By Dr. Scott E. Rosenthal
If you are American, chances are great that you love baseball and apple pie. But you love DRUGS even more! Research shows that 70 percent of you are on at least one prescription medication (1), a number the National Baseball League and apple farmers can only dream of reaching. It’s a number that dwarfs those seen in other countries and raises serious questions. In the U.S., we spend just about $1000 per year per person on pharmaceuticals. This is twice as much as in France and Germany. Canada is next on this list. We still have them beat by a whopping 40 percent. (2)
This article is not about why we take so many pills, the high cost to our economy (personal and nationwide), the pro-pharma regulations here, the concern and conflicts of interest arising from the revolving door between policy makers/government regulators and industry leaders or the growing problem of prescription drug abuse ravaging our communities. It is about the cost to your health. Many of the drugs you are taking may be responsible for other diseases that you currently suffer from or will in the future.
Let’s take statin drugs as an example. Millions of Americans take cholesterol-lowering statins such as Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor (to name a few) each day in hopes of staving off a heart attack. The actual preventive benefits and safety of statins have come into question and may be exaggerated (3), but that is a topic for another day. It is now clear that statin use may cause other diseases.
Type 2 diabetes affects 27 million people in the U.S. There are an additional 86 million people with prediabetes (they will have diabetes in 10 years or less if nothing is done). Type 2 diabetes is a disease where the body’s cells don’t respond correctly to the hormone insulin. Insulin is made by your pancreas and allows your body to use sugar in the foods you eat as energy. Over time the unused blood sugar can cause problems with your heart and blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, eyes and ability to heal wounds. A recent large population study published in the Journal Diabetologia found that statin use increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 46 percent. (4)
Statins are also associated with progressive muscle disease, risk of muscle damage, birth defects, liver injury and brain-related impairment. According to Amy G. Egan, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director for safety in FDA’s Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products (DMEP), “this new information should not scare people off statins.” (5, 6) If you agree with her and are still not a little bit jittery, please read on.
Statin use causes decreased levels of the essential vitamin-like substance Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10). It is found throughout your body, but particularly in your heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas. (7) CoQ-10 is responsible for proper function and helps provide energy to your cells and has antioxidant activity. To thicken the plot with a certain irony, deficiency of CoQ-10 can lead to heart failure, high blood pressure, and chest pain—some of the very conditions statins are used to prevent!
It is VERY important to recognize not only the potential benefits of a medication, but also the different diseases that drugs may cause. Balance every drug’s benefit against the risk it carries prior to swallowing the first pill. It is highly recommended that you look for safer alternatives and changes in your lifestyle that bring true resolution to the disease that’s been diagnosed. If none exist, take the medication. I tell patients to be grateful for the medication, but more grateful when they no longer need it!
Considering the statin example, approaches such as eating healthier foods, taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, exercising regularly, and the avoidance of smoking can have profound cholesterol-lowering benefits. It can be argued that high cholesterol is more a side-effect of poor lifestyle choices—something statins will never fix!
It’s okay to be American. Continue loving baseball and apple pie, but reconsider that your American love of everything pharmaceutical can be a fatal attraction. By recognizing that your health condition may be caused by the medication you are taking for other reasons, you may prevent years of suffering or worse. Please share this information and take it to heart. Downing the most pills in the world is one 1st place prize none of us need!