MEDICATIONS: Do You Know What You Are Swallowing?

Medications: for Pain, Contraception, Digestion, Skin, Bones, Cholesterol and More. Do the Benefits Outweigh the Costs? Are There Alternatives? 

If you or a loved one has been injured due to a car crash, fire, or similar health emergency we can thank the brilliant expertise and technology of the medical profession as they save lives and assist recovery.

Medications can be superb in crisis, but with long term use the side effects mount. Some – like suicidal depression with acne drugs – are worse than the original condition.

All meds affect your largest internal organ. It is your liver’s job to break down and detoxify them. With chronic conditions, drugs might suppress some of your symptoms but core problems remain unresolved and likely to worsen. Discomfort is the body’s only mechanism for getting your attention (see TIPS: Pain). A holistic programme is needed to supply the specific fuel and natural, targeted support factors your body is crying out for (deficiencies being evident in your symptoms and such indicators as the quality of skin, hair and nails). Diagnostically tailored foods, beverages, supplements and related protocols enlist a teamwork – rather than big gun – approach to help restore the systemic balance central to health and vitality (specific suggestions follow).

Question the ‘big sell’ as pharmaceutical companies market short-sighted but profitable products to doctors and thus the community. Check their absolute risk vs. relative risk. For example Fosamax (for weak bones; see below) cites a 2004 study of already high risk women. Among the placebo group 2.2% experienced a fracture while only 1.1% of those taking Fosamax did. The advertisements then claimed a (relative risk) reduction of an impressive sounding 50%! Technically true, but the absolute risk reduction was a measly 1.1% (2.2% minus 1.1%). In other words only about 1 risk-prone user in 100 might benefit.

There is scary environmental impact too as drugs are put in trash or excreted, pass into ill-equipped treatment plants or rubbish piles then waterways, soil, crops and animals. Many act as xenoestrogens or hormone mimics. This leads to severely disrupted development of fish and other wildlife, which become deformed and unable to reproduce. Such damage is also linked with human cancer, hormonal and fertility problems.

Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) High doses of estrogen (from the urine of pregnant horses allowed only restricted movement and water so urine is more concentrated) and progestin (a harsh, synthetic version of natural progesterone) are used to trick the ovaries and hypothalamus (critical brain message site) into suppressing ovulation. The OCP also decreases the amount of protective cervical mucous which makes sperm less able to penetrate. With usage women often report weight gain, water retention, irregular bleeding, nausea and breast tenderness. There is higher risk of heart attack and stroke (by 500% if you smoke too). One study cites twice the likelihood of “moderately severe” depression (partly due to high estrogen lowering feel-good brain neurotransmitter serotonin).

The OCP decreases vitamin C and B, especially B6 and folic acid (all critical for preventing abnormal cell growth); and zinc (essential for all growth, immunity, hormone balance and skin repair). Instead you can learn about and honour your natural body cycles to prevent or encourage conception. Refer to the book Natural Fertility by Francesca Naish. Using the OCP as a treatment for acne is like calling makeup a cure. Disturbed hormone levels remain unaddressed. Consider vitamins A, E, zinc and obtain an allergy test from this office. Yeast, sugar or the hormones in dairy may be the culprit and lead to worse systemic problems.

Lipitor and other Cholesterol Inhibitors Lipitor is one of the most popular statins prescribed to lower LDL cholesterol (which in excess can line arteries and impede blood flow). Some also increase HDL (which can courier LDL back to the liver for excretion). But the cost can be nausea, bowel and liver problems; plus muscle weakness and pain which signal tissue breakdown that can lead to kidney failure. Statins inhibit the liver enzyme needed to produce cholesterol but this also blocks manufacture of energy and collagen-enhancing CoQ10 – hence the incidence of lowered vitality and muscle function. Several tasty foods help the liver excrete excess LDL (especially my Linseed Cereal; see The Shape Diet). Others keep the heart, arteries, and other blood vessels strong and flexible: fish and seafood, nuts (especially walnuts), olive oil, high soluble fibre plant food intake; also potassium and magnesium.

Minimise Caffeine (TIPS); also damaged fats (which elevate blood fats LDL and triglycerides): overheated, hydrogenated, rancid, non-cold-pressed, and TFAs which increase cardiac arrest risk 3 fold (TIPS: The Fats of Life). Some table spreads tout sterols (and closely related stanols) to lower LDL. Such spreads contain heated esterified fats (another chemical hardening process that raises blood glucose) and many artificial additives – all hard on your liver which is central to resolving cholesterol issues! Much cheaper and safer are high fibre plant sources of sterols such as legumes and wholegrains.

