Thursday, February 25, 2010

Prescription Drug Dangers: Nutrient Destruction

The dangers posed when prescriptions dru8gs interact with one another, with over-the-counter medication, with a medical condition or with food were discussed in the previous posts, but a less recognized danger is that many prescription drugs destroy essential nutrients in the body. The effects of nutrient depletion may not be recognized, if at all, for several months or years and may mimic the condition that the drug is prescribed for.

For example, the naturally occurring Coenzyme Q10, (CoQ10) which is responsible for making energy in body cells , is created by the same enzyme that creates cholesterol in the body. So Statins, drugs that lower cholesterol, also lower CoQ10. This substance also prevents the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from being oxidized, and so has a protective effect because oxidized LDL cholesterol tends to clog the arteries and damage them. It is possible that lack of CoQ10 may increase the possibility of a heart attack, the outcome that the Statins are supposed to prevent.

Statins can also cause muscle damage and pain, and these are thought to be due to the effects of lowering CoQ10 levels. A study reported in 2007 in the American Journal of Cardiology showed a 40 percent decrease in muscle pain in patients taking Statins who were also treated with CoQ10. Those taking Statins should consult their doctor or pharmacist in order to determine the correct dosage before taking CoQ10..

CoQ10 is also depleted by Beta Blockers (a medication to help prevent heart attacks) and medications taken by mouth to lower blood sugar (oral hypoglycaemic drugs).

Vitamin B is another nutrient depleted by both prescription and common over-the-counter medications. Vitamin B is actually a complex of 8 different vitamins which are essential for a wide range of body functions including turning food into different nutrients and into energy. Deficiencies in the B vitamins can lead to a number of conditions including a lowered immune system.

Drugs that deplete one or more B vitamins include Aspirin, antacids, antibiotics, gout medication, and oral contraceptives, to name just a few.

Made mainly in the liver, glutathione one of the most important chemicals produced by the body. It is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, and detoxifies many toxins. Glutathione is also essential to the functioning of the lungs, and the immune, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Glutamine deficiency is involved in many conditions including certain cancers, HIV/AIDS, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol ) is a common drug that depletes glutathione in the body. While it may not be harmful for most people at normal doses, it should be avoided by those with HIV/AIDS and other diseases in which glutathione-deficiency is present.

The best way to prevent any adverse effects from drug interactions or nutrient depletion is not to take any drugs. Stay tuned for ways to avoid drugs, or at least minimize the number you take.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prescription Drug Dangers: Drug Interactions

Prescription drug dangers are not generally recognized by patients and sometimes not even by physicians.  Everyone taking a prescription drug is at risk, but the risk rises with the number of prescribed and over-the-counter medications, supplements or herbal remedies taken. Often the adverse-effects of prescription drugs are far worse than the condition they were initially prescribed for.

Drug-Drug Interactions 
For those taking more than one drug, there is always the possibility of drug- drug interaction, when the combination of substances either increases or decreases the effect of one or both of them. For example, Aspirin thins the blood as well as decreasing pain, so those on blood thinners are at risk of a bleed if they also take aspirin. Antibiotics may make birth control pills less effective, so those using them should take extra precautions against pregnancy for the remainder of their cycle, These are just two examples of a myriad of drugs and supplements that can interact. Occasionally patients who see more than one doctor may be prescribed the same drug twice, but under a different trade name, so unwittingly receive double the dose.

To protect yourself against interaction you should always use the same pharmacist to dispense your drugs, or in times when this is not possible, give the new pharmacist a list of all the drugs overt-the-counter medications, and supplements that you are taking. Also, before buying over-the-counter medications or supplements check with the pharmacist that they are compatible with your prescribed and other over-the-counter medications.

Make a list of all your medications and supplements, keep it updated, and carry it with you at all times. Don't assume you will always remember what you are taking. In any case, you may sometime be admitted to emergency, and be semi-conscious or unconscious and unable to communicate.

Drug Condition Interactions 
Drugs can also interact with other health conditions you may have. For example, the drug pseudoephedrine found in nasal decongestants can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels, the beta-blocker class of drugs can worsen asthma, and several drugs can increase blood sugar in those with diabetes. So remember to also tell your pharmacist about all your health conditions and ask if they may be worsened by the substance you are about to buy. You can also check the package insert and ask the pharmacist for a patient handout on the drug.

