science has taught us to ignore the connections.
We have also been conditioned by the medical system to lower our expectations regarding outcomes. We have come to expect the complications and risks that come with the benefits. In fact, a so-called "side effect" is one of those deceptive medical terms that we accept without understanding that there is no such thing. A drug either has an effect or it does not. Although side effects may be unwanted, they are nevertheless very real effects that people commonly experience. In some cases, the side effects may be more common than the purported therapeutic effect of a drug. The term simply serves to encourage us to overlook undesirable effects while we focus upon the desired effects. And so we are more likely to accept a boy's newly developed neurologic facial tic when we are focused on the sedating effect of the attention deficit disorder drug he is taking. Those who practice and pursue greener forms of healing do not overlook the connections between such events, and have a different set of expectations in terms of outcomes.
The Dangers of Suppression:
When we indiscriminately combat symptoms we run the risk of suppression. The body in its wisdom often causes a symptom to recur in spite of our attempts to eradicate it. Each dose of migraine medication, for instance, dulls the pain temporarily until the next one occurs. However, when the migraines fail to recur, that is when we may be in for trouble. There is no free medical lunch. When a symptom or condition is successfully squelched, the bioenergetic source of the original disturbance simply seeks the next best avenue of expression. Thus, the migraines may "mutate," for example, into fatigue, arthritis or colitis.
The possibilities are endless and depend upon each individual case. When this happens it becomes clear that the migraines, in this particular case, are not the real issue but an expression of an underlying bioenergetic imbalance. And when symptoms mutate, regular medicine usually fails to connect the dots. The sequelae of suppression are just considered random occurrences that have no connection to the previous history of the patient. Thus, an endless cycle of chronic disease is generated. It's great for business, as long as no one looks too closely at what is happening.
One of the more dramatic examples of suppression involves the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), Vioxx, which was developed to treat arthritis. By the time Vioxx had been taken off the market in 2004, the FDA estimated that it had resulted in 28,000 cardiovascular-related deaths. It is now believed that this was a low estimate and that the true death toll between 1999 and 2004 was somewhere around 90,000 - 140,000. (1) The salient point here is that these deaths were not merely "side effects" of Vioxx. The fact that Vioxx was so effective at suppressing arthritic conditions is the very same reason why so many developed compensatory cardiovascular problems. This mutation from arthritis to heart attacks is a reality that the medical establishment fails to understand.
When we realize that symptoms are the mind/body's best avenue of defense at any given moment in time, we see why suppression can be so dangerous. When we ignore the body's wisdom by drugging its symptoms into submission, we force the hand of the bioenergetic healing mechanism, which must now choose the next best avenue available to it to express its imbalance. Furthermore, the consequences of such inappropriate treatment are not limited to physical maladies. The same migraines can just as easily mutate into insomnia, depression, or an anxiety disorder. This is not mere speculation; it is a phenomenon repeatedly observed by thousands of green healing practitioners.
Medicine pursues this ill-advised strategy of symptom suppression largely without realizing what it is doing. When we consider that almost all conventional medical treatments are essentially suppressive, the implications are staggering. It is no coincidence, and no wonder then, that we are seeing such dramatic rises in the incidence of many chronic diseases, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric illness. It is well past the appointed time for us to demand a new standard of care.
That medicine has overstated its value is an unequivocal truth, and the system must own up to its limitations. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes a suppressive measure is necessary, especially in time-limited life-threatening situations. While its strengths clearly lie in diagnostic medicine and emergency and trauma medicine, as a general approach to chronic illness, Western medicine is clearly inadequate. The genuine cure of a chronic disease by conventional means is a very unusual occurrence. At best, medicine "manages" chronic disease with medications that often carry some very serious risks.
Fortunately, many green medical modalities have much to offer in the treatment of chronic disease. Millions of ailing individuals seek medical help from alternative sources, often without the knowledge of their conventional doctors. Many have sought assistance through acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, craniosacral therapy, herbal medicine, shamanic healing, nutrition, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, reflexology, Reiki, healing touch, and spiritual healing, to name just a few. Medical authorities must no longer be permitted to stifle the valuable input that these other fields of health and healing have to offer. If the medical profession is to stay current with the green medical revolution and its evolving understanding of human health and illness, it must begin to willingly open itself to new sources of information and innovation.
Williamson, Graham, "Orthodox Medicine, Interventionism and Symptom Suppression"
Malerba, DO, Larry, Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Larry Malerba, DO, DHt is the author of GREEN MEDICINE: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care, published by North Atlantic Books and distributed by Random House. He has been a practitioner, educator and leader in the field of holistic medicine for more than 20 years.
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