Did you know that the majority of FDA approved drugs have serious potential side effects that were not detected before marketing approval? (1)
That about three quarters of a million people a year are rushed to emergency rooms in the U.S. because of adverse drug reactions, according to the CDC? (2)
That the number of medication-related deaths in the U.S. is estimated at over 200,000 a year, making medications the third or fourth leading cause of death in this country? (3)
That even common pain relievers called NSAIDs, examples of which include Advil, Motrin, Aleve and aspirin, account for an estimated 7,600 deaths and 76,000 hospitalizations in the U. S. every year? (4)
It sounds like the cure could be worse than the disease in far too many cases.
Thankfully, there is an option, an innovative approach to healing that seeks to restore balance and healthy function, instead of simply treating symptoms with drugs and suffering the side effects. I call it integrated medicine, and it is a powerful and effective way to address chronic illness... more on that in a moment.
Inhibiting Vital Functions
But first, let me explain in brief why the everyday medications Americans rely upon can be hazardous to your health.
The reason is simple and based upon the basic nature of modern drug therapy.
Most drugs used today are intended to act like biochemical strait jackets. They suppress cellular functions that appear to be overactive.
You can see this by looking at the names given to categories or classes of drugs. Almost all include "blocker," "inhibitor," or "anti-" in the description: beta-blockers, calcium blockers, ACE inhibitors, proton pump inhibitors, anti-histamines and anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are developed to treat disease by interfering with the biochemical processes involved in illness.
But they also interfere with the natural and healthy functions of the body.
It's like throwing a wrench into a sophisticated machine in an effort to fix it.
Furthermore, the biochemical processes they inhibit are rarely the cause of the illness. They are just part of the many changes in the body that accompany disease. Outside the setting of disease these biochemical processes all play important roles in normal cellular function.
It's no wonder that many of these drugs have side effects that are a direct extension of their therapeutic actions. (5) They are not restoring normal cellular function; they are merely inhibiting cellular hyperactivity.
Pitfalls of Pain Relief
NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are an excellent example and include common over the counter drugs such as aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin and Excedrin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and Nuprin), and naproxen (Aleve). They relieve pain and inflammation by blocking an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase (COX).
Although COX activity contributes to pain and inflammation, this enzyme also performs important functions such as:
- protecting the stomach from the corrosive effects of its own acid,
- regulating circulation of blood to the kidneys,
- modulating the activity of the immune system.
It naturally follows that NSAID use can have severe side effects, which are a direct result of COX enzyme inhibition. The side effects of chronic NSAID use have been well documented in the scientific literature, for example in the American Medical Association's journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
Side effects of chronic NSAID use include:
- stomach ulcers, (6)
- intestinal bleeding, (7)
- kidney failure, (8)
- high blood pressure, (9)
- aggravation of immune system disorders like asthma, (10) psoriasis, (11) and colitis. (12)
So if you take an NSAID, let's say for a headache, you could just be trading one problem for another.
The search for a safer type of NSAID led to the development of drugs called selective COX inhibitors. As their name suggests, they're selective in their effect, designed to inhibit only the so-called "bad" COX enzyme, without inhibiting the so-called "good" COX enzyme.
This approach created one of the most highly anticipated drug releases in the history of medicine: Vioxx.
Vioxx was a disaster; it increased the death rate from heart attacks and strokes and was withdrawn from the market.
What the scientists behind Vioxx failed to recognize is that all forms of the COX enzyme are important for health. (13)
So instead of giving us a safer drug therapy, it was like tossing a different type of wrench into the machine.
The idea that there are "bad" enzymes and "good" enzymes or "bad" hormones and "good" hormones is a total misrepresentation of how the body works.
But the pharmacology underlying conventional medical treatments is based upon that misrepresentation.
Working in Harmony with the Body is the Solution
Fortunately there is another way of looking at health and healthcare that addresses the underlying causes of illness: integrated medicine.
The great value of integrated medicine is that it provides alternative strategies for healing, based upon enhancing normal physiological balance instead of merely attempting to suppress the hyperactive biochemistry involved in disease.
A powerful strategy in integrated medicine is the therapeutic use of nutrition. Nutritional therapy, when properly used, can achieve results that drugs cannot, because nutrients are essential components of the cellular information network. An excellent example is omega-3 fatty acids.
Thirty years ago I pioneered the therapeutic uses of omega-3 fatty acids in my research, scholarly writing and teaching of medical faculty. Seeking to educate the wider public about the importance of omega-3's and other dietary fats I made them a cornerstone of my first two books Superimmunity for Kids and, Power Healing, Use the New Integrated Medicine to Cure Yourself.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, flax seed, walnuts, sea vegetables and leafy greens. The most potent omega-3's, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are used by the cells of your body to make powerful chemicals that help to maintain normal cell function under conditions of stress. (14) The so-called "bad" COX enzyme, in fact, converts DHA to substances called resolvins and neuroprotectins, which play a vital role in controlling inflammation (15) and helping brain cells survive injury. (16) This is one reason the inhibition of any of the COX enzymes can be bad for your health.
