There is no doubt that prescription medication, when properly used, can help people get better and save lives. As an integrative physician, I have the ability to prescribe medication when needed, utilize natural healing methods including vitamins, minerals and herbs, or both.
I am concerned, however, about polypharmacy. This is the prescribing of a number of different medications to a patient. It often begins when a doctor prescribes medications for each symptom the patient has, rather than finding the root cause of the illness. Polypharmacy increases the chance of side effects, and the patient often ends up on more medication to treat the side effects of the original medication(s). Another way polypharmacy occurs is when several doctors are involved in a patient’s care and there is a lack of communication between doctors.
Over the years, many patients have come to me with large bags of prescription medication hoping to get off as many of them as possible. As we sort through the bottles together, I often realize the patient is taking some of the medication to help with the side effects of other medication. Or that the patient is seeing multiple doctors and they have not communicated with each other regarding their prescribing.
How many prescription drugs are in your medicine cabinet right now? If you resemble the majority of Americans, there is at least one per family member, and likely many more.
In 2015, The Washington Post reported that three out of five Americans were taking prescription drugs of some kind. More people were taking prescription drugs more than ever before, and more people were taking multiple prescription drugs — up to fifteen percent taking five or more! These findings came from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Canadian drug-policy researcher, Alan Cassels wrote a book titled Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients. In it, he writes, “With less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, the US already makes up almost 50 per cent of the global market in prescription drugs.”
What are doctors prescribing all of these drugs for? The diagnoses run the gamut, but we see a lot of over-prescribing taking place in three key areas.
Prescriptions for Weight and Cardiovascular Health
In the study mentioned above, researchers noted that eight of the drugs used most commonly in the U.S. treat illnesses related to weight and metabolism: diseases like hypertension and diabetes. I’ve written extensively about how to manage your metabolism naturally. And I’ve seen it work in my patients!
There are plenty of methods available to prevent weight gain. However, if you’re already fighting the battle of the bulge, don’t feel you have to turn to prescription drugs. Many different herbs can help with weight loss when you combine them with exercise and a healthy diet. Likewise, dark chocolate can lower body mass index and get rid of stubborn abdominal fat. You can even reverse type 2 diabetes naturally.
Prescriptions for Pain
A major growing concern in America today is addiction to pain medications, especially opioids. The Chicago Tribune reported, in 2016, on a survey of doctors by the National Safety Council. That survey found that “ninety-nine percent of primary care doctors routinely prescribe potentially addictive opioid painkillers for longer than the three-day period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Opioid prescriptions, they said, have quadrupled since 1999. Furthermore, many of the doctors “said they prescribe the drugs for purposes that medical organizations like the American Academy of Neurology have found to be inappropriate.” That should make you think twice the next time you go to your doctor with a sore back or recurring headache.
Not only do some pain drugs carry the risk of addiction, some can also cause gastrointestinal or other side effects. Besides, even when they relieve the discomfort temporarily, they don’t address the underlying causes of pain. A number of dietary supplements have been scientifically shown to reduce chronic pain. Examples include such familiar vitamins and minerals as vitamin D3 and magnesium. People with back pain, the single leading cause of disability worldwide, have a range of options. I’ve seen relief in my patients by using osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT), physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, stretching, chiropractic care, and other modalities.
Prescriptions for Mental Health
The mental health arena is experiencing what some call “diagnostic inflation,” as Newsweek reported in 2014. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) publishes the DSM, which providers turn to when diagnosing patients. The problem, Newsweek reported, is that a striking number of key decision makers within the APA openly profit from [the prescription drug] industry.”
Over-prescription of drugs for mental health conditions benefit the drug companies and, in turn, some of the actual mental healthcare providers. The result is that many people suffer intrusive side effects… or worse.
Dr. Allen Frances, a psychiatrist explains, “We have more deaths in emergency rooms now for prescribed psychiatric medication than we do for street drugs.”
What can you do as a patient? First, make sure you get a complete examination and an accurate diagnosis. Depression, for example, is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases. You may wish to see multiple doctors since mental health diagnoses can be tricky. Then, take care of your overall health. A good diet, exercise, and enough sleep all support good mental health as well as physical. Anxiety and depression are sometimes linked to other diseases such as thyroid disease or diabetes. Also take steps to ensure you don’t have any nutritional deficiencies. For my patients with mental health issues, in addition to counseling, stress reduction, meditation, proper diet and exercise, I recommend starting with Diamond Nutritionals’ Foundation Vitamins. You receive balanced, therapeutic amounts of professional-grade vitamins and minerals, free of potentially dangerous dyes, preservatives, and additives that may only worsen your mood.
Whatever health conditions plague you, consider exploring natural options as many do. But when you opt for natural supplements, buy them only from a trusted source.
This is especially true with the Internet. There is a great deal of misinformation to be found. Much of this information centers around various extreme product claims and cures which simply are not true.
One thing to always remember: Do your research and ask your doctor plenty of questions. A good doctor will do his or her best to address the underlying cause(s) of your symptoms rather than writing prescriptions just to treat your symptoms.
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