Drug-Food Interactions 
Drugs and foods may also interact to produce unwanted and some times dangerous effects. One of the most commonly recognised foods that can increase the effects of certain drugs is grapefruit juice. Alcohol can also have serious unwanted effects either by increasing the effects of drugs that act on the brain such as antidepressants, sedatives, or stimulants, or by affecting the organs that metabolize the drug. For example, both alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol, Paracetamol) are metabolized by the liver, and when taken on the same day can cause the liver to fail. Similarly other pain-relievers such as Ibuprofen (Advil) or Aspirin taken with alcohol are more likely to cause stomach bleed.

Prevent Drug Interactions 
Get to know your pharmacist and use them as a resource. After you have talked to them a few times(and shown them your list) they will start to remember you, and may be more likely to recognise that a prescribed medication does not fit with your current medications. The pharmacist is often easier to access than the doctor, so they can also be the first line of help if you experience new symptoms after you have started a new medication, supplement, or herbal remedy. They can quickly find out if this medication or combination of substances could cause these symptoms, and in some cases may even phone the doctor for you to suggest a medication change.                                                                                        Always ask the doctor about non-drug options to deal with any condition they wish to prescribe medication for, and find out what the prescribed drugs are supposed to achieve. Will they actually cure the condition, stop adverse effects such as raised blood sugar in Type-1 diabetes or grand mal seizures in epilepsy, or will they just mask the symptoms or prevent something that is preventable in other ways. The questions you will ask will differ if you are receiving the medication for a condition or symptom you already have versus a medication to prevent a condition from occurring. This latter situation will be covered in a later post.

Whenever possible opt for non-drug options. If the physician does not have many suggestions for these, research them yourself, or find a holistic doctor or alternative practitioner who may be familiar with treating the condition with non-drug treatments. Take action to protect yourself from the prescription drug dangers of drug interactions.
Photocredit  D Sharon Pruit

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are You Addicted to Drugs?

If you live in a developed country, you probably are addicted to drugs - prescription drugs. The average number of prescription drugs prescribed annually has almost doubled over the past ten years in the UK, US and Canada, with the elderly being responsible for much of this rise. For example, in 2007 the average Briton over 60 received 42.4 prescription items annually compared to 22.3 in 1997. The rise in North America has been similar. The use of non-prescription over-the-counter drugs will add to these numbers.

So when I suggest that you are addicted to drugs, it's not a physical addiction I am referring to, but a psychological addiction to using a pill as a response to a problem. If you have a headache, can't stay awake and alert or can't sleep, take a pill. There is a pill for everything that ails us, and if there is not one yet, there will be soon as the pharmaceutical industry strives to meet our every need.

So what is the problem with using prescription and over-the-counter drugs? There are a number of problems, not the least of which is that the leading cause of death in the US is properly prescribed medications. Death can result from unwanted effects of medication (also known as side-effects), or from an interaction between two or more medications.

Why do these happen so frequently that they kill more people than cancer or heart disease? It's because new drugs are not generally tested on large numbers of people – a few thousand at most, and sometimes less than a thousand – and are not monitored after release. National Drug Agencies rely on patients or doctors voluntarily reporting an adverse reactions to the drug. Except in very obvious cases like Thalidomide, it takes many years to gather enough information to discover harmful effects. Sometimes these are discovered only when a further study is carried out.

For example, the Women's Health Initiative tested the effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy, diet modification, and calcium and vitamin D supplements on heart disease, fractures, and breast and colorectal cancer. Contrary to their expectations, post-menopausal estrogen and progestin therapy were shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. As a result of these findings, the study was stopped in July 2002; the following year breast cancer in the US dropped by 7.2 percent!

If you must take prescription drugs, you can protect yourself somewhat by asking your physician to prescribe a drug that has been on the market for five years or longer. This will have allowed enough people to have taken it to identify the more serious side-effects. But first you should ask 'What other options besides drugs  are there to deal with this problem?' Often there are things you can do that do not involve medication. For example, if your cholesterol level is high you can make dietary changes.

Whenever possible you should do all you can to break your addiction to relying on drugs to solve your problems. There will be some conditions that require you to take a prescription drug, but there are many where changing your behaviour may actually get rid of a problem. Drugs generally just mask the symptoms, leaving the problem itself untouched. More on this in the next post. 

Photo credit: Rodrigo Senna