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“Suppressive medicine” has been a thought on my mind for quite awhile now.  Since we’re approaching the sick season already, everyone’s talking about what they’re doing to try to avoid illness — or what they do when illness strikes.  That’s great, everyone should have a plan!  But the thing is, I see so much misinformation flying around out there.

For example, most parents think it’s prudent to reduce a child’s fever, should they develop one.  It’s not.  That’s blunt, but it’s the truth: reducing a child’s fever can prolong his/her illness.  There are ways to make a sick, feverish child more comfortable and able to rest without resorting to reducing the fever, especially with OTC drugs. (Febrile seizures almost always occur when parents have tried to lower the child’s fever and the body spikes the fever too high, too fast in reaction to the medication — they are also not harmful.)

Many people who are reading this probably already know that.  For some, this is a new thought.  (In case you’re wondering, my kids have had fevers.  One was as high as 104.  I have never medicated it, and the fevers have never lasted longer than 24 hours, and most not that long.)

Here’s the thing, though: many people do get fed up with these OTC options and turn instead to natural medicine.  That’s great.  But there seems to be a belief that “if it’s natural, it’s safe!”  This may or may not actually be the case.  I’m almost as wary about natural options as I am about conventional options.  I weigh choices very carefully with a specific set of criteria, and today I’m going to tell you about that.

What is “Suppressive Medicine?”

Suppressive medicine is any sort of treatment — natural or otherwise — which aims to rid the body of unpleasant symptoms as its primary intention.

Your body produces symptoms as a reaction to whatever is going on inside that is wrong.  The symptoms are actually the body’s attempt to heal itself.  For example, you produce mucus and have a runny nose when you have a cold because your body is using that mucus to carry the “junk” out of your body.  Your body coughs to get the mucus out of your lungs or throat.  You vomit to get the “junk” out of your stomach.  Your body produces pus at the site of an infection to try to ooze the problem out.

The point is — the symptoms are the body healing itself.  We don’t recognize this anymore; we just see the symptoms as the illness, and aim to treat them.  That’s suppressive medicine, because it suppresses the body’s mechanisms of healing itself.

Why is Suppressive Medicine Bad?

Your body is perfect and capable of healing itself of almost anything.  But, it needs to be healthy and have the freedom to use various mechanisms to do that healing — producing mucus, pus, fevers, vomiting, whatever is required to heal particular illnesses.   The symptoms aren’t pleasant, often times, but they’re necessary for our bodies to clear the illness or toxins or whatever it is that is causing us to be sick.

When our bodies can’t clear them, because we choose to use medications to suppress the symptoms, the illness is driven deeper into our bodies.  Think about it: if a type of bacteria is causing us to be sick, and we use medication to halt our body’s ability to rid itself of that bacteria, the bacteria is temporarily given a more hospitable environment in which to reproduce, making us sicker before we are better.  If, instead, we ride out the symptoms as much as we can, then our bodies can take care of the bacteria quickly and we really are healthy again.

The least bad thing that can happen when you suppress symptoms is that the illness is ultimately a bit more severe and longer-lasting (since it takes your body longer to clear it).  However, it’s been implicated in developing autoimmune disorders and cancer, too.

How?  If you are frequently sick and frequently taking medications to suppress the symptoms, the body eventually kind of creates a “callus” to cover the part(s) of the body that are being attacked.  Over time, more of these develop, and they become tumors.  That’s cancer.  I wish I could remember where I read this, but a prominent naturally-minded doctor explained this.

The body knows how to heal itself, but if you are constantly “messing with it” by using medications, then it can turn on itself and attack the wrong things, causing autoimmune.  Of course, a lot of medications also destroy gut health, which is also implicated in the development of autoimmune disorders.

This is pretty serious.  The choice to pop a Tylenol for a headache is an incredibly complicated decision, with far-reaching consequences!  (Tylenol, by the way, is the leading cause of liver failure.  It also depletes the body’s glutathione, an amino acid that is necessary for the body to heal itself.)

What Medicine is Suppressive?

It’s not just conventional medicine that is suppressive (although it is, almost without exception).  Natural medicines can be suppressive, too.  It is not safe to assume that just because something is natural, it is good!  It is important to choose carefully.

Here’s how to evaluate if a medicine is suppressive:

  • Does this medication boost my immune system in any way? (yes)
  • Does this medication help my body to fight the illness on its own? (yes)
  • Does this medication address only the symptoms, causing them to stop/slow for a time? (no)

The ideal answers are given in parenthesis.  You do not want a medication that addresses the symptoms alone.  Medications or foods which boost the body’s ability to fight are good.

The gray area is when a medication can address symptoms but also help the body to fight.  For example, certain herbs can help calm a cough or sore throat — sometimes they address the underlying cause too.  With these it’s a case-by-case basis.

What Do You Do When Sick?

