February 6, 2008
by Len Saputo, MD
Too many pharmaceuticals just aren't safe. The shocking truth is that drug complications are the third leading cause of death in America! Only heart disease and cancer cause more deaths than our pharmaceutical armamentareum! How necessary is it to use drugs that can cause problems serious enough to put you in the hospital, cause permanent disability, or even kill you? The April 15, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, contains a revealing article authored by Jason Lazarou, et al, that exposes the magnitude and seriousness of "adverse drug reactions" in US hospitals. (1)
These authors evaluated 39 prospective studies between 1966 and 1996 that assessed these issues. They didn't include errors in drug administration, non-compliance, or "possible" adverse reactions. Their goal was to identify those complications that were solely related to the use of drugs as recommended by the manufacturer.
What they discovered was shocking! The overall incidence of hospitalizations related to adverse drug reactions was 6.7%, and the associated death rate, 0.32%. This translates into 2.2 million serious drug reactions, and 106,000 deaths every year in America, at an estimated cost of as much as $4 billion per year.(2, 3)
When this data is combined with previous studies that document the impact of errors in drug administration, these numbers more than double. Now, we are looking at over 5 million serious complications of pharmaceuticals, and over 200,000 deaths every year in the US. Based on misinformation in excess of 15% of all hospitalizations are the result of complications of drugs even more frightening it means that there is more than one death for every 145 hospitalizations in the US that is related to the drug therapy that is supposed to be saving our lives.
We all know that's many lives are saved because of pharmaceutical drugs. in view of the JAMA article, the question we should now be asking ourselves is, "Are there natural alternatives that are effective and safe, that should be considered before turning to unnatural (synthetic) pharmaceuticals that have been shown to cause serious disabilities or even kill us?"
JAMA's important data provides considerable fuel for the paradigm shift that is moving through America at the speed of light. We have awakened to the fact that conventional medicine does not have all the answers. Hilary Clinton was correct in the early 1990s, when she pointed out that conventional medicine can be lifesaving in crisis situations, but has failed in managing chronic diseases and in containing costs. Because of these skyrocketing costs, few of us can afford private insurance, the government is going broke in its Medicare system, and American industry has lost its competitive edge in its dealings with foreign markets. And, what is worse, neither patients nor physicians are satisfied with the aftereffects of these issues, that have led to the development of care that is managed by insurance companies — "managed care"
The American public is going back to the future, as it is rediscovering what the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, proposed 2500 years ago: "Let food be our medicine, and medicine be our food." There are many examples where it is conventional to use a potentially dangerous pharmaceutical, when an equally or more effective, far safer, and better tolerated neutraceuticals can be employed. Let's take a look at a few classic examples of this.
Aspirin and other NSAIDs on the direct cause of between 10-15,000 deaths, as well as over 200,000 admissions to US hospitals every year! It is difficult to justify that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, see table 1) are the mainstay of treatment for osteoarthritis, when a clearly superior natural alternative like glucosamine sulfate is readily available. Most of this morbidity and mortality is related to the propensity of NSAIDs to cause ulceration and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, and kidney deterioration. It may be fortunate that as many as 40% of patients have found it necessary to discontinue long term use of these drugs because of intolerable or dangerous side effects (see table 2).
NSAIDs can be effective in relieving the pain. There is no evidence showing that progression of the underlying disease process is improved in any way, while there is suspicion that they might aggravate the underlying arthritic process! (5, 6) There is clear evidence demonstrating that single doses of NSAIDs cause profound abnormalities in the anatomy and physiology of the intestinal lining that leads to the development of so-called "leaky gut syndrome." (7, 8) This very common and serious disorder creates an increased burden on liver detoxification and on immune function that compromises our capacity to restore and maintain good health.
Glucosamine sulfate has been compared in head-to-head studies with NSAIDs, and has been found to be equally effective in relieving pain and inflammation. (9, 10) There is a slightly better initial relief of pain with NSAIDs, but after four weeks, glucosamine sulfate has been shown to be superior. And there has never been even a single reported hospitalization or death related to the use of this natural substance, which is normally produced by the human body. Because glucosamine sulfate is the major building block of healthy joint cartilage, it may actually reverse the arthritic process (11), and is rarely discontinued because of side effects. Contrary to NSAIDs, it helps protect against the development of ulcers and leaky gut syndrome, and does not cause kidney disease.
This information is substantiated by over 250 research articles on glucosamine sulfate. Earlier this year, TV's 20/20 News reported similar conclusions. Sales of glucosamine sulfate have skyrocketed, further demonstrating that the American public believes that this nutraceutical is safe and effective. At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry continues to sell billions of dollars of NSAIDs every year for the treatment of osteoarthritis.
Hypertension is a scary problem. It is called the silent killer, as it often causes no symptoms until after you've had your heart attack or stroke. It affects over 60 million Americans. There is abundant medical research documenting the value of controlling hypertension to prevent heart attacks and strokes, and to prolong life. While it is up important to lower high blood pressure, it is also important that the treatment not be more dangerous than the disease itself.
