Monday, March 21, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 13: Healthcare

Being a part of the blogosphere is both exhilarating and incredibly frustrating. It's fantastic that I've found such an amazing niche of like-minded people, but it's frustrating when I've commented, either in a post on my own blog or in response to someone else's blog, and then, my comments are not read in their entirety before someone posts a rebuttal that says, in effect, "Wendy couldn't be more wrong."

Well, of course, that statement, in and of itself is incorrect, because I could always be "more" wrong. But in one particular case in which this was said of me, I wasn't wrong at all. The other commenter obviously didn't read my comment in its entirety.

The topic was OTC medicine in a BOB (Bug-out-bag), and I said, no OTCs were a good idea, ESPECIALLY anti-diarrheal medicines, and another person refuted my comment, saying that diarrhea was the number one cause of death among soldiers in the Civil War.

First off, no one has ever died from diarrhea. Diarrhea is a SYMPTOM, not a disease, and there are many causes for diarrhea - some particularly nasty little things that get into a person's system and result in diarrhea.

Second, I said, in my comment, that the real concern with having diarrhea is dehydration, and frankly, taking an anti-diarrhea, won't solve that problem, and in fact, could make it worse. The other commenter mentioned dehydration, but not having read my comment (except to note that I thought taking Imodium was a bad idea), he apparently overlooked the fact that I had said the same thing - dehydration is the issue, and not the diarrhea itself.

I completely understood the position of the author of the original post. He was speaking of a hypothetical situation in which he and his family were fleeing from their home in the city following a catastrophic and complete collapse of our society, and he was describing the things that he thought he would need while on the "road." He's rationalization was that, stopping the flow (as it were) would help to keep them moving faster, and the faster they reached their destination, the better.

As Westerners, even when we're contemplating a worst case scenario, I don't think we can even fathom the idea of there not being someone to help us if we make a mistake. I mean, if I'm sick or one of my children is sick, and I self-treat, but then, it turns bad, I can always take them to a doctor. In the case if a complete breakdown, it's more likely that there won't be any doctors, there won't be the light at the end of the tunnel, and when that magical bug-out location is reached, there may be a warm bed and hot food (maybe), but if one has weakened one's immune system significantly using OTC medicines that are best left on the counter, one could find that the warmest of beds and the hottest of food does not good.

The Hesparian Foundation has written several books for aid workers and others in parts of the world where doctors and other health professionals, medicines and modern health care facilities are in short supply. In their book, Where There Is No Doctor, they talk about diarrhea care and prevention. What they say is that the most important treatment for diarrhea is to ensure that the sufferer does not get dehydrated, i.e. that he/she has enough water. The second treatment is to feed the sufferer foods that will help staunch the flow without stopping it, because, as they point out, if there's something in there that should be gotten out, it's better to allow the body to expel it than to stop up the flow with something like Imodium and have those little buggies trapped in one's gut to cause, perhaps further, perhaps more severe problems.

What I suggested in my response was Benjamin Franklin's advice: an ounce of prevention. What I suggested was tea. The detractor said, "No, not tea! It has caffeine, which is a diuretic and will make the dehydration worse!"

And, yes, black tea (from the camellia seninsis) has caffeine, but the caffeine content is negligible compared with, say, coffee. Also, unlike coffee, black tea contains an abundant amount of tannins (astringent chemicals that help create proteins), which have a great soothing, anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract. In addition, black tea has been shown to relieve diarrhea. It has a special therapeutic effect on gastric/intestinal discomforts because of the tannins, which work to decrease intestinal activity and release an anti-diarrheal effect on the tract that helps to ease these pains.

So, it's actually GOOD for helping soothe diarrhea, and in my opinion, it's better than Imodium or similar OTCs for an additional reason; specifically, making a proper cup of tea, requires boiling water. In an extreme survival situation, boiling water is the only way to ensure that it is safe from parasites. Parasitic and amoebic infections are the primary cause of dysentery, which is the primary cause of death associated with diarrhea in undeveloped countries (for which the Hesparian Foundation's book is written).

Further, while there are some anti-parasitic drugs and some other things doctors might do for a patient suffering from diarrhea, the most common and most effective course of treatment is hydration, and if one is drinking tea, one is staying hydrated (despite the claim that it's a diuretic).

In essence, if I were going to put any "medicine" in my bug-out-bag, it would be a couple of pounds of black tea, and it wouldn't just be a medicinal drink, but a nice, comforting, at-the-end-of-a-long-day warm beverage to soothe aching minds.

Of course, I'm not advocating bugging out. I'm all about "bugging-in" and in that case, I would recommend the same thing. I wouldn't stock my bathroom cabinets with OTCs. First off, I don't use them now, and second off, many of them, even those that are commonly used and thought of to be completely safe, have proven to cause some significant health problems. Recent research has shown that long-term use of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. We've believed that Tylenol is safe - for decades! In fact, when my son was younger, parents were cautioned against using the long-adored baby aspirin (who, my age, doesn't recall those bittersweet orange tablets?) due to the possibility of Reyes Syndrome complications and were encouraged to switch to Tylenol. Now, the advice is to use Ibuprofen. In twenty years, what side effects will be discovered from long-term Ibuprofen use? Benjamin Franklin was right, but if treatment is necessary, less is better.

