Prescription Drugs and Senior Health

The use of prescription drugs by people over 65 more than doubled in a recent eight year period. Life expectancy in the same period increased by about only two years, much of that attributed to changes in life style.

Douglas Bremner MD is a physician and researcher and author of Before You Take That Pill. Here's what he says about these medications.

One hundred thousand Americans die every year from the effects of prescription drugs. Over a million Americans a year are admitted to the hospital because they have had a bad reaction to a medication. About a quarter of the prescriptions that doctors write for the elderly have a potentially life threatening error. Many of these people are getting medications that they don’t need, or for problems that can be appropriately and safely addressed without drugs. For example, most cases of adult onset diabetes can be prevented and possibly cured with a change in diet alone – and with considerably fewer negative side effects and numerous healthy ones, like weight loss, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Future advances in health will likely come more from changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise, than from prescription drugs. Almost all of the chronic conditions for which pills are prescribed are preventable through such changes. Other conditions like cancer are partially preventable.

Pharamceutical drugs work by chemically altering the way the body functions. They may interrupt or enhance the work of neurotransmitters in the nervous system, or block or reduce the output of certain enzymes. These are induced, artificial, affects that are unnatural activities. Because of their chemically fixed composition they affect much more than their initial purpose, carrying with them numerous, undesirable side effects.

Here are some bites of information about some of the most popular drugs.

  • Lipitor...This is the most popular cholesterol lowering drug. It is a statin drug that works by blocking an enzyme in the liver that your body uses to make cholesterol. All statin drugs have long lists of potential side effects. The body needs cholesterol and most of it is manufactured by the body and not consumed in the diet. Modern medicine seems to be in a seemingly blind pursuit to lower that cholesterol output at any cost. Controversy increases as to whether low levels actually contribute to total wellness
  • Crestor...Another cholesterol reducer, it works directly in the liver, inhibiting the enzyme that manufactures cholesterol. It may cause muscle breakdown and kidney damage.
  • Vioxx...An arthritis treatment, this drug was voluntarily removed from the market in 2004. After millions of people had prescribed to it, it was determined that it may have led to up to 27,000 deaths. It is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs are a large group of drugs that include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Vioxx works by reducing substances that cause inflammation, pain, and fever.
  • Vicodin...Vicodin comes from opium and is a very powerful pain relieving agent. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. It can be extremely addictive and its withdrawal symptoms can be so painful many decide their addiction to Vicodin is better than trying to quit.
  • Zoloft...This is a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI. Serotonin is a sort of chemical messenger in the brain and nervous system. It is believed that some depression is caused by an imbalance or shortage of serotonin. Zoloft supposedly helps to correct this condition. Athough there can be numerous side effects, it seems to be more tolerable than most similar drugs.

Changes in diet and lifestyle along with regular exercise can help prevent most of the chronic conditions for which pills are prescribed. Other conditions like cancer are partially preventable. Diabetes and heart disease, are always better treated and prevented through changes in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Some prescription drugs such as insulin for Type I diabetes, thyroid hormone for hypothyroidism, or antibiotics for life threatening infections can be very helpful. When your doctor prescribes a drug, ask him if there is a more natural alternative to prescription drugs. If he is unwilling to discuss it, get another opinion.

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