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Why You Get Well
by Mike Oppenheim
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Dr. Mike Oppenheim writes a column for the Richmond Register.


By Doctor Mike Oppenheim

What helps when you’re ill? Rest? Drinking plenty of fluids? Nutritious food or vitamins? Heat, ice, medicine? The answer: sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes they make you sicker.

Rest. Excellent for injuries. Walking on a sprained ankle, for example, makes it worse. As a treatment for infections and other diseases, physicians prescribed rest for thousands of years. Well into the twentieth century, children with rheumatic fever stayed in bed for months; a heart attack required four week of strict bed rest. Then scientific-minded doctors began to wonder if this helped. They soon discovered rest is positively harmful. More than a day or two in bed weakens muscles, dissolves bones, produces constipation, and encourages blood to stagnate and clot. If you’re healthy, two weeks flat on your back will make you sick.

Even after major surgery, patients are forced to get moving almost as soon as the anesthesia wears off. For minor illnesses, stay in bed a few days if you’re too miserable to do anything else, but it’s not essential.

Drinking extra fluids. This helps a fever by replacing the excess water that evaporates from your body. It’s not useful in the following circumstances:
- Colds. Phlegm is not soluble in water, so drinking a great deal doesn’t loosen a cough.
- Bladder infections. Popular writers and even doctors recommend this, but there’s no evidence that it helps.
- For your general health. This is a remnant of the old folk belief that the human body requires a regular flush. Drink as much as you want, not more.

Eating nourishing food. Essential for long term health, useless for short illnesses. I spend a great deal of time discouraging patients with upset stomachs from eating. They worry about becoming malnourished or dehydrated. I explain that a person in good health need not worry and that putting something into an irritable G.I. tract makes it more irritable.

Here is simple advice too often neglected:

Leave it alone. This is the best treatment for scrapes, abrasions, and minor cuts. Most efforts to speed healing do just the opposite. Don’t use ointments or antiseptics; wash off dirt with water from the tap, then allow nature to take its course.

Don’t eat. Don’t drink. An excellent tactic for the first hours of vomiting or diarrhea. Suck on a piece of ice if you’re vomiting. After three hours it’s O.K. to sip small amounts of sweet liquid such as 7-Up.

Don’t treat a symptom that’s not bothersome. This includes cough, runny nose, congestion, pain, itching, sore throat. It even includes fever. This surprises everyone, especially mothers of small children, but even a high fever will not harm a healthy person.

Published: Jul 13,2008 19:56
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