What is Suppression?
Can Treatment Do Harm?

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So ... What is it, and can acupuncture do harm? Can other forms of alternative medicine be harmful? For example, homoeopathy? Is orthodox medicine always – or ever – injurious?

There are at least six broad ways to suppress disease but before explaining them, what does it mean?

Suppression: a Definition

Suppression occurs when the manifestation of a disease (ie one or more of its signs and symptoms) is made to disappear before the disease is cured.

As you catch a disease, a healthy body combats it. It uses methods developed over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, trial and error. It tries to keep the disease as far from its core as possible. That is why your initial response is on the outside, with shivering, sweating, sneezing, runny nose, perhaps a rash, and so on.

In Chinese medicine, these processes (shivering, sweating etc) externalise the disease: they send it to or keep it at the exterior.

Meantime, this invasion (of what in Chinese medicine is called, for example, wind-heat or wind-cold) stimulates your body to strengthen its defensive energy - to prepare its defences. For example, by increasing your metabolic rate (making you feel hotter) it hastens its ability to analyse the invader and prepare effective counter-measures.

If all goes well and your body assembles effective countermeasures, you'll feel ill for a few days and then, after a period of recuperation, you'll feel better.

Once better, you may actually find you feel even better than you did before you caught the disease, because the illness and rest has re-energised your body and your immune force has grown stronger, now even more ready to combat the next invader. It may have even undone the chronic consequences of any previous suppression!

The symptoms of the acute disease are your body's way of externalising the disease. They aren't pleasant, and naturally you want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Various kinds of 'alternative' medicine, and Chinese medicine, have ways of helping your body externalise the disease even faster so none of it remains in the body, meaning that you recover faster.

Of course, there are diseases which come from other sources, some of them caused by suppression itself - see below.

Prevent your body's natural processes from doing their job, however, and you may store up problems for the future.

How to Suppress a Disease!

Suppression always creates the opposite effect

There are at least six broad ways to suppress a disease.

1. Strong mental shocks or emotions can interrupt your natural disease process. For example, extreme grief or anger, fear or mortification, can be such a shock that it appears to stop the disease in its tracks.

A variation on this is when you suppress a strong emotion because to show it isn't acceptable socially.

2. Physical events can prevent your body externalising its natural processes. For example,

  • when you've been exercising, built up a good sweat that is naturally cooling you down, but then suddenly get chilled by the wind or a cold shower: this traps the heat inside you.
  •  when a woman's periods are stopped half-way through by bathing in chilled water
  • where a woman's milk from her breasts is stopped suddenly
  • Athletes will be unhappy to learn that bathing in freezing water to cool inflamed joints after sport is potentially suppressive.

3, This can also occur when

  • a rash is suppressed with external medication or treatment like steroid cream;
  • perspiration is suppressed by antiperspirants;
  • nose drops unblock a nose blocked with mucus;
  • warts are suppressed by freezing or acid;
  • skin problems are treated with ultraviolet light;
  • nosebleeds are suppressed by astringents.

4. Surgery of course plays a vital role in modern medicine, but its action is frequently potentially suppressive where inflamed organs like varicose veins, tonsils, hemorrhoids, appendices and tumours and growths are removed. Here the pathology is removed, not the disease.

5. Immunization (including vaccination) is potentially suppressive if the body subsequently makes no complaint, produces neither rash nor fever, or if any such complaint is promptly suppressed.

Why? Because a toxin has entered the body without there being any kind of normal reaction to externalize it.

The experience of catching and successfully dealing with a disease often bestows lifelong immunity whereas immunization even if effective must be regularly renewed.

Immunisation also, at least in Chinese medical thinking, may be the reason for many chronic conditions later in life.

For a comment and explanation from the point of view of Chinese medicine on the possible adverse long-term effects of vaccination (in the case commented on it was measles) see the Facebook page on this by Giovanni Maciocia. On that page he also explains why Chinese medical theory considers there are advantages to diseases in early childhood like measles, rubella and chicken-pox.

Medications for Internal Medicine

6. Internal medicine has produced marvels but its action is frequently suppressive in nature. The descriptive name reveals its nature by the addition of 'anti-' before the noun:

  • antibiotic,
  • anti-inflammatory,
  • anti-depressant,
  • antiperspirant,
  • analgesic etc.

Modern medicine enables us to remove inflammation and pain (eg paracetemol for simple colds) but it hampers our immune system's ability to deal with illness in the way it has evolved over millennia.

By blocking the symptoms or pathology the disease is unable to run its natural healthy course. Ideally your body aims to externalize or localize its problem. If what we do internalizes it or spreads it, then we damage the body's natural methods of healing itself.

It is a mistake to assume that because the symptom or pathology has 'gone', that the disease is cured. Experience shows that it will return, preferably in its original form, but more likely in a deeper and more sinister disguise.

Only when our medicine helps the body do what it is designed to do, which is externalize its problems naturally, do we not suppress.

By preventing our immune system from working as designed, we prolong the problem in a more chronic form, which explains why we get ongoing phlegm, sinus discharges and tiredness plus susceptibility to the next bug.

