Health and Religion

Health and Religion: Bottled health

Instead of masking nature's warning signals with drugs, why can't we learn a better way

Allan R. Magie, Ph.D., is an associate professor of environmental health in the School of Health, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.


Pain, feared and often misunderstood, is actually nature's warning signal. Human beings try to avoid it, yet pain is necessary if we are to recognize actual or impending problems, often deep inside our bodies.

In His all-knowing, divine fore sight, God designed into our bodies a sensitive mechanism to reveal changes or stresses that could potentially harm the intricate mechanism of life itself. Man, in turn, has developed an array of chemicals to counteract this mechanism by weakening or blocking entirely the pain signals sent to our brain.

Far too many of us believe that for every kind of pain and sickness there is a drug that will relieve symptoms and cure disease, and therefore every visit to a physician must conclude with a prescription.

Abuse of common drugs

The advertising media and the pharmaceutical firms would have us believe that we can deliberately abuse our delicate physical apparatus and then avoid the consequences by finding relief in a pill.

Are you tempted to overeat? Go ahead and eat the whole thing, take all you want. It doesn't matter; you only have to drop a couple of tablets into a glass of water, watch it fizz, and drink it down. You'll feel much better.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you tense or apprehensive? Take a sleeping pill or tranquilizer.

As a result, the volume of drug usage in the United States is enormous. Aspirin is a good example. Each year approximately 40 million pounds of aspirin are consumed—an average of 280 aspirin tablets of 5 grain size (300 milligrams) for every man, woman, and child! One study of a mid-Atlantic county of 112,000 inhabitants found that enough prescriptions were issued in one year for every person to have received an average of 46 tablets! And that figure doesn't take into consideration liquid medication or over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, which don't require a physician's prescription!

Drug-caused illness

This unrestrained use of drugs has another side, too. Illnesses caused by legally obtained drugs have shown a marked increase in recent years. Of course, certain inherent and calculated risks attend the use of any drug; however, the rise in drug-related illnesses stems more from excessive and unnecessary medication than from these subsidiary risks.

Side effects of modern, highly effective drugs are virtually unavoidable. If a drug has no side effect, then it likely has no main effect! In other words, no really effective drug is absolutely safe. Fortunately, side effects generally pose a very minor risk, although occasionally they can be serious. Sensitivity to drugs varies from person to person, so a drug that has apparently proved safe for one person to use may not necessarily be safe for another.

Alternatives to drug medication

Most of us do not understand the nature of disease or the symptoms and visible indications that accompany it. Much of the demand for drugs and their overuse stems from the fact that the nature of disease is very complex; thus we find it easier to treat symptoms with drugs than to deal with the root causes of disease. A knowledge of certain simple, basic principles can guide us in the proper treatment of minor illness and protect us from unnecessary use of medication.

1. Pain. Because pain hurts and is unpleasant, most people never consider how essential it is to our body's survival. Yet just think for a moment what happens when this sense is lost. Cuts, scrapes, burns, or other relatively minor injuries often go unnoticed, resulting in infection. In a disease such as leprosy, which affects the nervous system, all sense of pain and temperature is lost. The leper's skin is often seriously dam aged by the burning heat of a kettle or pan, because the normal defense mechanism of pain is absent. Unless his appendages are protected, his hands and feet will become mutilated.

2. Headache. This pain is often, but not always, the body's signal that it needs rest. The purpose is to protect us from becoming overstressed. Since the body's natural defense and healing mechanisms work best when an affected part is at rest, a headache that is associated with an injury or localized infection tries to ensure this rest through pain. Instead, most of us are apt to thwart nature's intended warning by soothing the headache with a pain killer such as aspirin, and plunge into further stress through continued activity. Our motivation for doing so may be good—a sense of duty or the need to finish a necessary task—but good motives won't lessen the injury done to our bodies.

The real tragedy is that we often believe the headache to be the main problem and that we have "cured" it by taking the pain reliever. This can be a serious mistake.

3. Elevated temperature. Fever is also a part of the body's defense against disease. Therefore, up to a point, fever is beneficial. Like the role of pain, this fact often is not appreciated. Unless exceptionally high, the temptation to lower an elevated temperature immediately should be resisted. Of course, since death occurs at temperatures be tween 106 F. and 107 F., any fever over 101 should be lowered.

4. Tiredness. No matter what the cause of this body condition, it indicates the same thing—the body needs rest. So it is not really helpful to suppress the signal by using stimulants such as coffee.

The point is this: pain killers, temperature reducers, and stimulants don't cure disease; they only quell the body's natural and useful warning signals. If we are paying attention to these signals, we can look for the necessary remedies to correct the problem. Persistently blunting the body's natural curative defenses with drugs can only bring harm.

Undoubtedly there are times when such chemicals must be used, but for those who desire not to use drugs unnecessarily for common aches and pains, what are the choices? In perhaps the majority of cases the best treatment is not a pill or an injection, but rest, proper food, and a balanced routine of life, including a proper amount of exercise.

The best and ultimate healer is nature's God. Therefore, one who suffers pain should assist Him by providing the very best condition for the body to defend and heal itself. Prayer and trust, together with an intelligent use of nature's remedies, are part of God's plan for a healthy life.

"Through the agencies of nature, God is working, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, to keep us alive, to build up and restore us. When any part of the body sustains injury, a healing process is at once begun; nature's agencies are set at work to restore soundness. But the power working through these agencies is the power of God. All life-giving power is from Him. When one recovers from disease, it is God who restores him." —The Ministry of Healing, pp. 112, 113.

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Allan R. Magie, Ph.D., is an associate professor of environmental health in the School of Health, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

August 1978

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