What’s the response that shocks me most during my many speaking tours? It’s the huge combination of drugs swallowed by many North Americans. Equally amazing, most people have no idea why they’re taking them. Over-medication is dangerous. It also results in staggering costs for the health care system. So can North Americans cut back on drugs? And what non-medication cured an ailing retired minister?
The first question to ask your doctor is why you are taking so many drugs. This seems so logical it hardly needs mentioning. After all, these same people wouldn’t think twice about asking the car mechanic what was done to correct the noise in their car’s engine. So never accept a drug without asking why the body needs it.
It’s also vital to ask the doctor how long to take a drug. For instance, one person I met had been taking a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) for 10 years. These drugs are prescribed to ease the symptoms of severe heartburn.
But during that time the patient had never inquired nor been told whether he could stop the medication to see if his symptoms had subsided. A few months would have been an adequate trial period. And drugs such as painkillers should have a short period of consumption due to the risk of drug addiction.
Remember, as you age it’s even more vital to ask questions about drugs. Age brings grey hair but also decreased ability of the liver to metabolize medication (get rid of it) and it’s harder for the liver to excrete it.
A high dose may therefore cause unintended consequences. Doctors usually start with a low dose prescription and increase it slowly. But it’s always wise to ask the doctor after a period of time if the dose can be safely decreased or eliminated.
A major problem today is that, due to the increasing number of drugs available, it’s more likely that adverse drug interactions will occur. In some cases this will decrease the effectiveness of one drug or increase the risk of a serious side effect. For example, common painkillers such a ibuprofen (Advil) used with warfarin (Coumadin), blood thinners, may increase the risk of bleeding.
Herbal remedies can also react with prescription drugs. For instance, the publication Consumer Reports on Health says that black cohosh used to treat menopausal symptoms can increase the risk of side effects from antidepressants, blood pressure drugs and cholesterol lowering- drugs (CLDs).
Remember that any new symptom after starting a drug can be a drug side effect. It’s amazing that many people I talk to have no idea that their muscle pain and fatigue could be the result of their medication.
And what is more tragic is that some people on CLDs do not realize they may have developed Type 2 diabetes because of this medication. A Danish study of 120,000 people showed that from 25 to 50% of those taking CLDs developed this disease.
Many years ago a patient told me her father, a retired minister, was ailing. He had little desire to eat, was losing weight and sat idly in his chair day after day. His doctor had died and she could find no one to care for him.
So I visited him in his home. I discovered he was taking a large combination of drugs such as antidepressants and blood pressure medication, which can cause fatigue.
It was possible to pitch out several of his unneeded and outdated medications. And much to his surprise, I substituted an old and tried remedy. I suggested a few ounces of wine before lunch and the evening meal. A short time later his daughter called to say he was now taking walks, had regained his appetite and was back to his normal self.
I don’t recommend this remedy for everyone. But I’m convinced that in selected cases a sip of ‘vino’ has a greater impact on the health of seniors than the universal tendency to over-prescribe antidepressants.
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