Medications and Your Health
by Dr. Laura Polak, D.C.
Research has shown that people on three or more medications are subject to chemical interactions that are beyond physicians' understanding. Yet most Americans still have a medicine cabinet full of medications. Although no one can dispute that medications have an important place and a purpose, especially in emergency and life-saving situations, a growing number of physicians and health care providers are looking towards more conservative measures first.
Antibiotic resistance is a great case in point. When the first antibiotic, penicillin, became available to the general populace in 1940 many lives were saved. However now, fifty years later, there are patients in hospitals that have bacterial infections that are not responsive to any antibiotics. Why? Bacteria are one of the smallest and most plentiful life forms found on this planet and quickly adapt to new conditions in order to survive. Bacterial drug resistance is a matter of natural adaptation. The longer the bacteria are exposed to a given drug the more likely they are to develop universal resistance. Smart life forms they are. Before 1975 almost every case of gonorrhea was treatable with penicillin. Today above 50% of these cases in the U.S. are penicillin-resistant, and in places like the Philippines and Thailand 90% of the cases are resistant.
Similarly, mutations in the HIV virus due to medications has caused debate. Originally, the HIV virus was thought to be untreatable. However various "cocktails" were developed which significantly improved patients' quality and length of life. As people's quality of life increased, the virus mutated more rapidly making research for a long term "cure" more and more difficult. Many people argued that the cocktails were ruining the health care of future generations. Others argued that we should not waste human life now. How do we decide about medications that affect the lives of people we love now in exchange for increased difficulty in future generations? Not easy questions!
These are just two examples of how medicine has brought to question the long-term effects of medications on our day-to-day lives. As people learn from their past experiences they are looking for new answers. Many health care providers are looking at ways in which we can naturally enhance our immune systems to help fight off existing problems or prevent new problems from occurring. For years the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control have suggested that prevention is the best route in avoiding most disease and illness.
Our bodies contain complex and powerful disease-fighting weapons, consisting primarily of the immune system. When this system is functioning at an optimum level, the body can best attack and destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Often times the signs of "illness" such as a fever and swollen glands are treated with medications. In reality such signs can indicate that your immune system is working. A fever, for instance, is the body's way of raising the temperature to kill off threatening bacteria. The Merck Manual states, "Experimental evidence suggests that host defense mechanisms are enhanced by an elevated temperature; thus, fever is potentially beneficial and should not be suppressed."
What can you do?
Be conservative with medications for non-threatening illness!
Many studies have shown that colds and flus are best treated by sufficient rest and time. Headaches and indigestion, for example, are often healthy signs that a behavioral change might reduce the symptom instead of pills. Reserve medications for serious concerns.
Listen to your body! Many times we ignore the signals our body is trying to give us because we are too busy or it is inconvenient. If we can fine-tune our listening, many times a problem is circumvented. There are many alternative health techniques that can help you to pay attention to sub-clinical signals.
Minimize stress! Many articles have been written about the detrimental effects of stress. This appeared in one of the most prominent medical journals:
Don't change or quit medications quickly!
Often people will ask about "going off" or "decreasing" their medications. People who go "cold turkey" often times are doing their bodies a large disservice, as the chemical changes are too fast for the body to absorb. Many times this can lead to a severe case of the original symptom, a new larger symptom, or at least the feeling of failure at the inability to the make the change you desire. Consult with the prescribing doctor to see about gradually changing your dosage or trying a different method.