Meantime, of course, your body will keep trying to produce symptoms, but more weakly. Pains become chronic, with tiredness, possibly emaciation, and more and more parts of your system complain.

In general, orthodox medicine acts with medication in four ways:

  1. By replacing substances the body has failed to absorb. For example, giving iron in cases of anaemia.
  2. By replacing glandular substances that the glands cannot produce, such as insulin in the case of diabetes.
  3. By stimulating the immune system or altering its action, as with vaccination.
  4. By suppressing symptoms using medicines that are often described with the prefix anti-: such as antibiotics, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories etc.

Suppression by Antibiotics

Never doubt that Western medicine has powerful tools at its disposal, tools which can save lives. However, over-used, they weaken us.

One consequence is that, as we're now discovering, the bugs evolve to develop resistance to our best medicines. This is not new! Even in 1941, just as penicillin, the first modern anti-biotic, began to be used, penicillin-resistance was noticed in some cases, only months after it was introduced.

Now there is a growing number of disease pathogens which have the measure of all but our best antibiotics and even the latter are losing their edge.

Research into antibiotics is not commercially very profitable so it isn't being done.

In effect, antibiotics soon won't work which will leave us back where we were before their introduction. In general, more soldiers die from wound infections sustained in battle than in the battles themselves. Modern surgery without antibiotics will once again become potentially lethal. Many people will succumb to diseases long thought controllable.

In effect, anti-microbial medicine will have no treatment options.

(By the way, there are options, but they are often nephrotoxic, for example.)

Iatrogenic Suppression

Also, one should remember that the number of people reckoned to suffer or die from doctor-caused or iatrogenic medicines annually runs into the millions.

In a famous paper from 1981, 36% patients in a survey of 815 patients were reckoned to have suffered from iatrogenic causes. (Steel K, Gertman PM, Crescenzi C, Anderson J, The New England Journal of Medicine [1981, 304(11):638-42]) Many drugs are tested carefully by their manufacturers but after a period of use by doctors have to be withdrawn for safety reasons. (For example; Nicobrevin - used to help people stop-smoking – withdrawn May 2011; Vioxx - used for arthritis – withdrawn September 2004; Avandia - used for diabetics - withdrawn September 2010)

Alternatively drugs are designed and tested for use in one situation and start to be used in other situations where their safety has not been tested or for which they were not designed.

(But we admit sometimes the drug-takers are very happy: otherwise we wouldn't have Viagra!)

Just a note: no homoeopathic remedy has ever been withdrawn; no acupuncture point has ever been banned - although sensible practitioners of both homoeopathy and acupuncture will use some remedies and points only with caution, and some actions are contra-indicated in certain situations.

(A small rhetorical aside: put away the question of whether or not these alternative or ‘natural’ therapies are effective. If you don’t believe they are effective, you aren’t likely to believe that they can do harm other than by omission, ignorance or misrepresentation.)

More about Externalisation of Symptoms

A principle behind homoeopathic medicine is that your body tries to push symptoms to where they are least dangerous: ideally, on to the outside of the body, of course.

The same holds in Chinese medicine where the ‘yin’ organs (heart, lungs, spleen, liver, kidney) are more crucial to well-being than the yang organs (stomach, large intestine, bladder, small intestine, gall-bladder).

For instance, the Lungs rule the skin and its pores so the lungs are often affected early as many diseases spread through the air. If the condition penetrates to a deeper level it becomes more serious.

Yet in Western medicine it is common to treat both skin and lung conditions with anti-inflammatory or antibiotic medicines. These may stop the acute inflammation or lung condition but what then happens is that the condition may become chronic, though not recognised as such until later, by when suppression has already occurred.

Of course, in fundamentally healthy people, the antibiotic may clear the disease and leave the individual better, but there are many cases where the antibiotic must be repeated, sometimes many times, before the condition 'disappears' or is regarded as having 'departed'.

For skin problems, treatment often has to continue indefinitely, albeit at a milder drug level.

That’s where we believe suppression occurs. Repeated suppressive treatment, (or even just one set of suppressive treatments in less healthy people) drives the condition deeper, making it harder to cure.

This is where you get someone with a continuing cough who after well-meaning treatment ends up with asthma, controlled by drugs, and believing their cough has gone and their condition is under control.

In reality, they need ongoing medication to prevent a worse condition – an asthmatic crisis – from occurring. I have found that such asthmatics sometimes catch superficial diseases, like coughs and colds, less often. If so, this supports the argument that their bodies have abandoned defence at the more superficial level.

Does Suppression of Symptoms Really Matter?

It does matter because when the disease-ridding process is confined to a deeper level (in other words, there is suppression), it has less options for getting healthy, and all of them are more risky.

If the asthmatic can’t express or push out the disease to the outer safer levels, it can only turn inwards or sideways, adversely affecting other organs.

When a patient receives a form of medicine that helps his body move the level of the illness to a less deep, less serious level, in our view he is being treated with good medicine. When the medicine moves the disease to a deeper level, it is likely to be bad medicine and to cause suppression.