The answer isn’t nothing.  You don’t have to suffer just because you are trying to avoid suppressive medicine.  Here are some things that are always good:

  • Warm baths, with essential oils if desired ( lavender for relaxation/sleep, eucalyptus or rosemary for colds, peppermint for nausea)
  • Epsom salts in the bath (good for detox)
  • Extra rest/sleep
  • Consuming fresh crushed garlic (naturally helps the body kill bacteria/viruses)
  • Consuming coconut oil (also helps the body kill bacteria/viruses)
  • Consuming bone broth (helps clear the body of bacteria/viruses, soothes digestion)
  • Getting extra vitamin D through cod liver oil or the sun

These are my go-to remedies for any illness that we have.  What else I use is dependent on the exact symptoms.  But, I am always evaluating if a particular medicine (typically herbal) is truly health-building, or if it is suppressive.  I will use no treatment sooner than suppressive treatment, except possibly in life-or-death situations.  We have not yet had to face this.

Every single time I have broken down and allowed a suppressive treatment, we have figured out after just one dose that it was not really working anyway, and switched to ramping up things from the list above.

My family’s health is everything.  It is crucial that I make sure our bodies are truly healthy, not just symptom-free.  I will do any restrictive diet, engage in appropriate preventative care (chiropractic, massages, exercise, proper diet), whatever it takes to ensure this.

Avoiding suppressive medicine can’t fix everything.  But it can help you to be as healthy as possible.

Do you consider whether or not a medicine is suppressive before using it?  How often do you use medicine and what do you rely on most?


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (6.5), Daniel (5), Jacob (3), and Nathan (1.5). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a popular book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. She also recently released Healing With God's Earthly Gifts: Natural and Herbal Remedies, which teaches people to use natural remedies to keep their families healthy. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children.

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8 Comments

  1. EXCELLENT post Kate. I hadn't ever thought about this, but I've always been hesitant to take any type of drug. I am even worse about giving anything to Annie…..but I did order garlic oil for this winter to have on hand, and elderberry syrup and cod liver oil. :-)

    Reply

  2. If we start feeling congested or have a throat that's beginning to itch, we drink diluted raw apple cider vinegar throughout the day. We usually feel great the next day. I try to drink it when I'm healthy as a preventative measure.

    My mom caught a nasty cold from my dad, and after a couple days of misery she was desperate to try anything (other than cold medicine– she feels worse on that stuff). I convinced her to try ACV, and now she swears by it! She was better after one day of ACV, but my dad, who hates vinegar and therefore didn't have any, was still sick a week after she was symptom-free.

    We're also huge on homemade broths here. My son caught a tummy bug while staying with some relatives and refused to eat or drink anything they offered. I ran over with some bone broth with mini meatballs made from grass-fed beef, and he gobbled it up. He was fine the next day and asked for more soup. I felt relieved knowing he was getting so much nutrition from the broth.

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  3. Do you really believe your families health is 'everything'? I think you have said this before and I just really wondered if this is really what you believe is the most important thing? I am not being critical…I really want to know your thoughts on this…

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  4. Laura,

    It does come down to that, yes. If we're not healthy, then we can't achieve any other goals. If we don't feel well we can't put the Lord first; we're preoccupied with feeling poorly. We can't serve others. We can't do anything. Even to be "a little" unhealthy will detract us. We are not fanatical day-to-day, but it is so important to protect our health overall so that we can do and be everything else;.

    Reply

  5. Great post. I completely agree with you here. I am very against any kind of conventional suppressive medicine becuase as you said, the symptom is your body's attempt to heal.

    You made a great point that even natural remedies can be suppressive – natural herbs and oils can be very strong and its important to keep that in mind.

    Great tips on what to do when sick, I have a similar list of my own!

    Reply

  6. Kate, GREAT post, I skimmed it, then, read through the comment's and then really read it. God made our bodies to REALLY heal themselves. One thing I've learned (since my hubby is a chiropractor) that sometimes there are subluxations (or interferences) that need to be helped with an adjustment to help your body function at it's 100%. I'm so glad you are spreading the word about what being healthy really means! (It doesn't mean that your never sick! it means you allow your body to use it's immune system to fight off sickness & disease and not to cover up the symptoms)

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  7. Suppressive medicine is a good way to describe it. I too have often been annoyed with "natural medicines" that do the same thing as conventional medicines.

    This is my current biggest struggle though: pregnancy migraines. I get them pretty bad and fight taking any medicine as long as possible. I try all of the non-medicinal stuff: sleeping in a dark room, shower, warm rice pack, head/shoulder rubs from hubby, drinking lots of water, etc. But when it gets to the point of making me severely nauseated and seeing spots, I cave and take Ibuprofen (Tylenol won't touch it). Then I feel horribly guilty for letting that go into my baby's body. Is there some non-supressive remedy that I'm missing?

    Reply

  8. Brittany,

    Have you seen a chiropractor? Your body changing could cause migraines. Hormones being out of balance could, too (common in pregnancy) — unsure what to do about that. If you are deficient in any nutrient that could cause this, perhaps a supplement. Magnesium deficiency is common in pregnancy. Nux Vomica is a homeopathic remedy that addresses migraines. Do you notice any particular patterns to when you get them? That will be a clue to what, specifically, is causing them, and help you figure out the answer. Definitely talk to your doctor/midwife and a chiropractor, though!

    Reply

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