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Why we should eliminate the cause of illness and not just treat the symptom

Updated on September 13, 2016

One of my biggest fears regarding any kind of medical treatment is that in general, people try to treat the wrong thing. They go to the doctors or they look online to find natural cures for their ailments and the first thing they do is type in a list of their symptoms. This is obviously a wise thing to do when it comes to diagnosing certain allergies or conditions but what do we do with the information we find regarding our symptoms? Could there be a danger that we might actually be harming ourselves by treating the symptoms of a condition rather than getting to the root cause of an ailment and then focussing on eliminating that cause? What kind of things might I be talking about?

Before I begin here I should just state that I am only voicing personal thoughts on this matter. After a recent health issue arose with my wife, I felt the need to voice these thoughts just in case they are of any interest or help to others.

Developing Hay Fever like symptoms

Just recently my wife started – quite out of the blue – to develop symptoms of what we assumed may be hay fever as it is around the time of year when hay fever may present itself. Her symptoms were that of a post-nasal drip, constant cough, headaches and more. After putting up with it for a few weeks she decided to go to the doctors where she was diagnosed with post nasal drip and prescribed anti-histamine medicine to try to remedy the issue.

Medicines that only treat the symptom

To be honest I wasn’t all that happy about this because I’m a firm believer that if your body is producing too much histamine then it is usually doing it for a reason. Anyway as I’d feared, after taking the antihistamines for a few days my wife was actually starting to feel worse and not better. She was thinking about heading back to the doctors, perhaps to be prescribed a different pill or something else along those lines. Personally I found it really odd that these symptoms had shown up so severely and almost overnight when she has never really struggled with these kinds of symptoms before. So I asked her to sit down with me for a few minutes and really think about whether anything had changed recently, either in her daily routine or in her diet.

Getting to the route of the problem

After just a little while talking we realised that my wife had introduced a new herbal tea into her daily routine which contained rooibos. For most people, rooibos probably wouldn’t cause any health issues and it is actually considered to promote good health. When we looked into the possible side effects of rooibos tea however we quickly discovered a possible side effect that could well be linked to my wife’s symptoms. We realised that rooibos tea contains high levels of tannins, which you will also find in red wine and green tea. So what’s the problem with tannins I hear you ask? Well for most people there probably isn’t a problem. If you are prone to anaemia or other conditions linked to poor absorption of iron however, then tannins can be your worst enemy and it just so happens that my wife is prone to having a low iron count. So why are tannins bad for those who suffer with iron deficiency? It’s because tannins have been shown to further interfere with the absorption of iron which creates the perfect storm for those who suffer with iron-related conditions.

Eliminating the cause

The thing I’m trying to get across here is to not become too obsessed with treating symptoms. Instead, look for the cause of the problem and do your best to eliminate that cause. My wife has now eliminated the offending herbal tea and after just a few days of being roobois free she is now back to good health. Had she not taken the time to eliminate the cause however then she may well have spent months or even longer going back and forth to the doctors, trying out pill after pill with no positive results, while at the same time continuing to drink the herbal tea in question and doing who knows what damage to her system as a result.

Listen to your body’s natural defences

If you find that you are suffering with allergy like symptoms then, be sure to give some thought to what might be causing those symptoms rather than becoming obsessed with curing the symptoms themselves. If your body is showing allergy like symptoms then it is usually because it is trying to prevent an invader from entering your system and damaging it. Sometimes your body may mistake something that is potentially harmless for a harmful invader, causing it to unnecessarily activate its defence mechanisms – restricting airways, creating phlegm and the like. In this case treating the symptom might help as you may be able to prevent your body from needlessly overreacting to the thing it is mistaking for an invader. Other times however, your body might be going into defence mode because there is a real problem and your immune system is doing all that it can to defend your cells from even more damage. In these cases ‘switching off’ those defences through the use of anti-histamine tablets could possibly be the worst thing you could do as you might leave your body powerless to defend against a genuine invader. Instead it would be much better to find out exactly what is causing the problem and then do all you can to eliminate that cause.

Have you ever cured an ailment by eliminating the cause, rather than just treating the symptom?


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    • Medical-Reference profile image

      Imtiaz Ibne Alam 3 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      Yes, diet and lifestyle changes are the key to keep away hundreds of diseases from reaching us.

    • nutritionhub profile image

      nutritionhub 3 years ago

      It's nice to hear from someone who has an inside view of the Pharma industry and you highlight the problem well. The industry has a vested interest in providing ongoing relief from symptoms through drugs manufacture, rather than providing genuine long term cures where drugs are no longer required.

      I'm certainly not saying that people should not visit their doctor to be diagnosed, that could be a potentially dangerous thing to do. I just think that some unexplained mild illnesses can often be cured through diet and lifestyle changes, rather than reliance on prescribed drugs which often only treat the symptom, meaning you could be taking them permanently which could could cause further problems down the line.

    • Medical-Reference profile image

      Imtiaz Ibne Alam 3 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      Actually, in today's medical science, doctors really have less things to do other than prescribing some medications. Believe it or not, but the main role of a doctor is to diagnose a disease or condition. And, as today's diagnosis totally depends on equipment and physical parameters don't play a big part, doctors just need to see your medical reports to write down some medications!

      The bitter truth is that diagnosis is limited in only a few tests. So unless you're with some serious symptoms, no doctor will be able to predict what's cooking inside you!

      Being a pharmacist, I know actually what's going on inside the Big Pharma. These companies don't prepare drugs to cure a patient. They just want as many sells as possible. Finding the root cause of a disease require an ongoing, huge research project with so many researchers. But, who will sponsor such projects? Pharma giants are not interested, because there is no guarantee that the project will be successful!

      In addition, when the root cause is revealed, the price of the medicines gets more and more cheaper.

      For example: Before the ORS (oral rehydration saline), our ancestors spent an unthinkable amount to get rid of diarrhoea. Millions of people died for that. But, when it's revealed that lack of salts from our body is one of the root causes behind diarrhoea, we got the revolutionary ORS.

      Now, think that who would believe that a fatal disease like diarrhoea could be cured consuming just salts, like sodium chloride and potassium chloride? It was unthinkable!

    • nutritionhub profile image

      nutritionhub 3 years ago

      Thanks Medical-Reference. I certainly do agree that the root cause of many serious conditions is hard to diagnose. When it comes to general day to day illness though, from my own experience of attending a doctors surgery it seems that often times very little effort is made to attempt to diagnose a possible cause for the symptoms. It seems that antibiotics, antihistamines, proton inhibitors and the like are all too quickly prescribed without giving much thought to eliminating the cause. Personally I think we owe it to ourselves to at least try and work out what might be causing us to feel ill, as often it could be something as simple as a certain food or drink in our diet.

    • Medical-Reference profile image

      Imtiaz Ibne Alam 3 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      Well, those are really some nice points! I appreciate your thoughts on digging deeper and eliminating the root cause. But, I think you need to know that in medical diagnosis, scientists aren't as far able to find out the root cause of many diseases and conditions! They are successful with only a few diseases; the list containing the name of these diseases is really so short!

    • nutritionhub profile image

      nutritionhub 3 years ago

      Thanks Alphadogg. You're right that sometimes the cause of an illness will remain elusive. I just think it is important to at least try and find the cause and eliminate it, rather than relying solely on treating the symptoms.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Interesting hub nutritionhub, while I tend to agree with you, we do tend to treat the symptoms but there is however many health afflictions or underlying conditions that the root cause is unknown so there is no other option but to treat the symptoms. Thumbs up on your hub though.