What is Suppression? Can Treatment Do Harm?

What is Suppression? Can acupuncture do harm? Can other alternative medicines be harmful? For example, homoeopathy?
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Key Learning Points

  • Suppression removes symptoms but not the underlying disease
  • Abandoning its best defence – the suppressed symptom(s) – your body falls back to its next-best-defence
  • At this deeper level, your body fights less strongly so the battle continues for longer
  • This leads to chronic disease
Electro-acupuncture for knee pain
Electro-acupuncture

What is suppression, 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. That means 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. 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! That’s because the illness and rest has re-energised your body.

Your immune force has also grown stronger, now even more ready to combat the next invader. It may have even undone the chronic consequences of any previous suppression.

Acute disease shows shows your body is fighting, as designed

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. That means none of it remains in your 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 nearly always creates the opposite effect long-term to what you wanted.
 

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

1. Strong mental shocks or emotions can suppress a disease

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 

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. The same could happen if you stopped a fever this way.
  • 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 (and some recent research appears to now support this viewpoint)

 

3. Suppression can also occur when

  • external medication or treatment – like steroid cream – stops a rash;
  • antiperspirants stop perspiration;
  • nose drops unblock a nose blocked with mucus;
  • freezing or acid ‘kills’ warts;
  • ultraviolet light treats skin problems;
  • astringents stop a nosebleed.

 

4. Surgery 

Surgery of course plays a vital role in modern medicine, but its action is frequently potentially suppressive. This may happen where surgeons remove inflamed organs like varicose veins, tonsils, haemorrhoids, appendices and tumours. Here the pathology is removed, not the disease. Of course, removing an appendix to prevent it bursting inside you is vital, or you’ll get very ill and may die! But why you got appendicitis is not addressed by its removal.

 

5. Immunisation

Immunisation (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 externalise it.

The experience of catching and successfully dealing with a disease often bestows lifelong immunity. Even an effective immunisation must usually 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.

 

Medication before TCM treatment
Photo by Christine Sandu

6. Internal medicine 

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:

  • anti-biotic,
  • anti-inflammatory,
  • anti-depressant,
  • anti-perspirant,
  • analgesic etc.

 

Modern medicine enables us to remove inflammation and pain eg paracetamol 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 externalise or localise its problem. If what we do internalises it or spreads it, then we damage the body’s natural way to heal 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 externalise 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:

By …

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

 

Fire-fighting
Trying to put out a fire.
 

Suppression by Antibiotics

Never doubt that Western medicine has powerful tools at its disposal, tools which save lives. However, we over-use them and 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 antibiotic, 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. Even the latter are losing their edge.

Research into antibiotics is not commercially very profitable so it isn’t being done as much as perhaps it should be.

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.)

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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.

Ongoing medication suggests suppression

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 which drugs control.  They believe 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 matters because when the disease-ridding process is confined to a deeper level (in other words, there has been 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: basic text on suppression
 

The Law of Cure helps to guide practitioners when treating their patients. If patients understand it too, 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 homeopaths 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.

N.B .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.

A Seventh way to suppress!

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.

Pills used for Suppression of symptoms
Photo by pina messina on Unsplash

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 Burglar 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 they limit how long to give some drugs for
  • infection control – which often boils down to hygiene.

 

From this, what do you get?

 

For hygiene wash hands
Wash Hands – Photo by Matthew Tkocz on Unsplash
 
  • 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 benefit 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.
  • Spend more on educating people.  Their immune systems are often capable of extraordinary resourcefulness.  However, encourage people not to expect miracles from their doctors. Then we can spend less 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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