Side effects of drugs have hit the headlines twice in the past week, highlighting the dangers of oral contraceptives and painkillers over long periods of time. Whilst medication sometimes really is the only option, as patients we need to take full responsibility for our own health, and that includes weighing up the risks and benefits of the medication we’re offered. There are now over 1600 known side effects of our medication (1), but managing them is a two way road: On the one hand, 93% of Doctors often felt under pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics, and 44% have prescribed them despite having doubts as to how necessary it was (2). At the same time, I’ve met a number of Doctors over the years only too keen to prescribe a drug for me which I clearly didn’t want or need. Unless we are willing to work with our Doctors, we’re not going to find a solution to over prescribing, so we all need to be more Drug Smart.
How To Protect Yourself From The Side Effects of Drugs
Over prescribing is now a huge problem for the NHS, and it’s long been known that side effects of drugs are one of the top five killers worldwide.
So what can we do to protect ourselves from the side effects of drugs we’ve been prescribed?
- Take 100% responsibility for your wellbeing. If you can start making improvements to your diet, nutrition, and lifestyle, over time you may not need so much medication, or any at all.
- Start looking at drugs more as a last resort rather than first port of call. It’s true that pharmaceuticals save lives and sometimes are absolutely necessary, but for chronic conditions in particular, look at your other options first. For example, the recent TV programme ‘The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs’ showed 2 patients heavily medicated for chronic pain coming off their drugs completely using specific exercise regimes.
- Go to your Doctor for advice first and a prescription second. Ask about the risks, benefits and other options when you’re talking about medication, and don’t ask for antibiotics if you have a cold.
- If you are prescribed a medication, read the Patient Information leaflet first. These are the leaflets you’ll find in the box with the medication, but you can also get them online here. Read about the side effects in context of how common they are, and if you have any questions or concerns speak to the prescribing Doctor or a Pharmacist.
- If you’re taking medication, you may benefit from taking certain nutrients alongside. For example, statins block the body’s ability to make CoEnzyme Q10, an important nutrient which is needed to energise the whole body but particularly heart muscle. Leading US Cardiologist Dr Stephen Sinatra strongly recommends supplementing 100-200mg of CoQ10 daily in order to control the inflammation caused by taking statins as it’s not possible to get these amounts through diet alone (3)
- Make sure you have a drug review every year. Your Doctor will probably remind you when you’re due but with surgeries under increasing strain, keep a note for yourself too.
It can be very dangerous to come off medication either too fast or without proper support from your healthcare team. Please get advice first if you’d like to reduce the amount of any medication you’re taking.
Herbs vs Drugs
Whilst many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, whole plant extracts behave very differently in the body to the drugs. Each herb can have hundreds of different constituents all working in synergy which makes it very difficult to explain exactly how they work in treating illness. Despite that, some studies have actually found herbs to be at least as effective as drugs in treating certain conditions. For example:
- One small study found Curcumin from Turmeric more effective than Voltarol in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. (4)
- A Cochrane Review of 29 studies on St John’s Wort found it equally and more effective than standard antidepressants, with fewer side effects (5)
I’ve worked with a number of patients whose health issues have in the main been caused by their medication and in many cases it’s possible to at least reduce the dosage they’re on.
Leigh’s story here is an example of one patient who no longer needed to take her medication after 20 years of migraines.
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(1) (Source: Chemistry & Biology, 2013; 20: 594).
(4) Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):1719-25. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639. Epub 2012 Mar 9.
A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.
(5) St John’s Wort For Treating Depression Authors: Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L
Published: 8 October 2008