Losec and other Antacids Losec and other proton-pump inhibitors make up the single most costly drug expense in the country. It is prescribed for adults, children – even babies – with reflux, duodenal and gastric ulcers, hiatus hernia and other acid related gastric upsets (including those induced by aspirin and other drugs). The stomach is a highly acid medium (if you have ever vomited, you have tasted this fact) in particular to destroy pathogens which could otherwise cause illness, and for gastric enzymes to break down protein. Gastric cells also produce the intrinsic factor necessary to release and absorb vitamin B12 from foods (critical for vitality, healthy red blood cells and nerve function).

Also reliant on the stomach’s hydrochloric acid (HCL) for absorption or utilisation are non-heme iron (from plant rather than animal sources), vitamins D and C, calcium, folic acid, zinc and magnesium. HCL also encourages the flow of bile from the liver which you need to break down fats and eliminate hormonal wastes, heavy metals such as lead, and excess LDL cholesterol. Meanwhile the liver must metabolise Losec via the busy cytochrome P450 pathway, which can lead to impaired absorption of other drugs and nutrients.

Many antacid side effects are similar to B12 deficiency: confusion, mood disorders, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, and impaired vision. Some people who experience an acid taste, heartburn, upper gastric/esophageal pain or pressure may produce too little HCL (produced in part from B vitamins and chloride). Either way the source of the discomfort is damage to the gastrointestinal (GI) lining. Good quality fluids are critical as are vitamins A, E and zinc to repair mucous membranes; vitamin C to reduce H. pylori infection (stomach ulcer causing bacteria); slippery elm powder to line and soothe the GI tract.

Panadol, Steroids, Codeine, Narcotics and other Pain Killers See TIPS: Inflammation. Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, aspirin, cough and cold medicines and other treatments for headache, pain and inflammation are classed as non steroidal anti-inflammatories. NSAIDS reduce prostaglandins: hormone-like chemicals associated with protection of the stomach; also increased or decreased inflammation (as do your choices of dietary fats and EFA supplements). Common side effects: digestive problems from nausea, stomach pain, bowel disturbance, ulcers, bleeding; to fluid retention, tinnitus, severe to deadly kidney and liver failure as these organs seek to break down and eliminate them. Rebound headaches can occur with pain relief more than twice weekly. This may be accompanied by anxiety, restlessness, GI and memory problems.

Systemic steroids are synthetic versions of the cortisol produced by adrenal glands (anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, which stimulates muscle building but threatens cardiovascular health). Oral steroids include prednisone, while hydrocortisone is used topically for skin problems. Treatment longer than 1 month is likely to lead to skin thinning, bruising and infections; or weight gain, fluid retention, raised blood pressure, bone thinning, raised blood glucose and diabetes, and life-threatening suppression of adrenal function. Codeine (used to produce ‘homebake’ heroin), Vicodin and other opioid analgesics don’t target the source, such as inflammation, but depress nerve cells to mask pain. However tolerance and dependency is easily reached and highs become elusive (just ask TV’s Dr House).

Instead investigate what is causing the pain. Is it cyclical such as with menses (Omega 3, magnesium and iron phosphate may be low; check for dairy sensitivity); joint or back related (often silica, calcium fluoride and bromelain are needed; check for nightshade sensitivity); muscle and nerve related (the correct ratio of potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium governs all nerves and muscles)? Or pain centres may be chronically over-activated as with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (check immune, Thyroid and Adrenal health [TIPS]; sugar, grain and additive sensitivities; BSL, serotonin and tyrosine levels).

Fosamax and Osteoporosis Drugs These do not build new bone but kill cells (osteoclasts) responsible for the normal breakdown of weak, unhealthy areas of bone before rebuilding can start (by osteoblasts). After one year, natural regeneration is prevented. Bones may look good on a scan but they become brittle – probably why users still break them. Users double their risk of atrial fibrillation. This can cause fatigue, palpitations, fainting, heart failure and stroke. There is increased risk of ulcers, digestive inflammation, liver and kidney damage, and low blood calcium that can lead to bone death in the jaw. Many of my clients have had few benefits from Fosamax and yet many side effects. Their bone density swiftly improves when they switch to a programme of holistic strategies including my favourite bone density and joint health formula. Natural anti-inflammatories and the teamwork of supportive micronutrients achieve what risky drugs and large doses of calcium often prevent (see TIPS: Bone Density).

Citalopram, Amitriptyline, other Anti-Depressants; Diazepam; other Anxiety Drugs According to the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, placebos or sugar pills produce results similar to or better than antidepressants in drug company trials. Many meds are SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These can cause fatigue, weight gain, nausea, dry mouth, blurred vision, low libido, bone loss, and suicidal thoughts. So can Valium: a benzodiazepine that calms nerves and brain by enhancing GABA. This neurotransmitter is the nervous system brake; while the accelerator is glutamate (additives like MSG can act similarly).

