Stop Treating Your Symptoms!

Symptoms are not treatable. Yes, you heard me right. Symptoms are not treatable. Why do I say this? Because you can’t treat a leak in your wall by replacing the wall – you need to figure why it’s there in the first place and fix that. Let me explain.

I recently had a water leak problem in my bathroom. One day after a long shower, I noticed that when I stepped on the tiles floors right outside the shower, they made a slight squishing sound. ‘Not good‘ I thought. I called up the superintendent, and the first thing he did was bring in a vacuum to help dry the tiles. They put the nozzle right at the point of grout between the tiles where the most water could be heard making that squishing sound when you stepped on it. A porter held an industrial vacuum at this junction for 15 minutes with very little effect. The tile was still squishing when you stepped on it. Next thing the super did was try and find the cause. He began at the sink, turning it on full blast and looking at the connections under the sink. All looked well. Next, the toilet. He flushed a number of times in a row and inspected the toilet and surrounding area meticulously on his knees, and saw nothing wrong there. So he moved on to the shower – the main suspect now that the other 2 checked out. He turned the shower on, looked at the spigot, the shower head, etc. He finally said that it did not look like anything was wrong, but noticed the caulk where the bathtub met the tiled wall seemed cracked, and water may be seeping in under the tub and settling under the tiles. Didn’t seem like a great explanation, but plausible. So the next day he re-caulked the whole area, and all looked well.

Unfortunately, all was not well. A week later I had a friend stay over and we took back to back showers, and lo-and-behold, the squishing tiles returned. Caulk still perfectly white and intact, but tiles wet underneath. The superintendent seemed a bit baffled, but noticed some minimal water damage near the entrance of the shower, between the bathtub and sink. “Ahhh, it must be that water is leaking around your shower curtain and dripping down the side here” he told me with a proud smile like he was Sherlock Holmes and just cracked the murder case. At this point, I was almost sure he was wrong, but had no other recourse. I bought a plastic shower guard that connects from the edge of the bathtub to the tiled wall where he believed water was leaking around my shower curtain. It was a special extra-large one – not pretty – but I didn’t want to take any chances. We installed it to ensure no water would be leaking from that corner. All seemed well afterwards and whenever I bumped into the super in the hallways, he would gloat and say “I told you it was the water leaking in the corner of that bathtub.” If only it was.

“If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.”

— Abraham Maslow 

A few weeks later after a morning shower, I stepped out of the bathtub and the dreaded sound was heard – the squish was back! To make a long story shorter (this isn’t a post on plumbing), the super had to call in a plumber and they had to look behind the walls. Turned out it was a faulty pipe connection. While a simple shower wasn’t enough water leakage to cause the tiles to squish, if someone took a prolonged shower (like 2 in a row) or the neighbor showered at the same time, enough water would leak to cause the squish in the tiles. Over a month after the initial problem and after a good amount of trial-and-error plus a large hole in my bathroom wall, and the problem was solved.

Now, to the point of the leaky pipe case – you cannot solve a problem (faulty water pipe, disease, illness, health issue, etc) without looking at the SOURCE. The squishy tile was a SYMPTOM. When my superintendent treated the symptom with re-caulking and replacing some external parts, he did achieve some relief from the symptoms, but he did not correct the problem. This is the same in medicine and health. If we treat symptoms, we may achieve what we believe is success and those symptoms may diminish or even disappear, but the source problem will still be there and those symptoms will either return at some point, or express themselves in a different way.

Related: The Death of the Diagnosis

In the case above, my super may have continued to treat the symptom and performed “surgery” on the tiles, replaced them with new ones that somehow do not allow water to get under them and will never squish, and that would probably have worked – for a while. Sooner or later, that leaky pipe would continue to leak water, and although the new special tiles wouldn’t squish anymore, the water from the leaky pipe may travel and collect under the wood floors the next room over. Not only would this damage the wood, it may also cause toxic mold, and thus not only call for total replacement of my wood floors, but also for treatment on my new respiratory problem caused by unseen toxic mold spores. Suddenly a little leaky pipe becomes a total home renovation and a trip to the hospital.

