There is a lot of debating that goes on about Rheumatoid Arthritis and medication. Some of the most powerful and expensive medications on the earth are used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis. Concerns include side effects, costs, and feeling reliant upon a substance for one’s livelihood.
People living with RA are usually also living with discussions and decisions about medication. We have plenty to talk about, don’t we? Let’s take the first bite at that elephant today…
What is medicine?
Medicine is defined as the use of any method to treat illness or injury. Medication is any substance used as a remedy to treat an illness or injury. Almost anything could be construed as a medication – and some odd things have been tried – like nettle-beer for a blood purifier, ground cockroach tea for lockjaw, and blood drawing for George Washington’s strep throat…
Aspirin is a good example
Aspirin is probably the most used medication of all time that is still considered to be a medicine in the modern world. Originally, salicylic acid was obtained from the bark of a willow tree, creating the first aspirin. For centuries before that, people used to chew tree bark to get the salicylic acid into their bloodstream in order to relieve pain and inflammation for conditions such as arthritis. Of course there are thousands of other substances that have been uncovered which can either alleviate symptoms or cure illnesses; all of these are medicines!
Natural medication versus drugs
In our modern world, we divide medications into two classes: natural medications and pharmaceutical medications which we call “drugs.” When aspirin was in the form of bark, it would be what we consider “natural.” After it has been refined, purified, and measured by milligrams, it is considered a pharmaceutical. Substances in both groups are medication if we realize that medication is any substance man uses to treat or cure illness or disease.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration regulates medications which are produced, marketed, and sold as pharmaceuticals. Substances used as medicines, but sold in their natural forms are much less regulated. That is the reason it is not possible to be certain how many milligrams of a potent material such as kava root is in any given dose. That is also the reason that natural medicine marketers must be careful how their claims are worded.
Companies which sell vitamins, teas, and herbal remedies are not permitted to claim that their substance treats or cures any disease. They have not been required to test effectiveness in any systematic way. They do not have to guarantee the purity of the product or its potency. (This is the reason that RA patients on methotrexate take prescription folic acid instead of buying it from a vitamin company. Rheumatologists know that their patients need to be certain that they are getting the full dose of folic acid required.) Nor are they required to reveal anything about the side effects of the natural medicine.
Any medication, whether one considered a natural (unrefined, unmeasured, and unregulated) medicine like St. John’s wort or one considered a drug (substances combined, refined, and measured by chemists) like ibuprophen may have several effects. Some of the effects are desired effects; we call those the “effects” or the benefits of the drug. Other effects are undesired; those we call “side effects.” (Thunder god vine example.)
Thinking differently about what is “natural”
“Natural” is not always the same thing as “healthy.” Viruses are naturally occurring. Snake bites are perfectly natural. Poison ivy and arsenic are natural. And Rheumatoid Arthritis came to me quite naturally. I inherited the genes for it from my grandfather. Natural is not always equivalent to safe or good.
There is so much more to examine about drugs (whether manufactured or natural) and Rheumatoid Arthritis. With today’s blog, I’m hoping to break a few stereotypes in our thinking about medicine. All that is available are the God-given resources here on the earth, whether they are medicines used “as is” or made into more sophisticated treatments and cures.
- Celebrities and Rheumatoid Arthritis
- American College of Rheumatology Redefines Rheumatoid Arthritis
- My Basic Class in Rheumatoid Arthritis: RA 101
- The Onset Story project
- The RA Kitchen project