A Natural Approach to Reducing Inflammation
Knowledge of the benefits of omega-3 fats provides an alternative strategy for controlling inflammation that is both natural and potent. The basic idea is to increase your body's levels of DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid your body uses to make these beneficial chemicals.
Remarkable results in reducing inflammation can be accomplished by dietary changes and nutritional supplementation. Increase consumption of foods that contain omega-3 fats (mentioned above) and decrease consumption of foods that interfere with the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats, such meat, and oils, spreads and dressings made from corn, sunflower, soybean, safflower or cottonseed oil, substituting olive oil and flax oil instead. This simple approach had allowed people in research studies with severe rheumatoid arthritis to decrease their use of anti-inflammatory drugs. (17,18) For more information about fighting inflammation with nutrition, and free recipes, visit my website fatresistancediet.com
A vast amount of scientific research has been published in prestigious medical journals on the therapeutic use of nutrition. Now it is time to put all of that essential knowledge to work.
Making nutrition a cornerstone of everyone's healthcare has been my longstanding goal and is the first step in real healthcare reform. Moving from a system based on treating symptoms to a system for achieving optimal health will enable healthcare to achieve its true potential.
The solution is integrated medicine--the future of healthcare, today.
Now, I'd like to hear from you:
Have you experienced medication side effects?
What was done about them?
How does your doctor feel about nutritional supplements, either as alternatives to drugs or as a way to decrease drug side effects?
Leo Galland, MD
Leo Galland, M.D. is the Director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine and founder of pilladvised.com, an online resource for learning about medications, supplements and food. Sign up for his weekly Pill Advised Newsletter, watch his videos on YouTube and join the Pill Advised Facebook page.
1) Manag Care Interface. 2005 Oct;18(10):49-52 "Preventing adverse drug reactions in the general population" Pezalla E.
2) JAMA. 2006 Oct 18;296(15):1858-66. "National surveillance of emergency department visits for outpatient adverse drug events." Budnitz DS, Pollock DA, Weidenbach KN, Mendelsohn AB, Schroeder TJ, Annest JL
3) Pezzalla E., Manag Care Interface. 2005 Oct;18(10):49-52
4) Annals of Internal Medicine, 1997, 127:429-438. "Unnecessary Prescribing of NSAIDs and the Management of NSAID-Related Gastropathy in Medical Practice." R Tamblyn, L Berkson, WD Jauphinee, D Gayton, R Grad, A Huang, L Isaac, P McLeod, L Snell
5) JAMA 1991; volume 266: pp 2847-2851 "Computerized surveillance of adverse drug events in hospitalized patients." Lassen DC, Pestotnick SL, Evans RS, Burke JP.
6) Annals of Internal Medicine. 1988; pp 359-363.. "Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use and death from peptic ulcer in elderly persons." Griffin MR, Ray WA, Schaffner W
7) Gastroenterology. 1987; 93: 480-489. "NSAID induced intestinal inflammation in humans." Bjarnasson I, Zanelli G, Smith T, et al.
8) Archives of Internal Medicine. 1992; 986-990. "Acute renal failure and glomerulopathy caused by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs." Shankel SW, Johnson DC, Clark PS, Shankel TL, O'Neill WM.
9) Archives of Internal Medicine. 1993; 153: 477-484. "A meta-analysis of the effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on blood pressure." Pope JE, Anderson JJ, Felson DT
10) Clin Chest Med. 1990; 11:163-175. "Drug-induced bronchospasm." Meeker DP, Wiedemann HP.
11) J Dermatol. 1981; 8: 323-337. "Exacerbation of psoriasis induced by indomethacin." Katayama H, Kawada A.
12) Annals of Internal Medicine. 1987; 107: 513-516. "Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs activate quiescent inflammatory bowel disease." Kaufmann HJ, Taubin HL.
13) Cardiovascular & Haematological Disorders-Drug Targets, 2006, 6, 83-98. "Cyclooxygenase-2 Inhibitors: A Painful Lesson." S Sanghi, EJ MacLaughlin, CW Jewell, S Chaffer, PJ Naus, LE Watson, DE Dosta.
14) Curr Mol Med. 2009;9:565-79. "Role of lipoxins and resolvins as anti-inflammatory and proresolving mediators in colon cancer." Janakiram NB, Rao CV.
15) Proc Nutr Soc. 2010, 28:1-8 "Fish oil and rheumatoid arthritis: past, present and future." James M, Proudman S, Cleland L.
16) J Lipid Res. 2009: 50 Suppl:S400-405. "Neuroprotectin D1-mediated anti-inflammatory and survival signaling in stroke, retinal degenerations, and Alzheimer's disease." Bazan NG.
17) Drugs 2003; 63: 845-53. "The role of fish oils in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis." Cleland et al.
18) Rheumatol Int. 2003; 23: 27-36. "Anti-inflammatory effects of a low arachidonic acid diet and fish oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis." Adam et al,
This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) or the creation of a physician--patient relationship. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your doctor promptly.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more