Finding a Balance Between Traditional Folk Remedies and Western Medicine

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by Ann Reynoso |

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Growing up in the Mexican culture, I was introduced to a lot of home remedies to treat everything — coughs, colds, stomachaches, fevers, bug bites, and even “el mal de ojo,” or the “evil eye.” Mexican folk medicine was an important part of my upbringing, but as an adult with a rare disease, I rely on Western medicine to stay healthy.

It’s most out of character for me to be at a loss for words when talking about pulmonary fibrosis. I try my best to always help others understand this disease and how it affects me. However, I’ve had a hard time teaching people from my culture about my disease, and I realized how strong these beliefs about folk remedies are. I’ve had to examine and work to understand a few things about my own myths about folk medicine, especially when it comes to my family’s beliefs.

Healing through cultural traditions

In the Mexican culture, we put our trust in a person we call a “curandera” (female) or “curandero” (male). A curandera is a traditional folk healer whose practice often involves sage burning, exorcism with an egg, miracle teas and herbs, cleansings that rid the body of evil spirits, and offerings and prayers to a higher deity. In my family, my grandmother acted as our curandera when I was young.

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My grandmother always had a remedy for any ailment. She would heal with herbs. My mother would call to consult her about what to give us when we were sick. I remember doing the same for my daughter when she was young. I don’t remember my family ever relying on modern medicine. I don’t know if it was due to a lack of financial stability or because of traditional and cultural beliefs, or both.

As a second-generation Mexican American, my mother was the first to try to rely on Western medicine. I do remember seeing a doctor at the local community center as a young child. I can remember the smells of modern medicines, which were different from what was always being formulated in our kitchen at home. I remember when I received my first school vaccinations and how worried the adults in my family were. They were afraid of what was being injected into our bodies.

Before being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, I tried my family’s folk remedies to cure my symptoms. I made some of the teas that my grandmother taught me to make, especially to ease the chronic cough I’d developed. I believed it would cure whatever ailment was causing me to cough and wheeze. It seemed the most natural concept for me. It was what I knew. I trusted this way of healing and never thought it to be odd.

When every remedy I tried didn’t relieve my symptoms, I had to research something else. I was getting sicker and experiencing shortness of breath, low oxygen, and wheezing, so I chose to see a doctor. It took several doctors to finally give me a proper diagnosis. Even with modern medicine, rare illnesses are difficult to identify.

folk medicine | Pulmonary Fibrosis News | A collection of herbal teas used as folk remedies stored in three glass containers and a plastic bag on Ann's kitchen counter.

Ann keeps a variety of folk remedy teas from Mexico on her kitchen counter. (Photo by Ann Reynoso)

Modern medicine versus folk medicine

I have nothing against folk medicine. It has been a rough transition leaving behind what I was most comfortable with. I do believe that some of the folk medicine I’ve learned about still has worth, but for my rare illness, I’ve chosen to put my trust in modern medicine.

With all the research and medical advice from my doctors, I found that certain medications could help with the stability of pulmonary fibrosis, such as Ofev (nintedanib) and CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil). For over a year, my lung function has held steady due to this modern medicine.

Today, my family still practices folk medicine traditions. The Latino culture is rich in this traditional way of healing. There are times when my family still asks if I want to keep trying folk remedies. For some, it’s hard to understand the seriousness of my illness. It is hard for them to understand why there’s no cure. Patiently and lovingly, I try to explain that “in this world, unexplainable things happen to some people, and I happen to be one of those ‘some people.'”

I do enjoy the tradition of sipping on different types of herbal teas. I still have my teas sitting on my kitchen counter, and I drink them every now and then. While it has been hard for some to see me stray away from our traditions, I still respect these beliefs.

There will always be a place inside me that will automatically turn to folk remedies first. I guess those cultural traditions will always be a part of me. It took being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis to convince me that modern medicine and technology would be the best choice to treat an illness, especially one so rare.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

Comments

Robert Weimer avatar

Robert Weimer

I am 91 years old,I can’t take any of the medications ofev or esbriet one made very sick and the other caused me to have a stroke I’m on oxygen 24/7 up to 4 liter.WhenI go out I use a portable wheelchair to carry 2 E tanks with gauges on them. Plus I bring4 extra tanks depending on my time out plus If I get stuckI have enough,my pulmonologist put me on Prednisone which helped
I see him tomorrow to see if I can bump it up to 20 mg and learn to adjust with your condition

Reply
Ann Reynoso avatar

Ann Reynoso

Hi Robert. Thank you for reading my column. I hope your visit to the pulmonologist went well. I can imagine how difficult it is to have to carry several tanks of oxygen. I use several tanks myself and I find it a bit challenging. Take care and stay strong.

Reply
Carolyn Reuben avatar

Carolyn Reuben

Thanks, Ann, for sharing your experience. Even though I'm an acupuncturist and representative of Wei Labs traditional Chinese medical herbs formulated specifically for treating pulmonary fibrosis I always tell my patients Western medicine and nondrug healing methods is a pas de deux in this dance of care and treatment. You do have to find the right partners!

Reply
Ann Reynoso avatar

Ann Reynoso

Thank you for reading my column Carolyn. I do continue to use some of my family's natural remedies. I guess old beliefs are hard to get rid of. It was difficult for me when I first went to a specialist due to my illness. I had many different opinions before I found the right fit for me.

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MaryJo McGinnis avatar

MaryJo McGinnis

Dang Robert Weimer. Many blessings & prayers. Keep on keeping on.

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Ann Reynoso avatar

Ann Reynoso

Thank you MaryJo. I welcome all the the prayers and blessing I can get.

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