Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feeling overmedicated? We've got a pill for that

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What's the most beautiful sight in the world? Some say it's India's Taj Mahal. To me, it's what greeted me years ago, the night I arrived in Boston. It was the glistening white marble buildings of The Harvard Medical School on a moonlight night. This past week, its grandeur impressed me again when I attended a reunion. But soon my classmates and I were distressed by what has happened over the years to its idea of medical care: too little common sense and too little "care."

It's appalling the U.S. consumes 40 per cent of all the drugs produced in the world today. Yet it ranks forty-second in life expectancy! North Americans have become conditioned by the billions spent by pharmaceutical companies to believe there is a prescription pill for every common ache and disease. In effect, the public is being sold sickness night after night on TV screens with disastrous results.

How sick are North Americans? Studies show the average person over the age of 55 is taking eight or more prescription drugs at any one time -- and much of this medication is either questionable or harmful.

For instance, 70 per cent of patients with chronic headaches are actually suffering from drug-induced ones. Non-steroidal drugs, such as Aspirin and ibuprofen, used for arthritis, can cause joint destruction by inhibiting the formation of cartilage, resulting in over 16,000 deaths from intestinal bleeding and over 100,000 hospital admissions for side-effects every year.

My classmates and I deplored the lack of preventive medicine for many chromic diseases, such as osteoporosis. Instead, doctors quickly order prescription drugs before they discuss lifestyle changes and safer natural remedies. Another question, unrecognized, is, "Who is deciding whether we are, or are not, normal?"

After all, as we age, all of our organs become rusty. But how much rust do you need before it's classified a problem? Machines that diagnose bone density or drugs that treat thinning bones have established guidelines that result in more drugs being sold. North American medicine has become procedure-driven, impersonal, and big business since I first entered the portals of the Harvard Medical School.

One of my colleagues, an expert on osteoporosis, is deplored today's doctors are misled by pharmaceutical companies. For example, one company claimed their product decreased hip fractures by 50 per cent. It's an impressive figure, but is true?

In its study, two out of 100 women in the placebo group developed a fracture and only one woman being treated developed one. That's a 50 per cent improvement but, looking at it another way, 98 women out of 100 in the treated group would have done just as well on a dummy pill!

Today, millions of patients, mostly women, are taking bisphosphonates drugs. But this medication can have significant side-effects. Some patients suffer from diarrhea, heartburn, bloating, joint pain, headaches and allergic reactions. In rare cases, degeneration of the jawbone occurs, particularly in cancer patients.

My classmate argued it makes more sense to first use a combination of lifestyle changes and safe natural remedies. We know smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine increase the risk of osteoporosis. So do soft drinks containing phosphoric acid. When phosphate levels in the blood are high and calcium levels low, calcium is removed from bone. Soft drinks loaded with sugar also remove calcium from bone.

Many cases of osteoporosis can be treated by lifestyle changes along with calcium supplements, vitamin D and vitamin K2. It is now known virtually every cell in the body has receptors for vitamin D and this vitamin is essential for the absorption of calcium from the bowel. Vitamin K2 then directs calcium into bone rather than coronary arteries. See www.docgiff.com for information on this vitamin.

Some of my colleagues, but not all, deplored the widespread use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, how guidelines for their use had become broader and broader resulting in more profit for corporations, without stressing their potential hazards.

The practice of medicine has changed drastically since I left Harvard. But one thing hasn't: the awe-inspiring white marble buildings that still encompass an ideal.

info@docgiff.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2012 A25

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