Some folks who have read my story about quitting AIDS drugs and nearly two dozen other prescription drugs seem to think I attribute my improved health to that choice alone.
It isn’t that simple.
There is no doubt in my mind that taking so many prescription drugs, even under the care of physicians, was damaging me and my health. Quitting them was one essential step–among several–that I had to take just to recover my wits enough to move forward.
Good health, or improving one’s poor health, also requires attention to what we put into our system and how we maintain it. In my case, it also led me to rethink just about everything I thought I knew about medical care and health.
I’m only going to summarize here some highlights of the path I’ve followed to address my seriously declining health. The details and sequence of actions are vague, because each individual’s plan must be customized to fit their needs. Do as much research as possible for yourself (thank goodness for the Internet).
Good alternative or wholistic practitioners can be difficult to find, but may prove invaluable, especially early on. Seek out healers, not just doctors. When dealing with serious illnesses such as cancer, autoimmune disorders (including auto deficiencies), MS, “AIDS”, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and others, it is important to make significant changes immediately to halt the decline of health. Once recovery is underway there will be time to review and evaluate each of these areas of change to determine which ones should be made permanent.
What follows is based on my personal experience. While it is not intended as medical advice, I do hope some readers might find some valuable suggestions to improve their health.
Quitting bad habits
Quit smoking and all other forms of tobacco use. After 27 years of smoking and chewing tobacco, I quit for good in March, 2001 and it is the single most significant change I could have made to improve my overall health. I had quit before, but always started again. All I can say is: keep trying until you succeed. Hypnosis was the last tool I tried, but that doesn’t mean it is the only, or even most successful method.
Quit drinking alcohol. After your health has been sufficiently restored, you might be able to consider an occasional glass of wine with dinner a couple of times a week. Quit all chemical and drug use, “recreational” and pharmaceutical. Forget about any potential benefits of smoking weed. Just quit it.
Use caution and common sense when stopping most pharmaceutical drugs. The consequences of quitting many of them cold-turkey can be dangerous, due to dependency or addiction. Some (hopefully very few) prescription drugs may be required, at least for now, but be as ruthless as possible in determining those you can do without, since many of them can cause unwanted effects that manifest as symptoms of poor health. Typically doctors just prescribe even more drugs to counter these so-called “side” effects, causing an endless cycle of imbalances in our bodies.
Pay special attention to eliminating the “anti’s”: antibiotics, antidepressants, antiretrovirals, etc. Next, get rid of steroids and hormones. Be sure to taper off slowly and learn to listen to your body as it weans itself off of drugs and starts doing its own thing again.
If you find that you simply don’t seem to be able to function well without a particular medication, do whatever you can to get by with the lowest dosage of the most closely studied drug for that purpose. For example, why pay more for a blockbuster new drug for hypertension if a 30-year-old drug that has been shown to have few interactions or side effects works for you?
Some of these next points might have been including in “Bad Habits” above. For most of us, eating is also a lifestyle choice and usually dictated by habits.
Sugar, for example. Quit it completely. Same for most dairy and all highly processed foods.
Remember that you are asking your body to restore some of the functions and responsibilities that were being suppressed by pharmaceutical drugs. It’s important to ensure it has sufficient resources and the highest quality of fuel to perform well.
In general, the closer food is grown to your home, the better. This is not always easy to do with today’s food distribution system.
Organic foods will also deliver more nutrition, while reducing the amount of toxins the body has to process and eliminate. Those who are very ill may even want to consider an elimination diet to remove as much dietary stress and inflammation as possible before adding additional foods back into their diet.
Forget the USDA’s “food pyramid” and read nutrition guides like Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition instead. Learn how to make your own sauerkraut and other fermented foods that help restore gut health.
Consider using a water purifier. Even a relatively inexpensive charcoal type filter (Brita, for example) can improve the water you drink and cook with. If you can afford one, get a distiller or reverse osmosis unit. Look for one that uses chemical-free filters (see warning here). Bottled water is impractical and is often nothing more than tap water packaged in plastic. Not good. Get and use reusable stainless steel water bottles to carry with you.
After eliminating bad habits, there is probably no change you can make to improve health and the way you feel than improving the quality of food you consume.
Moderate, regular activity is good for the body, the mind and the soul. I walk and bicycle as often as I can. In the winter, I use a rebounder to help stimulate my lymphatic system, as well as to keep the muscles moving.
Beware of excessive or very exertive exercise. One admittedly questionable measure of immune health may be a low level of cd4 t-cells. These levels have been found to be lower in body builders and professional athletes, for example.
Stress reduction and mental health
We frequently read about about how damaging stress can be, but it may be the most difficult part of our lives to actually address. There are many ways to control stress, but the best place to start may be to examine areas of our lives that trigger it. This includes the workplace, personal and family relationships and unresolved spiritual issues.
