Humans as Plants: the Slow Medicine Movement

You have probably heard of the slow food movement, which encourages careful cooking and proper enjoyment of food. Slow medicine is similar: a holistic alternative to the overly mechanic Western medical system, a way for the body to heal itself.

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There can be no doubt that medicine has progressed more in the last 100 years than in all preceding centuries. Antibiotics, modern surgery, and vaccines now allow people live twice longer than in the past. However, there is a growing feeling that our medical system has lost something important: the idea of a human as a holistic being who needs more than drugs.

The issue with modern medicine

According to the proponents of the slow medicine movement (which started with Dennis McCullough’s book “My Mother, Your Mother”) about caring for aging parents), the Western medicine has a few serious drawbacks:

  • It focuses too much on disease instead of well-being – doctors rush to prescribe potent drugs even when they may not be necessary, which often leads to side effects;
  • Doctors have no time to listen to the patient, leading to frequent misdiagnosing and wrong treatment;
  • Patients get too much treatment, often invasive; interestingly, studies show that in regions with intensive healthcare people are not healthier (see the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare, for example);
  • The state insurance coverage system pays for many procedures and drugs, making it lucrative for hospitals to prescribe excessive treatments.

Who it is for

Modern doctors view the body as a broken car that needs to be fixed, since it cannot fix itself. Of course, in many cases this urgent approach is necessary – in case of a car accident or a heart attack you need surgery, not conversations and herbal remedies. However, people suffering from chronic diseases (about half of all adults in the U.S.) benefit more from a different approach. Slow medicine views people as similar to plants – they can heal themselves if they are hurt. If your houseplant’s leaves turn yellow, you don’t cut them off: you carefully search for the reason and apply the best treatment. This holistic approach gives better results in case of conditions such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease.

Another group that needs slow medicine are older patients, who can suffer from invasive and traumatizing “cures”. They need to be listened to, and relationships can be more important for them than prolonging life at any cost.

The multifaceted approach

Slow medicine begins with talking to the patient, establishing a relationship, truly understanding the symptoms. Then the doctor may choose to prescribe a traditional drug or an alternative approach, such as yoga, acupuncture, or meditation. Herbal remedies and other methods of integrative medicine are important, too, but the main healing tool is diet (read more on treating chronic disease with diet). One of the principles of slow medicine is “less is more” – a doctor should not prescribe unnecessary treatments; instead, one should take more time to understand what’s going on.

It would be a great mistake to suggest that life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, should be treated by holistic means (you may remember how Steve Jobs unsuccessfully tried to cure his cancer with acupuncture and fruit juices until it was too late). On the contrary, in medical emergencies one should always go to the hospital. However, the strength of slow medicine is in its focus of well-being – restoring relationships, self-confidence, and, ultimately, happiness and enjoyment of life.

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