It is no secret or surprise that many in our current society are on one type of medication or another. Our society has become very pill based, and today it seems too many of us flock blindly for a quick fix.
But how many of us really know what we are taking and why? Or what kind of effects these pills, lotions and potions may have on us short-term or long-term?
All too often pharmaceutical drugs are quickly pushed onto people by doctors without full explanations of the risks involved. What is even worse, is that it is nearly impossible to know all the risks involved, as each person reacts differently to each chemical substance, and drugs are not normally tested in combination with others.
Here to explain some key things to consider when it comes to some common medications is clinical nutrition expert Alexander Rinehart MSACN., DC., of CoActive Health.
This is part 4, of a 4 part interview with Alex. If you have missed any of the previous parts, Alex talked about the differences between nutritionists and dietitians in part 1. He shared some great health and nutrition tips with us in part 2. He also discussed how to understand scientific studies and why they may not always be what they seem in part 3.
EVITA: Hello again Alex and thank you for sharing so much of your expertise and knowledge in so many areas where health is concerned.
We have talked about healthy eating and being more discerning of who to trust and the advice we are given in the past 3 parts, but the fact is that some of us do end up on various medications, whether out of our own choice, or that of our doctors.
So to begin with, for both our female and male readers, I know one drug that is all too often used and passed along as relatively harmless is the famous birth control pill, which in fact can have tremendous side effects, sometimes for life. Can you expand on how this drug or any for that matter, may affect more than just our hormones and why a holistic approach is crucial no matter what the drug is?
ALEX: This comes back to my argument of how slight deficiencies in nutritional status or function can cause disease later in life. And it’s not just medications. For example, I had a women with Fibromyalgia, who was not responding to her Chiropractic care or her supplements. I slowly learned in my consultations with her though that she had an emotionally abusive relationship at home. The short-term results she was experiencing with my care were being outmatched by her acute stress at home. She also had religious restrictions which was why she sought natural care in the first place. To make a long story short, she did not begin noticing improvement until her emotional and spiritual health were addressed. I had to have a candid conversation with her regarding those issues or refer her to someone that could.
Medication usage is important to me because I have to be mindful of drug-herb interactions. Most exciting though is that research is finding that many medications deplete the body of vital nutrients that can contribute to the side effects experienced with a drug. We are beginning to recognize that such mild stresses on the body can arguably increase the probability of disease occurring later in life. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
With an understanding of medicine interactions, nutrition can now be used simultaneously with medication to increase the benefit, or decrease the negative effects of the drug. For example over-the-counter pain relievers can have a detrimental effect on the stomach and gut lining. Certain diet and supplement recommendations could lessen the effect and help support a person’s healing or help them to experience less complications after a course of treatment.
Many professionals would argue against me saying research has not validated this. I will tell you that much of the research is out there, it’s a matter of finding it. Also the variables at play are numerous and complex. There is a bit of trial and error involved. You need a clinical dosage of a supplement or herb in the right form, and measure results only after an appropriate time frame which can be 3-4 months which is the time it takes for most of the cells in the body to replace themselves. Too many studies are done at too little dosage, in the wrong form of the supplement, for too little of a period of time, to expect any significant differences to be shown.
Birth control pills are one of the best known culprits to deplete the body of nutrients. If you look at common side effects of birth control and the side effects of the nutrients the drug depletes, there are surprising similarities. To put it into perspective, most Americans already fail to meet the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for nutrient intakes of a number of vitamins and minerals. The RDA’s themselves are the MINIMUM nutrient values needed for disease not to appear and not necessarily values needed for optimum health.
One commonly deficient nutrient, especially in women, is magnesium. Magnesium is also a mineral found in dark, leafy green vegetables and can be depleted with use of birth control pills. Now magnesium is important in 100′s of reactions in the body and can help support bowel regulation, energy production, and muscle relaxation. Now if the majority of women are already deficient in many nutrients based on the RDA, and then add a drug to the mix, it’s not that much of a stretch to begin understanding why symptoms could begin developing.
I wonder how many women on birth control are stressed out, constipated, fatigued, depressed and suffer from headaches and back pain and haven’t found a health professional who could help them without putting them on more medications? I wonder how many could benefit from a clinical dosage of supplements or even a renewed focus on eating dark green vegetables…
It’s not unrealistic to think that a woman could be on multiple drugs when the true cause of her problem is deficiency in one or two major nutrients. Magnesium is just one example of the many nutrients that are depleted by birth control pills. In fact, women on birth control are recommended to supplement with a high quality multi-vitamin for at least 3 months after discontinuing their birth control before trying to conceive. Some professionals will even recommend 6 months. How many women are on 3 – 4+ medications?