The other thing I look for in solutions is things that I can produce myself, and even if I knew chemistry, which I don't, I'm not sure that I could manufacture Ibuprofen in my home laboratory. Tea is simply the dried leaves of the camellia seninsis plant. It's indigenous to Asia, but can be grown elsewhere. It's hardy up to Zone 6, and perhaps could be grown in colder climates with protection.

For my money, investing in a tea plant and a medicinal perennial herb garden is worth more than all of the OTC pharma in New Jersey, and if properly cared for, the plants will continue to produce ... forever. The same can't be said of OTCs after a collapse.

With that in mind, today's giveaway is tea! Loose leaf black tea and six muslin tea bags to be exact. If you would like to be entered into the drawing for the tea, please leave a comment.


The winner of the book The Human Powered Home is Jennie. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... We're more than halfway through the twenty-one days and will be ramping up with posts and a giveaway every day (except Friday) until the end of the month. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered. The drawing for the book Sewage Solutions will be Tuesday, March 22, and the drawing for the tea will be Wednesday.


  1. Great Post, and been very much enjoying the series and looking forward to seeing the next posts.

  2. It's so hard to get people to think outside of the box when it comes to situations where we have imbalances in our bodies, or dis-ease. There are so many natural solutions, so many instances where we should be looking at what our bodies are telling us, instead of masking symptoms with OTC medications. I agree, in a dire situation, it may be necessary to see allopathic medical advice. However, we should be taking responsibility for being in tune with our bodies and knowing what's going on, and educating ourselves with how we can help keep our incredible bodies in balance.

  3. We will be growing feverfew this year. It is an herbal pain reliever.

    I always learn something new from you. I did not know about how the tannins worked. Thanks. Also, I love an any excuse to have a cuppa tea:)

  4. Thanks for the bit about the tannins -- that was an effect I wasn't aware they had. I guess my mother was doing more good than she realized when she'd encourage us to drink lots of tea whenever we were sick with a stomach ailment!

  5. Tea is my go-to medicine when we are sick also. Now I know why!

  6. Thanks for the series, Wendy. You are giving us a new way to look at many things!

    A few weeks ago, my son had a fever, and I remember wondering about those OTCs. Of course, after reading the labels (seriously? High Fructose Corn Syrup in kids medicine, not to mention the artificial colors, preservatives, etc....), I figured it was better to treat the patient, not the symptom! Like you said about diarrhea, our bodies are trying to heal themselves, and sometimes how we "treat" the body may actually hinder the healing process.

    Oh, to live and learn.

  7. Great post. I just want to add that Ibuprofen has already been known to cause internal bleeding, as in ulcers and that it has (or once had..I don't have a bottle around to look) a warning on the label regarding potentially serious allergic reactions even in those who have taken it before.

    My husband spent alot of time in third world countries where the anti-diarheal drink of choice was rice water. Our go to is black tea though. Its easier to make and palatable to the more finicky patient.

  8. How timely, I've spent the last 4 days fighting a bug I got from my 2 year old. One of those in-2-hours-everything-emptied-out-of-my-digestive-track type of bugs.
    I'm like you, I don't think Imodium or other anti-diarrhea meds are the answer. If my body is trying to flush something, let it do it's thing. As uncomfortable as it may be, trapping the bad stuff in could be worse.
    Tea has been my main intake for a couple of days now. Tea and wheat crackers. :-P

    One problem with tea, is I have trouble getting my 2 year old to drink it. We had a rough time while he was fighting this bug, he didn't like the pedialite, he didn't want to drink tea, we had to resort to watered down juice. Anybody else had problems with hydrating toddlers?

    Anyway, thanks for the book! That cheers me up too. :-)

  9. When my girls were little, and I had a hard time getting them to drink anything when they were sick, the fall-back was popcicles.

  10. Hi Wendy,
    I just found your blog today and am excited to read through your archives--this series of posts is wonderful! Thank you.

    I wish I had known about tea when I lived in Texas-I had some sort of "poisoning" that kept me from eating or drinking for 14 days! I couldn't keep anything down (lost 17lb, 11 in the first 3 days). I agree with the popcicles; after day 8 when I could barely move or think my husband froze some pedialite and that helped a bit. Frozen tea might have helped even more!

  11. You could make tea popsicles!!! :-)

    My Dolly and I have been sick with a cough and sore throat. So 2 days ago I made some tea from ginger and lemongrass from our NEW garden. I strained it into a large glass pyrex container and it sits in the fridge where I just scoop cups of the liquid and then squeeze a few drops of lemon juice.

    She doesn't love it but I tell her it's that or "maybe" a doctors visit... So she drinks it up. But I could make popsicles.