Recommended Reading: Our Weird Faith in Pills

pill_nationThere’s a fascinating read in the latest Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine exploring our society’s beliefs about pharmaceutical drugs and how those beliefs can distract and detract from health and well-being. Though it sometimes gets a little “academic” – how could it not when you bring up the work of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty? – on the whole, it’s an accessible and thought-provoking piece, worth your time.

The gist of it:

Twenty-first century medical practice has many salient features: its use of high-tech diagnostics, for example, and of surgical interventions. Nonetheless, the genius and potency made accessible by modern medicine, as well as its more alienating qualities, are most iconically captured by the diminutive pill and the enormous industry is subtends. We say “take your medicine,” referring to a pill. Yet when we swallow it we also “take our medicine” in the broader sense, swallowing the modern paradigm of disease and treatment.

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The cultural fantasy surrounding the pill as the solution for life’s ills can thus contribute in a wide variety of ways to social and physical ills. It also distracts us from more holistic approaches to disease causation, prevention, and treatment. The miniaturized pill implies a highly localized problem and solution confined to an individual body. The ideal “magic bullet” targets a single organ or biochemical process. But other than certain infections where the body is invaded by a single organism that can be eradicated, the true site of illness and healing are rarely “local” in this way – they unfold in the complex interactions of self and world. Focused on the pill, we may neglect social and spiritual issues and lifestyle changes involving diet, exercise, intoxicants, and work that ma be the source of man of our mood and physical disorders. In fact, pill reliance in our modern cultural fantasy can justify not attended to needed changes. Greene invokes “the image of the overfed, underexercised American consumer who takes a statin with his cheeseburger. The cure of the latter-day ailments of excess consumption lies, cleverly, no in limiting consumption but in consuming additional products.

Leder D, Krucoff MW. “Take your pill”: The role and fantasy of pills in modern medicine. J Alt Compl Med. 2014; 20(6): 421-27. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0447

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