It has become quite normalised to be reliant on medications, all you need is pathology and your good to go for a life of indefinite pill swallowing. While herbs are gaining popularity there still appears to be an increasing number of people relying on pharmaceutical drugs as a way to manage a particular set of symptoms. Meanwhile the pathological labels are multiplying by the year and with them the drugs designed to elicit a specific reaction and side effects that are usually “traded as a risk against the benefit.” It is a spoon-fed, instant gratification sort of mentality that lures us into thinking a little pill can take away our suffering. And while some may say it can it can also feed the deeper problem of lack of autonomy over both the physiology and psychology of our bodies. While allopathic drugs can bring short-term relief, they can also bring long-term pain, as they end up having negative consequences on our health. We are a society addicted to running away from the root causes of our disease.
You have just to look at the management of hormonal issues in women to see how damaging it can be to think that synthetic hormonal prescriptions that eliminate periods are the solution. As Dr Claudia Welch says in her book “Balance your hormones, Balance your life,” “A woman’s healthy cycle is indicative of her fertility, which in turn is evidence of her baseline health.” Exposure to synthetic hormones for long periods of time carries not only the risk of breast cancer but also blood clots, Alzheimer’s, stroke and infertility. I have met many women who would sooner avoid pre-menstrual tension with the hormonal coil then balancing their hormones naturally. Or women with endometriosis who have told to take the pill to avoid further scarring, or women who jump into IVF without exploring the hormonal imbalance that could be addressed if they were to make changes to their lifestyle and diet. These are the stories we hear, and the stories we are told, but what if we could change the narrative, what if we could actually make changes that weren’t having a domino effect on our health.
Ayurvedically most menstrual disorders are caused by vata being vitiated which translates as the air element in our bodies has become intensified by either excessive alcohol, too much raw food, cold food, or food that is hard to digest, terminations or abortions, or even extreme worry and fear. In the modern world the stress response is constantly on alert, causing us to overproduce cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn affects our adrenal glands, and compromises our immune system and can even cause depression. We cannot consider our hormones without looking at the stress in our lives, and what we are doing to calm the sympathetic nervous system with food, lifestyle and herbal supplements.
I meet parents who believe that the only way to manage their children’s asthma or ADHD is by giving them steroids, or Ritalin. They have become so accustomed to medicating them that they haven’t even stopped to consider that diet could also be part of the problem. While the cause of asthma is not really known to Western medicine there are several theories linking it to genes, pollution, vaccines, an allergic condition or even suggest that it is a consequence of living in hygienic environments where the lack of microbes means that children’s gut microbiomes are deficient. Long-term use of steroids in children can lead to impaired growth, decreased bone mineral density, skin thinning and cataracts. According to Ayurveda asthma can be either hereditary or linked to poor digestion and the accumulation of toxins. As children are predominantly kapha in nature, and tend to eat a lot of mucous provoking sweet and sour foods this can aggravate the respiratory system. Balancing kapha and vata is the main treatment method, and can be done by avoiding cold, raw, and excessively sweet and sour foods, as well as taking pungent herbs like long pepper, honey and hinguwastaka to increase the digestive fire.
Four per cent of Americans rely on sleeping pills to sleep and in the year 2020, 19.6 million antidepressants were prescribed in the UK between July 2019 and September 2020. Both medications are not designed for long term use but often end up being used long term because of the side effects experienced when trying to get off them. Often people do not either have the support or time needed to go through the battle of coming off. The idea of antidepressants is that they balance the chemicals in the brain, particularly serotonin and dopamine and suppress the release of cortisol, the stress hormones. While they can be life saving to many I do not believe they address the root cause of a person’s disease.
You cannot simply treat the mind without treating the body. What you suppress inside the body, you don’t process, and you stagnate, leading to more suffering. These drugs also have damaging effects on the liver, and the neurological system, with both sleeping pills and antidepressants being now linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Another drug that is widely prescribed despite various side effects are statins. As Dr Kelly Brogan describes “Beyond the known fact that statin drugs deplete the body of two essential nutrients: coenzyme Q10 and selenium they are also highly myotoxic and neurotoxic. Because the heart is one of the most nerve saturated muscles in the human body these two modes of toxicity combined represent a perfect storm for cardio toxicity.” Even the very idea that having high cholesterol is a symptom of possible heart disease is problematic when you consider that low cholesterol puts an individual at risk of viral infection, cancer and mental illness because of the role that lipids play in cell membrane integrity, hormone production, and immunity.
According to Ayurveda the production of cholesterol does not need to be reduced, it needs to be balanced. We need cholesterol for lubricating the channels, the srotas, of which there are millions in the body (arteries, veins, capillaries) carrying nutrients to the blood and waste from the cells. If there is excessive fat tissue formed, because of poor digestion and metabolism this can become toxic, blocking the flow of lymph and blood, and causing lethargy, excessive sleep, and foul body odour. This can lead to diabetes and hypertension. To avoid this certain herbs can be taken particularly pungent and bitter herbs to strengthen the liver and digestion. Herbs like fenugreek and ajwain can be given as a x tea along with changes to diet and regular exercise.
Ayurvedic herbs have a broad, complementary effect that supports the self-healing ability of the body by improving digestion and immunity. Many herbs are often used together and are tailored to the individual needs of the person. The aim is not simply to treat the primary symptoms but to understand the root cause of the imbalance and how it evolved. The herbs are not habit forming and are only meant to be used for the time taken to regain balance. Whilst the process can be a longer one than with allopathic drugs it is a journey that engages the patient with their own recovery and does not cause any lasting damage to the body.
Herbs can free us from a reliance on expensive and invasive drugs we have only to want to be free and truly healthy. I know this from my own experience; I came off antidepressants with the help of Ayurvedic doctors, and Ayurvedic herbs. It was not an easy process, but then staying on the drugs was something equally fearful for me. Having grown up witnessing adults whose lives were compromised by addiction I was determined that this was not going to be my story. I invited the process of self-enquiry into my life, I asked for help, I took a good, honest look at the person I was and the way I drove my sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. I could see all the empty, ashamed exiled parts of me wanting to find connection. Grasping to control, busy without purpose. I had never imagined I would come to a place so bad that I would need anti depressants. But I also never imagined the stability that I have found in Ayurveda, to support my own health.