I used to live above a pharmacy in the centre of town and when I went out I passed by the pharmacy door. It was always busy. Sometimes there was a queue that went out of the door into the street, especially on a Sunday when the other chemists were shut. Many people were holding prescriptions and getting medicine.
A lot of my patients take medicine and many of these are on several pills at the same time - some of the usually pills to reduce the side effects of the other pills. For many people this is the situation. They are prescribed medication for a chronic condition and continue taking this medicines sometimes indefinitely with a host of potential side effects, without control or hope of getting better.
The problem is something I used to talk about a lot in my Spanish radio show. The problem is the medical system we have.
When you last visited the doctor, what happened?
Did you chat about diet, exercise, nutrition or stress management?
Were you guided about what foods you should or shouldn’t consume?
Were you advised to make lifestyle changes to help you get better?
Or was the whole appointment about the symptoms you came in with or testing for an illness that you might have? In the end were you given a prescription?
The prescription is usually the main focus of the appointment because treating symptoms and prescribing drugs for the symptoms is what doctors do. There’s no time for anything else.
Of course most doctors have their patients’ best interests at heart and would prefer the system to be different but it is difficult to go against the pharmaceutical industry.
Is there anything you can do about this? Well, one thing you can do is inform yourself about the drugs you are taking. Are they absolutely necessary or are there alternatives which will help your health?
Let me give you some examples.
Lots of people have high cholesterol levels and take medication to reduce cholesterol called statins. Statins are very important for some people but did you know that if you are unfit, it would be better for your health to go for a walk than take statins? A study in the US this month showed that exercise provided similar effects as statins at prolonging life. Side effects linked to statins include muscle pain, memory loss, depression, sexual difficulties and depression. Exercise of course is cheap, easy and does not have the bad side effects.
The best way to reduce cholesterol is to stop the negative factors that cause them. This means looking at your diet, amount of exercise and lifestyle. If you make changes here – if you do regular exercise, if you eat a diet with less harmful food (less processed, sugary foods) and if you listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired or stressed – then you take away the cause and therefore for most people statins would not be necessary.
There is also a misunderstanding about some drugs. For example antidepressants. Antidepressant drugs do not treat the cause of depression. They only mask the symptoms. They are chronically over-prescribed. In the UK four out of five family doctors admitted over-prescribing Prozac and similar drugs for those suffering from depression and anxiety. They claimed that there is a lack of alternatives. But these are very strong drugs with long-term side effects such as an increased risk of a stroke.
A long-term solution for depression is of course to eliminate the cause. This is different for everyone but involves changing things in your life like diet, lifestyle, the management of stress and the amount of exercise. It’s not complicated. It’s just common sense.
The doctor gives you the prescription but you are the one who has to live with the consequences, for better or worse.
So get informed.