This is why an old pattern of illness that had gone away but recurs, after what we regard as good treatment, is often a good sign that the body is getting better.

The Law of Cure

Law of Cure Ch 6 Science of Homeopathy by George Vithoulkas

The Law of Cure helps to guide practitioners in treating their patients. If patients understand it and the idea of suppression, even better!

By the way, the body’s self-healing processes can be stimulated in many ways. It happens that homoeopaths were possibly the first to recognise the Law of Cure and to describe it, but any system of therapy which helps this 'Law' to work is welcome.

In other words, it could be a Western orthodox doctor using conventional medicine, or an acupuncturist, healer, herbalist, hypnotherapist, Reiki practitioner, osteopath ... it doesn’t have to be a homoeopath or an acupuncturist! Any therapist alert to the possibility of suppression and how to undo it may be able to help.

NB We completely understand that in emergency situations to preserve life a treatment may on the face of it cause suppression: but at least the patient survives.

It is the continued action of treatments that curb ongoing or chronic illness that is suppressive: symptoms go but the patient doesn’t really get better.

Instead the patient often becomes dependent on the drugs, or from then on is never as well as he was before the treatment.This ‘NWS’ or ‘Never Well Since’ syndrome can be very important and a useful key to helping the patient towards better health, if a means to ‘undo’ the damage can be found.

Problems with Suppression

Today, many illnesses are successfully 'cleared' (for which read 'possibly suppressed'). For example, I have had patients who had tuberculosis several times, and been 'cleared' of it each time after fairly long-term drug treatment. Let us be grateful they survived, because with drug-resistant TB many do not.

But they come to me with a variety of long-term and fairly intractable symptoms which they demanded I sort out immediately, overlooking the forty years of problems they had had before, not properly solved by Western medicine.

It is hard to explain to them that sometimes I do not consider my treatment is working unless I see some sort of discharge from the lungs, over and above what they had before. This discharge can be of considerable concern to them and their doctor, and indeed to me! The last thing I want is a return of TB. But until their lungs (assuming it was pulmonary TB, of course) begin to throw out stuff I tend to think any treatment I give is also possibly suppressive.

Although I am not sure, I suspect that conditions suppressed with 'natural' medicine are harder to cure than those suppressed with Western medicine - and the latter aren't easy to solve, either.

But don’t blame your doctor. He was doing his best: you didn’t like your symptoms, and he did get rid of them – he did his job. Trouble is, he cleared away your complaint, but left you with something more insidious. As this took place over time, neither of you noticed.

What is more, and this is the seventh way of suppressing a condition, sometimes you do it yourself. Say you have a chronic cough for which you take something in a high self-medicating dose. The cough goes, but then perhaps you get a bit depressed, or you start eating more, you feel more tired, you can’t sleep so well, or similar.

Here is a case of suppression and you did it by curbing the cough yourself! The therapist you’ve gone to for help needs to know about this too so don’t forget to list all the vitamins, self-medications, minerals, herbs or other supplements you are taking.If you've read this far and would like to hear about a particularly difficult form of suppression, read about the Burghlar in Your Home!

Comment on Suppression

In the developed world we are far down the road in suppressing disease. It is nearly a one-way track. Nobody wants to return to the levels of early mortality, for example, suffered in countries where no anti-microbial agents are available.

However, a consequence of the above arguments, if accepted, is an increase in chronic disease. We may live longer but many of us, particularly those who have allowed their bodies to have symptoms suppressed, will not enjoy old age or, will have to take even more suppressive medicine - often steroids or morphine-like - to be pain-free.

As for antibiotics, doctors are right to be very concerned. They are adopting policies of

  • increasing awareness of the problem
  • vigilance, for example from the dangers of drug tourism
  • careful anti-microbial stewardship, meaning that many drugs may be advised to be used for absolutely no longer than necessary
  • infection control - which often boils down to hygiene.

From this, what do you get?

  • Wash you hands in soapy water
  • Don't put your unwashed hands anywhere near your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Eat food that has been cooked or at least is known to be bug-free
  • Take care in crowded areas where disease may spread
  • Don't over-heat places where bugs congregate and beneift from warm, damp conditions, eg homes and hospitals
  • Ever-increasing amounts of gross domestic income spent on research, and by health services. This should be an excellent area for investment with huge profits to be made by entrepreneurial companies.
  • If more money were spent on educating people, whose immune systems are often capable of extraordinary resourcefulness when rightly directed, and on encouraging people not to expect miracles from their doctors, less money would need to be spent on suppression.
  • With less money spent on suppression, there won't be so much chronic disease about, saving a huge proportion of GDP.

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What do you think about Suppression?

Do you have views on this? After all, much of Western Medicine suppresses symptoms, and for many of us, when the symptoms have gone, we're better! Why worry about it? Tomorrow is another day!

Do share your views with us. Can you think of other ways we suppress disease? Or do you consider the whole topic unimportant? Or perhaps you think that, given where we've got to in the treatment of disease with orthodox medicine, it's too late to help most people?

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