Reductionist Tendencies

Something that has always frustrated me about western medicine – and our culture in general – is this tendency to reduce us (I’m talking here about women, but it applies to all people, I think) to a biological machine, nothing more than a collection of cells and physical processes.

From this reductionist perspective, your high blood pressure is not the result of the incredible stress you are under during your 16-hour workdays; rather, it is narrowed blood vessels caused by elevated levels of angiotensin.  Taking an ACE inhibitor will open up those blood vessels and your blood pressure will normalize accordingly.  Your depression is not caused by the contentious relationship you have with your spouse, it’s due to the dipping levels of serotonin in your brain.  A prescription for an SSRI will raise your serotonin level and the depression will be cured.  If you are in your late forties and suffering crazy hot flashes, it’s not because you are carrying around 35 extra pounds and drink three glasses of wine “just to relax” every night, it’s obvious that you need to “replace” your hormones.

Here’s the problem: we are more complicated than that.

It’s true that this physical approach will generally yield incredibly effective short-term relief from whatever symptoms you are suffering.  However, it rarely leads to real healing, and while you may not see the side effects from layering prescription medication upon prescription medication, they are there, working under the surface – and not to your ultimate benefit.

What’s needed to be truly healthy is to expand your vision of yourself – of life – beyond biochemistry.  You are more than your genes or a set of biomarkers from a blood test. 

I’m not suggesting that there is no place for genetic testing or blood tests or prescription meds – quite the opposite!  We are so fortunate to live in a time of such amazing medical advances and understanding of the physical body.  But all that knowledge needs to be taken in context.  Your health is more than just physical, even if we experience it as such – it is the result of a combination of interdependent factors, both internal and external, that are always shifting.

It’s complex.  YOU are complex.  A blood test tells you something, but not everything, and probably not even the most important things you need to know.  To get to that, you need to look at your life in whole – all the inputs in terms of lifestyle, nutrition, relationships, mindset – and think about how each factor affects the others.  You have turn inward and ask yourself some hard questions, then find enough quiet to listen for the answers. 

That sounds woo-woo, I know.  We are so accustomed to finding answers from outside – we love “expert opinions” and numbers on a page.  Those are great tools to help guide you in your inquiry and may offer insights you wouldn’t have found on your own.  They also release us from a certain level of responsibility for what is happening.  But the truth is that nobody knows your body and what is at the root of what you are feeling (or not feeling, as the case may be) than you do.

It takes courage to reclaim responsibility for your health, and strength to really listen to what your body is trying to tell you (it has plenty to say, trust me).

Neither of those are available by prescription.

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