In addition to moderate exercise mentioned above, some people find that meditation, yoga or self-hypnosis can help lower levels of anxiety and stress. Resolving nutritional deficiencies can also help strengthen a body’s innate ability to cope with, or even resolve stress internally.
Depression is a nearly universal component of illness. It’s almost impossible to identify which came first, the disease or the depression. They are symbiotic conditions and require simultaneous attention.The problem with treating depression pharmaceutically is that unwanted effects of those drugs can create as many symptoms as they might treat. The evidence for the effectiveness of most modern antidepressants is shaky at best.
I found the book Dealing with Depression Naturally to be an excellent resource about the use of nutritional supplements that address deficiencies and chemical imbalances to improve one’s mental health, including stress.
Explore some of the many various healing modalities out there. I have benefitted from acupuncture, massage, hypnosis and neurofeedback. Unlike treatment with most prescription drugs these do not have to be lifetime commitments, and often times a patient may actually benefit from treatment “interruptions”.
Examine especially those healing methods that look beyond superficial symptoms to indentify and treat illness, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and naturopathy. Most practitioners are adept at merging their healing art with allopathic western medicine while one is transitioning to a more healthy, wholistic path of healing. It isn’t always necessary to fire your Western doctor right away (though in some cases that might be a very good idea).
I sometimes wonder if I haven’t replaced expensive pharmaceutical drugs with expensive “natural supplements”. Personally, I think it is possible to overdo some of the nutritional supplements, but it is also clear that some of us with serious health problems often underestimate their value and importance.
Supplements, especially higher than usual doses of vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants seem to be most helpful in the earliest stages of reversing a declining health pattern. After recovering some of my health I have found I am able to manage without as many supplements as I took when I first embarked on my path for healing.
There are some supplements that might be critically important for people with immune dysfunction, which may be indicated by a positive Gallo antibody test (aka, the “HIV-test”). In addition to a really high potency multi-vitamin/mineral supplement (at least a 4-tab per day formula), those include: l-glutamine, selenium, n-acetyl cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, probiotics and possibly mushroom extracts.
New knowledge and awareness of gut health indicates that there may be a difference in various probiotics for restoring gut flora damaged by antibiotics and other prescription drugs. There are several good articles here about how to use probiotics more successfully to do just that.
Self, sex and spirituality
This heading might sound like a strange combination for some people. It is an important one, however, and probably shouldn’t be buried near the end of an article like this. Trying to defeat illness by dealing with all the other topics above without addressing personal responsibility are probably futile.
I write from my experience as an urban gay man in the U.S., where all of these things are perhaps more interconnected and affect each other more than other groups. For some of us, the combination of growing up as different, or worse yet, “sinful”, then discovering a community of similar souls that is too often grounded in sexuality is a defining part of our being.
In the gay world, there exists another current outside of the bars and baths that moves from our very core. The ultimate expression of this can be found among the radical faeries, but I have also discovered it in many gay men on all levels of the spiritual/sexual spectrum. This is a topic so complex it warrants much more attention than I can give it here. Suffice to say that our sexual behavior can also become distorted and unhealthy.
On a journey to recovering health, one learns to address not only the needs of the body, but also the soul. Healthy, nurturing sexual intimacy can be a bridge between those two seemingly separate aspects of our being, while obsessive, compulsive and disrespectful sexual conduct can be a barrier. This is the most personal part of the journey and I am finding it very difficult to do it justice in this summary.
I can only hope that those who need to can understand the importance of recognizing the benefits that come from a harmonious mind-body-spirit connection in seeking genuine health.
Balance and moderation
For the sake of brevity, I have barely hit some highlights above. Going into a lot of detail seems rather senseless, as each person’s needs are unique and any program for recovery will need to be customized, either by the patient themself, or with some assistance from a good medical practitioner (probably holistic or alternative). What needs to be emphasized is the need for balance and moderation in all aspects of our lives.
Trying to be too perfect or purist in our pursuit can be counter-productive. Life is meant to be lived with a certain amount of fluidity and flexibility. If I’m on the road and unable to eat as well as I might at home, I simply go with the flow for a few days and do the best I can. If I’m unable to walk or ride my bike because of the weather, I try to give myself permission to be lazy and relax.
Likewise, excess is undesirable, whether that is with food, drugs, sex, or any otherwise good substance or endeavor. Feel free to exercise common sense and don’t let the process become larger than life itself. What is the purpose of growing healthier, if not to enjoy the life we have?
As you can see, quitting drugs was only a rather small piece of the puzzle I’ve assembled so far to improve my quality of life and my overall health. It has required a complete overhaul of my life and lifestyle, and that did not happen overnight.