And Evita, just because a woman is on birth control or any drug, doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be taking 10 different supplements. All it means is that women should be aware of what effect their medications could be having on their body and emphasize the importance of a nutrient-rich diet while taking their medications. It is also important to be mindful of certain foods to stay away from while on certain medications. I know it’s politically correct to say that every case is different, but it really is. Not everyone on birth control should be taking magnesium, and there are multiple reasons patients are put on birth control in the first place.
So it’s important not to self-treat when it comes to this type of analysis as it could lead to wasted time and money and could potentially have adverse effects. I still think awareness is key.
EVITA: I feel that drugs for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and similar other ones, are starting to be prescribed in the same way today, as if they were all just part of a normal health routine.
This is naturally troubling as people are in effect poisoning their bodies in various ways and usually not aware of these consequences until it is too late. What in your opinion would be a responsible approach to these types of drugs and how does a proper nutrition fit into this equation?
ALEX: Well as a chiropractor, I cannot give advice as to whether people should take drugs or not, I can just counsel them on the effects of the drugs, how it may relate to their nutrition or musculoskeletal symptoms that they are experiencing. Prescriptions have to be managed with their primary care doctor.
What I do know is that many of the national guidelines for many conditions will call for a trial of dietary management for a period of at least 4-6 weeks, and patients will still be put on medications as a first-line therapy. Although not true for all, medical doctors do not like counseling patients on weight loss and lifestyle change as it is time consuming, poorly reimbursed, and they assume most clients will not be compliant and will end up taking medications anyway.
There are also more accurate indicators of heart disease risk such as homocysteine, hsCRP, and triglyceride to HDL ratio. Research is also finding that many of the benefits of cholesterol-lowering drugs are due to their slight anti-inflammatory effect, not because they lower your cholesterol. Phytochemicals and anti-inflammatory components of food have routinely been shown to decrease measures of inflammation at a similar effectiveness of cholesterol lowering medication.
If you look closely, the current research and more recent marketing has centered more around the anti-inflammatory effect of statin drugs and not so much on their cholesterol-lowering effects. AND if you consider my previous discussion on how powerful organizations like the American Dietetic Association push against nutrition being used as a “therapy”, it’s a snowball effect that has led to the problems facing the United States and other industrialized nations, but it starts to makes sense when you start seeing the whole picture.
EVITA: Alex this has all been so very helpful and I am sure it gives our readers a lot to think about when it comes to how much nutrition really is a key component of a healthy life. There really is no two ways around it – healthy eating, thinking, sleeping, and movement normally equate to a drug-free and disease-free life. And the best part is, with the right mind set, support and actions, all of us can attain this state of health and happiness.
As we finish our discussion here, are there any last words of inspiration or guidance that you would like to leave the readers with, when it comes to good health and nutrition?
ALEX: Thanks Evita, this interview has really helped me to clarify and take a better stand on these issues that affect me just as much as it does all of your readers whether in Canada or the US.
I think people are smarter than we give them credit. We know what we need to do to be healthier, but we’ve created a society that makes it easy to rationalize and defend our less-than-optimum choices.
I think self-awareness is key.
When our lives become busy, we lose mindfulness over our activities. We begin eating out of convenience and fail to make time for our family or even for ourselves. I think everyone should sit in a quiet room and write down their values at least once a year. Then look at how you’ve been living your life up to this point and ask yourself whether your lifestyle matches your values. Then the only step that is left is developing a bit of an action plan and keeping yourself accountable.
EVITA: Great thoughts and advice!
Alex, thank you so much for all the enlightening information you have shared with us here at Evolving Wellness. For all those readers who would like to learn more from you or be able to contact you somehow for a consultation, can you share your site with us and let readers know what kind of information they can find there?
My site is new so I’m still working out some bugs with it, but I started a blog in order to educate my patients as well as give them action steps to help them meet their goals. In the future. I will have some free resources such as a guide for shopping at the grocery store and a manifesto describing my practice mission.
I’m always interested in hearing what my readers want to learn more about and would love for readers to share information they come across as well! I have been transitioning in and out of locations, and hope to be blogging on a regular schedule once I’m settled in a more permanent location. Thanks Evita!