We see this all the time in medicine. We try and treat symptoms by suppressing them with drugs, medications and surgery, only to find a completely different illness has arose years later. Normally we don’t correlate the two, and little explanation is given over why this new, usually worst, illness has come up. A patient who treated their hypertension with anti-hypertensive drugs controls their high blood pressure, but after years of using these suppressing drugs they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Everyone reacts differently, so the suppression of a symptom may be completely different case-to-case. But one thing is for sure, you cannot treat symptoms.

Side note: In acute cases, you may be looking to relieve your symptoms with OTC medications. This is fine, but this is not treatment. It’s your immune system that does the treating in your body in acute cases, such as a common cold. It’s always better to have a strong immune system rather than rely on medications that relieve symptoms. The immune system is smart enough to go after the source in a healthy person with an acute case.

“De-Victimize” Yourself – A Path to Health

We’ve become a nation of victims – whether it be victims of the economy, victims of our government, or victims of disease and an unhealthy state. And with 50% of the US population diagnosed with chronic conditions, that makes for a great deal of misunderstanding of the sources of these conditions and feelings of victimization. So, what can we do to “de-victimize” ourselves and place ourselves on a path back to health?

The first, and hardest thing for most people to conceptualize is that we must take responsibility of everything that happens to us – including our health and the diseases that afflict us. So many motivational speakers, life-coaches, and personal development experts preach this simple point: You are responsible for everything that happens in your life – Don’t blame, complain, or criticize.  And while this is often times easier to apply to money, careers, and relationships, it is more difficult for most to relate this point to health, especially when talking about sensitive and life-threatining conditions like cancer and degenerative conditions. But this is critical to get over – you are not blaming yourself for your health conditions, you are simply taking responsibility and understand that you have the power to change your circumstance. This may go against many beliefs and what some medical professionals will tell you, most commonly that genes are the reason you have a specific disease and there is nothing you can do about it. But we now know this not to be true; and while genes are an indicator of our predispositions to certain afflictions or diseases, they are not the ultimate determinant of our health. As a Harvard Health article entitled “Genes Are Not Destiny” illustrates (in terms of obesity), some genes can increase a person’s risk of disease, but our genetic makeup does not explain everything about disease, and healthy lifestyles can counteract these genetic effects.

“We are not victims of our genes, but masters of our fates, able to create lives overflowing with peace, happiness, and love.”

Bruce Lipton

Author of “Biology of Belief

Let’s Talk Epigenetics

People get excited over the ever evolving genetic research coming out as well as genetic testing, but there’s another side of the story we should really be looking at: epigenetics. Simply put, epigenetics involves genetic control by factors other than an individual’s DNA sequence. This means that your environment and lifestyle can either turn on or off certain genes. It’s also the main reason we need to stop blaming our genes for the chronic conditions we acquire. Not saying that your genes will not predispose you to certain ailments, but that does not mean you will actually become sick. And the research behind epigenetics is showing us why.

Here’s an excerpt from an article entitled “Epigenetics: The Science of Change:
“Other studies have found that epigenetic effects occur not just in the womb, but over the full course of a human life span. Manel Esteller, director of the Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory at the Spanish National Cancer Center in Madrid, and his colleagues evaluated 40 pairs of identical twins, ranging in age from 3 to 74, and found a striking trend, described in the 26 July 2005 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Younger twin pairs and those who shared similar lifestyles and spent more years together had very similar DNA methylation and histone acetylation patterns. But older twins, especially those who had different lifestyles and had spent fewer years of their lives together, had much different patterns in many different tissues, such as lymphocytes, epithelial mouth cells, intra-abdominal fat, and selected muscles.”

Later on in the same article, the author goes on to write, “Epigenetics, says cancer biologist Jean-Pierre Issa of The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, could prove more important than genetics for understanding environmental causes of disease. “Cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease [are all] acquired diseases where the environment very likely plays an important role,” he points out. “And there’s much more potential for the epigenome to be affected … than the genome itself. It’s just more fluid and more easy to be the culprit.”

We have to stop playing victims to our genes and understand that everyone of our actions has an impact on our lives and health. We have the power to take actions and steps to mitigate our genetic predispositions, and it should be our duty to seek out the best options to make sure we live long and healthy lives. This may be hard to grasp at first, but when you realize you are responsible for your current state of health, it empowers you with the realization that you can also change your current state of health for the better. 

