Sam Holstein

American Healthcare Doesn’t Care About Curing Anything

Today while cooking breakfast, I saw a magazine on my kitchen island open to this ad.

This ad represents everything that is wrong with America. This ad’s message is this:

When you overeat, your body is damaged by heartburn. Heartburn causes pain as a warning message. Nexium allows you to ignore this message and continue damaging yourself by engorging on pizza endlessly.

That’s what healthcare is like in America. When our health deteriorates, we don’t address the causes of our problems (like our sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles). We go to the pharmacy, where doctors prescribe and dispense pills that allow us to ignore it.

Example #1: Two years ago, my mother had shoulder pain. She went to the doctor. The doctor prescribed her an anti-inflammatory pill and tried to send her on her way. When my mother asked “What about physical therapy? As a long-term solution?” the doctor balked.

Example #2: When Americans are diagnosed with heart disease (which is extraordinarily common), the first line treatment is medication. Second and third line treatments involve surgical intervention. But instead of artificial intervention through medication and surgery, reversing heart disease might be as simple as being vegan. But in America, we don’t talk about that.

Example #3: One in six Americans take psychiatric medicine. I find it difficult to believe a solid 16% of Americans (54 million) have mental health problems so intractable that they require medication. Exercise is a very effective treatment for anxiety and depression, but 80% of Americans don’t get their recommended amount of exercise. Typical — we skip right over the lifestyle change and head straight for the pills.

Instead of working with and listening to our bodies, we plow right on by them. We beat our bodies like rented mules, and then when they start to break down from strain, we pump them full of drugs and beat them some more.

This isn’t to shame people who are fat, disabled, in poor health, etc. A lot of people in America are victims of a larger medical system which kicks them around like a soccer ball. I was one of them.

A few years ago, I ran into some digestive and mental health trouble. Wanting to get better, I took the pills the doctor prescribed. But the pills didn’t address the underlying issues. I watched as my health spiraled down and my prescriptions got larger and larger to address it.

The reason I am not still trapped in that system today is cannabis. Cannabis did what all my prescriptions did not, and gave me the ability to make the lifestyle changes I needed to make. First I was able to eat again, something my gut problems took from me. It evened out my moods, enabling me to get off of the dangerous and addictive psychiatric medication my doctor put me on. One year later, I was off all my regular medication. Two years later, I am barely smoking any cannabis (for medical purposes, at least).

This isn’t meant to be a plug for cannabis. What I’m getting at is that my prescriptions did nothing but attempt to manage symptoms. Once I found a way to make the right dietary and lifestyle changes, my condition started to improve.

Almost every day, I meet someone with chronic health problems. They can list a string of medications as long as their arm that they have tried. But the moment you ask them about lifestyle changes (“have you tried exercise?” “Have you tried being gluten-free (for digestive problems)?”) I get the fish eye.

I can’t blame them. When they ask their doctors about these things, their doctors hand-wave. Their doctors are typically family practitioners who spend most of their time doing physicals for high school athletes and prescribing antibiotics for sinus infections. They don’t have time to research the latest lifestyle interventions for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So, they defer to what they learned in their medical degree several years ago and hand-wave the concerns away.

This is why homeopathic medicine has a strong and growing following. It isn’t because Americans have suddenly come over with an anti-science fever. It’s because our doctors and our medical system aren’t spending enough energy researching these things.

Yes, a lot of homeopathic medicine is complete nonsense. But I’d rather try 50 homeopathic remedies to find the one that reverses my gut damage than spend my entire life on pills attempting to manage the symptoms. It would be great if the healthcare system researched for me, so I didn’t have to, but they aren’t. It’s left up to me.

So, to other chronically ill people: I urge you to look outside the pills which manage your symptoms. Try wacky diets or odd lifestyle interventions. Most of them are going to be crap, but one or two of them aren’t.

To everyone at large: Take care of your bodies. Listen to what they tell you. If you feel yourself getting sick or tired, don’t cram your body full of drugs, listen to it. Give it what it needs.

To the medical establishment: Stop stuffing us full of pills that make our symptoms go away and get us out of your offices. That’s like giving a baby whiskey to make it stop crying. Please, take care of us instead. We depend on you.