When fast food first became a feature of our society it was hailed as a step forward: cheap, quick, tasty; what more could anyone want? Now however, when we talk about fast food it has negative connotations and we associate it with poor quality. It is bad for our health and it is part of a disposable culture, which we no longer accept without question.
But fast medicine? Surely that’s what everyone wants: to get better as quickly as possible! Yes, but at what price? Does speed really have a price?
I have a headache, so I reach for the Nurofen. It kills my headache, problem sorted and I can get on with my busy, stressful life. So what’s the catch? Well, firstly, we now know from scientific studies that the more often you take painkillers for headaches, and the longer you continue to do so, the worse your headaches will get. It’s as if no matter what you do, sooner or later the pain will catch up with you and force you to grind to a halt.
Is this pain sent only to disrupt my life? Or does it have some purpose of its own? What if, instead of trying to get rid of the sensation, I decide to do the opposite? What if I turn to face the pain and listen to what it might have to tell me? Is it telling me that I need to slow down, that I need to find space in my busy life for rest and rejuvenation? Or perhaps that something doesn’t suit me and needs to change: my job, my diet, a relationship?*
There are many forms of slow medicine and the range of different alternative therapies on offer is growing almost daily. I am going to draw on the two that I am most familiar with, Homoeopathy and Ayurveda, to provide some simple examples.
Firstly, if I have a tendency to get headaches, there may well be something in my diet which is a trigger and in this case the latest thinking from the NHS and the 5,000 year old tradition of Ayurveda are broadly in agreement that I could start by eliminating the following: red wine, orange juice, pickles and spicy food. The difference between the two is that Ayurveda is more specific: the advice above will be helpful for one type of headache (in the temples or central part of the head with shooting, burning, piercing pain), whereas for other types of headache it may be more appropriate to give up dairy products or coffee.*
Eczema is the second example I’d like to consider. Conventionally it is treated with topical applications. Some of the creams prescribed contain steroids, which provide relief in the short term but are known to cause damage to the skin in the long term. Homoeopathy can be used to treat eczema very effectively and the speed of treatment will relate to the length of time the condition has been present and whether other treatments have already been used. As always with Homoeopathy, the remedy chosen is specific to the individual and there is a range of remedies that can be used to treat this condition. As with Homoeopathy, Ayurveda will see the manifestation of eczema as part of a much broader picture and will connect it with other possible symptoms such as a feeling of heat in the body, irritability or acid indigestion. Likewise the remedy and diet advice for this condition will act on the whole picture and so the patient will find relief of other minor symptoms as well as an improvement to their main complaint.
However, be aware that just because something is labelled ‘alternative’, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is operating on ‘slow’ principles. In fact, most therapies can be used either way. To give an example let’s suppose I have a young child with a temperature. Instead of reaching for the Kalpol (paracetomol), I can use an Ayurvedic herb or a Homoeopathic remedy to bring down the temperature. But why do I want to do that? Hippocrates said “Give me a fever and I can cure the disease.” We know that fever is the response of a healthy immune system and that it enables the body to burn up toxins and eliminate the infection much more efficently. So unless the temperature is dangerously high it will in fact be quicker to let it run its course, allowing the fever to do its work and eliminate the infection. The instant relief offered by the Kalpol is tempting and if I use a Homoeopathic remedy or an Ayurvedic herbal remedy instead these will also bring down the fever quickly and I will still not be following ‘slow’ principles. In this case the ‘slow’ approach is in fact to do nothing, watch and wait, monitor the situation and trust in the power of the child’s immune system which I can see is working well by the fever it has produced.
Paradoxically in this example, the ‘slow’ approach is quicker to provide full recovery and isn’t it full recovery that we really want? Although there may be exceptions, it is often the case that ‘fast’ medicine can offer quick relief but may compromise the body’s ability to recover fully. This can even be the case with antibiotics: an infection may be cleared up after a course of treatment only to return again one or two weeks later. It is as if the body expresses a state of imbalance through the illness and when we deny it that expression by stopping up the crack it bursts out again at the next opportunity.
Slow medicine is much deeper acting. Instead of putting a patch over the crack and bringing temporary relief, it works to eliminate the cause. Of course this may take some time, but on the positive side I may discover at the end of my journey from illness to health that I have not only eliminated a symptom, I have also transformed my life.
* This article is not intended as a self-help reference guide and the recommendations for headaches have been simplified.
An Ayurvedic practitioner can prescribe herbs as well as giving dietary advice.
The Ayurvedic Practitioners Association has lists of qualified practitioners.
For a list of qualified Homoeopaths contact The Society of Homeopaths
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