People's Medicine: Herbs for Hags
I'm so glad I'm finally old. Sadly, many of my friends don't like me to use that word. They say they don't want to be "old." I think what they really mean is they don't want to be the kind of old that's infirm and dependent. I agree.
Vigorously old, excitingly old, sensuously old, daringly old -- those are the adjectives I like to apply to myself as an old woman.
Toward the goal of remaining vigorous, exciting, sensuous, and daring for many more decades, I pay close attention to the food I eat and the medicines I use, and don't use. So you may be as vigorous, exciting, sensual, and daring as you wish to be, too, I'll be here in every issue to share my thoughts and choices about health and nourishment.
As you know, I love plants; I'm an herbalist. I use herbs to flavor my food, to provide optimum nourishment, and to prevent and deal with a variety of both minor and major ills. Of course, I'll be sharing lots of herbal lore with you. But I want to do much more than that. I want to share people's medicine with you. I want to help you make sense of medicine. I want to help guide you through the confusing, conflicting choices in health care. Simply. Safely. Effectively. And with joy.
The Seven Medicines
Let's start with one of my three best ideas: The Seven Medicines. This sorting system for remedies helps me get a sense of the safety of any type of treatment.
The safest medicine is Serenity Medicine, also called "Do Nothing." It includes meditation, sleep, deep relaxation, even idleness. Rest cures, going fishing, and time away from responsibilities are also Serenity Medicine.
The next safest medicine is Story Medicine, also called "Diagnosis." Here we collect information. Ideally, figuring out the nature of our problem is done without dangerous hi-tech techniques such as x-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, and exploratory surgery. Remember that every story/diagnosis implies and leads to a treatment. The story (and the plan of action) you'll get from an
acupuncturist will differ significantly from the story (and drugs) an MD will give you for the same problem.
Only slightly more dangerous is Mind Medicine or Energy Medicine; some call this "Placebo Medicine." Anything that engages our mental ability to heal is included here, from flower essences to psychic healing.
Lifestyle Medicine speaks to the ways we "Nourish and Tonify" and, while generally quite safe, is more dangerous than the previous three Medicines. What we eat, what we wear, where we work, how we use our bodies, and how we amuse ourselves are all part of this Medicine.
The first four Medicines build health, even if they don't cure; and they frequently do cure, while causing minimal harm. The last three Medicines always harm, even if only slightly, even if they can create miracles of healing.
The fifth Medicine is Alternative Medicine; the action is "Stimulate and/or Sedate." Alternative Medicine includes herbal medicine, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, and many more specialities. Unless used wisely, these medicines have the potential to do serious harm. At the least, they excite or depress us by using, but not replacing, our core energy.
The sixth Medicine is Pharmaceutical Medicine. Drugs, as we are all aware, are fraught with problems and side-effects. In fact, one of the leading causes of death in the United States is reaction to prescribed drugs. Pharmaceutical Medicine is not limited to prescription drugs, nor to products of the pharmaceutical industry. Essential oils, supplements, and most encapsulated herbs are so drug-like in their actions that they share the dangers of drugs.
The last, and most dangerous of the Seven Medicines, is Hi-Tech Medicine, or "Break and Enter." While surgery and other hi-tech techniques can work miracles, the harm done by this last medicine can be fatal, permanent, and disfiguring. The amount of hi-tech diagnosis that is currently done is truly scary. Using the first four Medicines not only prevents the need for Hi-Tech Medicine in most instances, it also improves our ability to benefit from -- and protects us against the harms of -- Hi-Tech Medicine if we do choose it.
Serenity Medicine, Story Medicine, Mind Medicine, and Lifestyle Medicine can be used daily to build health. Alternative Medicine, Pharmaceutical Medicine, and Hi-Tech Medicine are best reserved for acute, immediate emergencies.
Bone Health and the Seven Medicines
Many postmenopausal women fear breaking a hip. This fear is promoted by Pharmaceutical Medicine, assisted by Hi-Tech Medicine, and disseminated by advertising which increases fear and claims safety comes from bone scans and drugs. In one ad, we are told that taking a certain drug will cut our risk of a hip fracture in half. Sounds good, unless you realize that the risk for most postmenopausal women is only two percent. Cutting that by fifty percent brings the risk to one percent -- only one percent lower than the risk of women who don't take the drug. And the drug does nothing to improve bone health. Women are frightened into agreeing to use Pharmaceutical Medicine to counter osteoporosis. But increasing bone mass does not reliably prevent fractures, nor does it improve health. In fact, postmenopausal women with high bone density are far more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Drugs don't improve health, they improve test scores.
Calcium supplements may sound like an alternative, but they are pharmaceutical medicine, too; and women who take them are actually more likely to break a bone than those who get their calcium from food..
What can we do if we want healthy bones that flex instead of breaking? Don't begin with a Hi- Tech diagnosis, for starters. Instead, start with Serenity Medicine. A short daily meditative practice helps us be more alert to the inner and outer landscapes, improves our stability and gives us better grounding. Fewer falls definitely translates into fewer broken hips.
Then engage Story Medicine. Change fear into action. Collect information about your bones without scans. How? The more flexible and toned the muscles are, the stronger and more flexible the bones they attach to are. Your overall flexibility is a window of insight into the health and flexibility of your bones.
Mind Medicine offers us a shaman's playground of mind-over-matter techniques, including prayer, visualization, homeopathic remedies, and Reiki, to name but a few. Just imagining our bones as sturdy and strong actually helps make them so.
And be sure to treat your bones to Lifestyle Medicine. To keep my bones healthy I: eat a quart of yogurt a week, drink a quart of nourishing herbal infusion each day, eat plenty of well-cooked greens from the cabbage family, regularly use mineral-rich herbal vinegars, practice yoga weekly, walking daily, do tai chi several times a week, and pump iron at the local gym for at least an hour a week. These Lifestyle Medicines don't just prevent a broken hip, they improve my overall health. They help make me a vigorous, exciting, sensuous, and daring old woman.
Reweaving the Healing Cloak of the Ancients
I hope I have your ear, and your interest. I want to help you reclaim the power of your own health. In future issues we'll talk more about healthy bones, healthy hearts, healthy libidos, and Wise Woman Ways to make old age fun.
Come with me. Let us sit at the feet of the old wise women and listen to their stories. Let us knit the yarns they spin into our own lives. Together, let us reweave the healing cloak of the Ancients.