A better understanding of why you are where you are:

It’s often very difficult to understand how we became unhealthy when we can’t pinpoint what lead us to an unhealthy and diseased state. The truth is often much more complex than finding a single source of dysfunction, and often is a culmination of numerous different and compounding factors. Here are a few of the more common and misunderstood factors of disease:

  • Lifestyle – I won’t even go into the benefits of exercise as this is quite obvious that a healthy body is an active body, but this is more focused on the stress so many of us live with and don’t realize has an incredible detrimental effect on our health. Some quick fixes include medication, breathing exercises, and disconnecting from our hectic and often stressful jobs and situations to practice mindfulness and gratefulness for everything we have in our lives.
  • Diet – People often feel they have this one in the bag, when in reality what they are eating may be the lead cause of their distress. Low-fat and diet type foods and drinks make people think they are eating healthy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, these types of foods are littered with chemicals that are known to have serious negative effects and can act as neurotoxins and carcinogens to the body. Eat natural, eat clean, eat in moderation. Learn and read, and don’t fall trap to the ads that make you think eating a heavily processed sandwich from Subway is healthy.
  • Emotions – Our emotions have a direct impact on our physical being. Don’t believe me? Grab the biochemical markers of a severely depressed individual or one with emotional distress. Keeping track of your emotions and staying in a positive state is critical to living a truly healthy and balanced life.
  • Spirituality – People today mixup religion and spirituality, and believe a scientific and rational mind cannot believe in such things. Spirituality goes beyond religion, and todays neuroscientists are showing how spiritual brains function in a beneficial manner. Spirituality is also beyond a secular belief in a God, and is more so related to human consciousness, purpose in life, and living in resonance with all there is in this Universe.

“When we blame, we give up power; it’s as simple as that – take power back & be responsible for everything that happens to you”

There is no “Luck” in Health

Truth bomb: I was born with a hole in my heart. A ventricular septal defect to be exact. While not a huge concern for most (it is one of the most common congenital heart defects), my hole was large enough to give cardiologists and my parents a scare. Some would say that this is unfortunate, or unlucky, but I disagree.

I still remember receiving echocardiograms at an early age, thinking this was something normal for all children. My parents never coddled me or gave in to the numerous cardiologist’s beliefs that I would not be able to participate in strenuous activity. And while they chose not to agree with those cardiologists who wrote me off from a very early age, they took numerous steps to ensure I was living a very healthy life from an early age and instilled in me that nothing was wrong. It was because of this that I attribute the closing of my hole and saying good-bye to that ventricular septal defect by the time I was 7. The cardiologists couldn’t explain it. And suddenly, I wasn’t unlucky, but rather seen as ‘lucky’ and a ‘special case’.

“Luck is what we make it, not what is thrust upon us. You’ve shown initiative and it has nothing to do with luck.”

– George Bellairs

I don’t buy it. There is no “luck” in health. None of us live perfectly healthy lives, and we all have to deal with problems related to our health. But the difference between the person who sees themselves as unlucky and those who choose to take on this problem and see it as an opportunity to improve will make all the difference in the world. Luck is defined as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” Once we tell ourselves that we are lucky or unlucky, we become victims. We tell our mind that we have no power to change the outcome of our health. It’s unfortunate that modern conventional doctors often contribute to this feeling of becoming “unlucky” and victimizing many people with health issues. I’ve studied hundreds, if not thousands, of medical cases where patients were written off with chronic diseases with no known cure, only to be provided another nonconventional option and become perfectly healthy. Were these numerous cases all lucky? No, they expanded their awareness, researched their options, and found a way back to health. Was it easy? No. But many of these patients can contribute the struggle back to health to a greater gratitude for life and often realize the struggle was necessary to get to a higher place in their life. They chose not to become unlucky victims, but rather empowered people who are now much better prepared for any adversity.

Related: “De-Victimize” Yourself – A Path to Health

The human body is remarkable, and has the capacity to heal itself to the extent that even modern science cannot explain many instances of people overcoming “incurable” conditions and diseases. As for me, the kid with a big hole in his heart – I went on to climb three of the Seven Summitrs (highest peaks on all 7 continents), participated in mini-marathons, played football, baseball, tennis and soccer at an early age, and never had any of the cardiovascular problems that are common for those who suffer from a large ventricular septal defect. When people tell me how lucky I am that I am healthy, I don’t tell them how I was an “unlucky” baby, but rather smile and politely thank them. I understand how fortunate I am to have my health, and am very grateful, but luck’s got nothing to do with it.