Drug withdrawal symptoms can be extreme so gradually reduce over weeks or months. Exercise improves feel-good serotonin and endorphin levels and increases cell numbers in the hippocampus (your central train station for mood messages; TIPS: Free Medicine for Your Brain). See TIPS: Moods and Foods for how poorly digested morphines and other food chemicals can trigger brain opiate receptors, altering emotions and cognition. Regulating blood sugar is critical. The brain is only 2% of your weight but uses 20% of your blood sugar for mind and mood fuel. Most of the brain is made of fat and most of that is Omega 3. It and chromium help re-sensitise insulin receptors for efficient glucose uptake. Expose skin to natural light for vitamin D creation. Neurological and psychiatric problems are associated with low levels. One study found those low, 11 times more prone to depression.

Diuretics, Beta/Calcium Blockers and other Blood Pressure (BP) Drugs Estimates are that 1 in 3 adults have high BP. A British Medical Association study found that 97% of people on BP drugs suffered significant side effects. Diuretics decrease potassium which often leads to weakness and leg cramps. They up the risk of gout, high blood sugar and diabetes – but don’t worry, they have drugs for those! Beta-blockers can lead to insomnia, depression, cold extremities and impotence. ACE Inhibitors: chronic cough rashes, kidney damage. Calcium Blockers: palpitations, fluid retention, headaches, dizziness.

However, lifestyle changes have been shown to normalise BP in over 85% of cases. The sodium in salt has been declared the bad guy but it is only sodium retention that causes fluid retention. Sodium (acidic when in excess from highly refined sources) is naturally regulated by alkaline potassium; while alkaline magnesium allows potassium (and calcium) to enter the cell and keep sodium levels low. Magnesium is the great relaxant to keep blood vessels, muscles and the heart flexible and strong. Try my refreshing green drink to swiftly alkalinise for better blood vessels, bones, muscles and nerves. Note: as insulin levels rise so does BP. Regulate blood sugar at each meal and snack (see The Shape Diet) to control insulin and diminish excess body fat (which increases BP). Blood sugar regulation also calms the sympathetic nervous system. Otherwise stress constricts blood vessels, which increases BP and depletes magnesium.

Benadryl, Claritin and other Anti-Histamines Histamine is a chemical that can trigger inflammatory response to a challenge such as pollen, food, or insect bite. It encourages blood vessel permeability causing reddening and swelling; contraction of smooth muscle leading to shortness of breath. This can result in rashes, watery eyes, runny nose, itching and sneezing. Adrenaline can be injected to counteract life-threatening histamine levels. Over-the-counter (OTC) products block histamine receptors without addressing why they are oversensitive. See Sleeping Pills for side-effects.

Undiagnosed food sensitivities often precede reactivity to environmental ones such as perfume and pollen. Check for citrus allergy (heavy spraying has weakened people’s tolerance); food sources of histamine (normally detoxified unless enzyme levels are low), salicylates, cane sugar and wheat (both in a similar botanical family to grass pollen); consider natural anti-inflammatories such as quercetin, bromelain and papain; check skin and respiratory-protective zinc, A, C and E; also the inflammatory cascade from compromised Gut and Adrenal health (TIPS).

Sleeping Pills See TIPS: Sleep. OTC sleeping aids become less effective after 2 weeks of use. Most contain Anti-histamines which can leave you groggy the next day, so driving is not advised. Prescription options can lead to disorientation, memory loss, dizziness, constipation, and dry mouth. Do not mix with alcohol or this can leave you confused and faint. As tolerance builds there is a temptation to increase the dosage which can be fatal. Drugs don’t addresses the stress, digestive, BSL, hormonal or nutrient issues which can cause the problem. Just like training a child, generate supportive routines. No Caffeine (TIPS) 8 hours before sleep. Avoid stimulating evening exercise, TV or computer use. Enjoy calmative rituals: reading, gentle music or hot bath. Keep the bedroom dark to produce sedating melatonin. Go to bed at a similar time (if adrenal function is poor have lights out by 10 pm to prevent cortisol release which gives a second wind at cost); get up by 8 am and be in natural light each morning (TIPS: Adrenals).

Consider calcium and tryptophan to fall asleep; magnesium and tyrosine to stay asleep. Address related hormonal issues such as regarding prostate, menstrual and menopausal problems. Use my Linseed Cereal (The Shape Diet) to eliminate wearying hormonal wastes. Encourage relaxing progesterone production with tailored forms of magnesium (decreased by stress, soft drinks and caffeine), vitamin B6 and C.

Maria Middlestead Reg.Clinical Nutritionist, Auckland Call Today!

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