Long before I had hepatitis C, I was interested in medicine. Even as a child, I sought to understand how to improve world health. In my teens, Ralph Nader influenced me, teaching me how to be a wiser consumer. I could see that Western medicine was putting the cart before the horse by focusing on illness rather than health. I developed a distrust of doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and government regulatory organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Then I got hepatitis C and became a nurse. I still stayed outside of mainstream medicine, doing community outreach work such as needle-exchange, but I was also in the mainstream working at Stanford. I maintained balance by learning all I could about non-Western healing modalities as well as Western ones.
Over the years of working with people who have hepatitis C, I have observed something that is hard for me to reconcile. We baby boomers tend to be somewhat conflicted about how to take charge of our health. Some of us shun doctors, rejecting prescription medicine. We called the hepatitis C treatment interferon “poison” rather than medicine. We weren’t going to take that poison.
However, we baby boomers were also raised on commercials. When something is not right, we take a pill. Now there is a pill for everything. Can’t maintain an erection? Take a pill. Feeling socially awkward? There is a pill for that. Eyelashes are not long anymore? There is a prescription for that too.
How do we reconcile our conditioning to “take a pill” with our desire to avoid medicine? We take herbs and other supplements. An article tells us that X will energize us, we take it. In short, we are still popping pills.
When I first started to take herbs and supplements, I got all my information from the clerk at the health food store and Prevention magazine. In short, I really did no research. I just applied my Western approach to another source. My motto was “it can’t hurt to try.”
Now I know better. It can hurt to try. Supplements are not necessarily harmless. Everything goes through the liver and kidneys; supplements can interact with each other and other medicines. Do I really want to place extra burden on my liver?
“Taking something” to fix ourselves is very much a Western approach. Perhaps it is better to take nothing and try things that won’t harm the liver, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, meditation, a full night’s sleep, humor, positive thinking, helping others, massage, acupressure, etc. I know it is much easier to try a supplement than it is to eat whole grains, veggies and go for a walk, but if health was as simple as taking a supplement, wouldn’t we know that by now?
Sometimes it’s hard to get myself on track. I wish there was a magic bullet or fountain of youth. I’d love to find something that would mean I wouldn’t have to exercise or spend a third of my life sleeping. However, until research tells me otherwise, I am sticking with the basics. I wonder what Ralph Nader eats for dinner.