It's a strange world we live in. Pharmaceuticals seem to have become larger-than-life cure-alls that we all must take. Since prescription drugs have been allowed TV advertising space, we are bombarded daily with "ask your doctor for this drug" ads. It doesn't matter if you have something as simple as *ahem* constipation, you must have a drug for it. They use words like "chronic" to convince you that if you have something happen more than a couple of times, well, you should be on a drug for that.
My husband's uncle has some new and rather serious health problems. When I first met him, just a year ago, he was on hardly any medication. In his early 70s, he seemed to be getting around quite well. Now, he is on 15 medications. Some new drug they gave him had several side effects. I guess the doctors didn't want to take him off the drug, so they started layering up other drugs to fight the side effects of the first one. Throw a few leeches on him, while you're at it, doc...
While I'm not making light of our uncle's health problems, I am making light of the industry. How can I not? They frighten us with these ads, or they promise robust health from a little pill. It's all about marketing. As always, the risks are in small print or are spoken about rapidly (and vaguely) over images of butterflies, people riding bikes in the sun, or couples dancing. It's enough to make me sick!
I have been put on some medications in the past two years to lower my cholesterol. Mind you, my cholesterol numbers would have been considered fine a few years ago, but Big Pharma and the Machine lobbied to reduce the cholesterol numbers and ratios, as well as the "optimal" blood pressure readings. The result? More customers for them. Every cholesterol-lowering med I took gave me the very serious side effect of pancreatitis. I would immediately stop the drug and notify my cardiologist, of course. Never mind the money that I and my insurance carrier had just paid for the little bottles of poison. Now I worry that my pancreas may have sustained some damage as a result. There is no way to know right now. Have to wait and see.
The best things I did for my health didn't come in bottles (mostly).
- Lost weight. 60 lbs. I used a commercial diet plan to do so, because I needed very strict control and something that was easy to stick with. It worked.
- Exercised. This one hasn't been so easy in the last 6 months because of back problems, but I'm working on that. Starting physical therapy soon.
- Ate healthier. More plants and protein, less starches.
- Took a supplement that is the dehydrated juice (and some pulp) of fruits and vegetables. The only "fractionated, isolated" vitamin I take is vitamin D. My sisters both have severe vitamin D deficiencies that have caused them to have to take shots and prescription vitamin D strengths, so I see it as an ounce of prevention.
What did the article specifically say? "Nutritional supplements have not been shown to have any effect." They don't cite any studies that refuted the supplements, of course. There are many supplements out there of varied types and strengths. They also didn't say anything about how much red wine or grapes or berries would be beneficial. They did say that Big Pharma has a pill in development right now that could be to market in as little as 5 years!
So we're going to be taking a pill based on science that will probably have some serious side effects when we could just enjoy nature's bounty and get a better benefit. Hmm....
Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine." Indeed.
With all of that being said, I want to also say that some medications do make our lives better. I consider my anti-depressants to be life-saving medications. I could have easily become a statistic without them. Other medications help me deal with the detritus of modern life (something for acid reflux, for example, because of my busy life, stress, and rushed eating habits, I'm sure). And my pain medication helps roll back the clock on my spinal problems.
Right now, for example, I'm taking a rather strong painkiller every evening. It is extended release, so it keeps the pain away for a good long time. Since starting on it, I've been able to reduce - almost completely - the need for fast-acting painkillers. But I have a real love-hate relationship with all of these meds. They all have a risk of dependency and can cause big problems. They have some nasty side effects; the trick is to find the one you can tolerate the best and go with that. My body often becomes allergic to a medication after I've been on it for awhile. It's like my body says, "Enough! Leave me alone already!"
This little dose, though, has made a significant change in my life. Despite the night sweats, despite the irregularity, despite the irritability, despite the dry mouth, I am better. Yesterday I didn't even blog because I felt like I haven't felt in years. I tackled my closet. You can actually walk in to my walk-in closet again. I tackled some tasks in the garage. I cleaned the kitchen (twice, thanks to my "kids" who should be cleaning up after themselves). I went shopping. I actually sat down and had the financial health talk with my husband (which we've been meaning to do). I did all of the laundry. At around noon, I realized that I had been up since 6 a.m. and had been going pretty much non-stop. I was stunned.
So I grappled with, "What do I do about this?"
I asked because I'd been thinking of going off the meds due to the side effects. I talked to my best friend, who lives in Asheville, N.C., and who is a lab tech. She is also a no-nonsense woman from the South who, like me, believes in food. I put the question to her. What do I do, when the medication is delivering near-miraculous improvement but with a heavy dose of side effects?
She said, "Well, what the hell did they do before all these medications? Eat some prunes and drink lots of water. Kick the covers off (and hey, are you sure it's the medication? You're no spring chicken, you know). Use that irritability to get those kids moving."
Damn smart woman, she is. She pointed out the obvious to me. Let the drug do its job, but treat it with caution and use nature to fight the side effects.
In summary, I suppose I'm saying that many of these drugs have their place and have made life better. Others are made simply to treat problems associated with modern life and poor nutrition. How many people are hoping that medicine finally finds an anti-fat pill when in fact diet and exercise have more far-reaching benefits than just a lower number on the scale?
We have created Big Pharma and now they are a gigantic, bloated entity that wants to take us farther from what nature intended and farther toward an imperfect chemical soup to treat the normal and abnormal effects of life concurrently.
Don't eat the apple; take this array of vitamins instead. We think we've isolated what makes an apple good for you. Oh, and now you'll need to add some fiber, so stir this into your stew. Got gas now? Take this pill. Oops, did that stop the train? Take this one - or this one if your train is chronically stuck at the station. Did that give you a runaway train? Take this. Got a headache from the other pills? Take this.
Where does it end, I want to know?