One of the biggest problems facing doctors is the average patient’s avid desire to take medicines. Whereas possibly only rest, time and reasonable care are needed for recovery from an illness, many patients feel that a visit to the doctor without receiving a prescription is a waste of time and money. With an overcrowded waiting room, your doctor may not be inclined to accept the time-consuming and possibly uphill task of convincing you that medicine is not needed. Under pressure from the patient and the drug company, he may find it easier simply to write a prescription.
Rather than pressuring your doctor to write a prescription, help him to determine whether drug therapy is really needed in the case at hand. If it is, find out what may be the side effects or possible complications of the treatment. Conscientious doctors will gladly provide this information. Could these outweigh the benefits? How large a dose is really needed, and for how long?
As the Australian Prescriber acknowledged: “While drugs are important in the management of many conditions, the problems of many patients are best managed by non-drug therapy. The best treatment does not always consist of pills or medicine.” Giving the body a good rest is often far more beneficial than pumping it with drugs and forcing it to keep going.
“The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet and Doctor Merryman,” wrote Jonathan Swift, an 18th-century author. Indeed, a balanced diet, proper rest, and contentment are important ingredients in good health. In contrast, despite the claims of clever advertising, we cannot buy good health just by taking drugs. “Unnecessary and even dangerous use of pharmaceutical products” may weaken the immune system.—Dicionário Terapêutico Guanabara.
Sometimes certain foods or natural remedies can be helpful.
Dr. Veronica Carstens, herself an internist, promotes this balanced viewpoint, she says: “I have nothing against classical medicine. But I find natural means of treatment an excellent supplement to classical medicine.”
Dr. Carstens strongly encourages doctors to become familiar with both kinds of treatment and to break down the barriers that have long existed between the two.
Apparently this has had results. A University of Freiburgstudy made at the start of this decade revealed that 60 percent of all German general practitioners occasionally or even regularly prescribe natural remedies when they feel that classical medication is unnecessary.
Take Responsibility for your Health
Your health to a large extent depends on what you eat and drink. If you try to run a car on watered-down gasoline or add sugar to the gas, you will soon ruin the engine. Likewise, if you try to survive on junk food and junk drink, you will eventually pay the price in impaired health. In the computer world, this is called GIGO, which means “garbage in, garbage out.”
Dr. Melanie Mintzer, a professor of family medicine, explains: “There are three different kinds of patients: those who consult physicians for things they could just as easily manage by themselves at home, those who use the health-care system appropriately, and those who don’t consult physicians even when they should. Those in the first group often waste physicians’ time and their own time and money. Those in the third group may risk their lives by delaying appropriate professional care. Doctors wish more people were in the middle group.”
“The seven keys to optimal health are: eat and drink right, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, get adequate rest, manage your stress load, maintain close social ties, and take prudent precautions to reduce your risk of illness and accidents.”—Before You Call the Doctor—Safe, Effective Self-Care for Over 300 Medical Problems, by Anne Simons, M.D., Bobbie Hasselbring, and Michael Castleman.
These remedies are perhaps the most common form of alternative medicine. Despite the use of herbs in medicine throughout the centuries, only a relatively small number of plant species have been carefully studied by scientists. An even smaller number of plants and their extracts have been studied so thoroughly that information is available on their safety and efficacy. The majority of information about herbs is based on experience from their historical use.
In recent years, however, there have been a number of scientific studies that show the usefulness of certain herbs in treating such conditions as mild depression, age-related memory loss, and symptoms of benign prostate enlargement. One herb that has been studied is black cohosh, which is sometimes known as black snakeroot, bugbane, or rattleroot. American Indians boiled the root and used it in connection with menstrual problems and childbirth. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch of April 2000, recent studies suggest that a standardized German commercial black cohosh extract may be effective “in relieving menopausal symptoms.”
It seems that much of the demand for such natural remedies is based on the perception that they are safer than synthetic drugs. While this may often be true, some herbs are associated with side effects, especially if they are used in combination with other medications. For example, a popular herb that is promoted as a natural decongestant and weight-loss product can increase blood pressure and heart rate.
There are also herbs that will increase the rate at which a patient bleeds. If these herbs are used in combination with “blood-thinning” medical drugs, serious problems can result. People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or those taking other medications should be careful about using herbal remedies.—See the accompanying box.
Another concern with herbal remedies is the lack of consistent quality assurance in their production. In recent years there have been reports of products tainted with heavy metals and other contaminants. Additionally, some herbal products have been found to contain little or none of the ingredients on the label. These examples stress the need to buy herbal products, as well as any other health products, from reputable and reliable sources.
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