Managing hypertension with the so-called "calcium channel blockers" provides another example where natural alternatives are far safer and equally effective. A recent article in the Journal, American Family Physician, was based on the world literature search on the safety of calcium channel blockers. The authors reported that "recent studies have shown an association between the use of calcium channel antagonists for the treatment of hypertension and an increased risk of myocardial infarction, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and cancer." (12) Their data documents that these very serious "complications" may actually occur almost twice as often as those untreated with these drugs!
Natural therapies should be thought of before considering the use of of synthetic pharmaceutical drug because of their safety, effectiveness, and high tolerance. It is common knowledge that maintaining an ideal weight, reducing stress, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and salt are important factors that can reduce blood pressure dramatically. Natural substances such as celery, garlic, onions, flax seed oil, magnesium, calcium, and potassium that can lower blood pressure significantly and extremely safely, are rarely recommended by conventional medical doctors. (13) Each of these natural substances, which have important general nutritional value as well, have been shown to lower blood pressure between 5-15 systolic and 5-10 diastolic points.
America has been terrorized by fear of the effects of high cholesterol, which include a high Association with heart attacks and strokes. There is good data showing that for every 1% rise in LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), particularly above 130 mg/dl, there is a 2% increase in heart attacks, and that for every 1% rise in HDL (good" cholesterol), there is a 3-4% decrease in heart attacks. The pharmaceutical industry has responded to these fears by developing the "statin" drugs (see table 3), which have been shown to lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, while raising HDL. There is also data that demonstrates a decrease in heart attacks and strokes, and increased survival.
This information sounds pretty good, but how safe are these statin drugs, and, are they really the best solution for the cholesterol issue? JAMA published an article in 1996 that reviewed "carcinogenicity of lipid lowering drugs." This article concluded that the risk for carcinogenicity associated with the use of the Staton's, is far above recently issued FDA guidelines. (14) Although extrapolation from animal studies to humans is an uncertain process, this kind of data was impressive enough that the members of the division of metabolism and and endocrine drug products for the FDA recommended that Lovastatin (Mevacor) be avoided except in patients at high risk for immediate heart attack or stroke! (15) They are contraindicated in patients with active liver disease, pregnancy, or women in the childbearing age that could get pregnant, and in cases where there is an allergy to the drug. They can cause a severe inflammation of muscles that can result in kidney failure, and this must be watched for. It causes testicular atrophy, decreased spermatogenesis, and decreased fertility in rats, but effects in humans are unknown. In addition, there are more than 50 reported severe "side effects" listed in the PDR (Physician's Desk Reference) that have been reported in 0.5 - 1.0% of patients taking these drugs. If there were 10 million people on these drugs that would mean that up to 100,000 patients could have one of these problems.
There are much safer and equally effective natural approaches to solving the cholesterol problem that begin with lifestyle modification. Maintaining an ideal weight, enjoying adequate exercise, eliminating stress, and eating a healthy diet, on the foundation for this approach. Each of these factors has a profound potential to improve cholesterol values, and they have no downside. If lifestyle modification fails to bring cholesterol values in the normal range, nature circles such as niacin, panther been, garlic, and gugulipid should be considered. These products are natural, effective, and safe additions to the management of abnormal cholesterol values.
Niacin has been studied since the 1950s for its effect on cholesterol. it has greater HDL-raising effects than the statin's, and for this reason has an overall greater ability to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In addition, it has significant beneficial effects on other important independent risk factors for heart attack and stroke that include lowering of lipoprotein (a) and of fibrinogen (increases clotting).
Niacin has been shown to reduce mortality that was documented in the Coronary Drug Project over a 15-year period. (16) An interesting aspect of the study was that the effects of niacin were long lasting, even though it may have been discontinued many years prior to the completion of the study.
Niacin has some limitations in its use. It can cause flushing, especially if not gradually increased of her period of weeks, and, it should not be used in diabetics, as it can upset glucose control. The preferred form of niacin is inositol hexaniacinate, which is not sustained release niacin (which tends to cause liver toxicity), and does not cause flushing. However, in situations where patients have pre-existing liver disease or abnormal liver tests, there are very effective alternatives such as gugulipid, garlic, or pantethine that should be considered.
Western medicine does not make a genuinely serious attempt to explore nutritional therapies. It is unrealistic to expect an MD, who is given an average of 60 minutes of nutritional training in medical school, to be capable of practicing nutritional medicine. The public has been lulled into taking a lazy and disinterested position in assuming responsibility for their own health issues... a potentially lethal situation. Drugs are looked at as simple, easy "silver bullets" that can do for you what you might be able to do for yourself. The importance of taking personal responsibility to be involved with solving our own health issues is becoming more and more evident.
The pharmaceutical industry is not entirely to blame for this situation. Let's face it, when there is consumer demand for a product, a smart businessman will try to fill the meat. The problem is that when the business is good, and income is high, and there is an alternative approach on the horizon that threatens continued high sales, businessmen will often "do what is necessary" to insure that product sales remain high. What begins as a service can evolve into a materialistic issue that can have little to do with your health.
Table 1. Examples of NSAIDs:
Aspirin, Bufferin, Ascriptin, Alka Seltzer, Ecotrin, Vanquish, Cope, Anacin, etc.
Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, Nuprin
Naproxen, Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox
Ketoprofen, Orudis, Oruvail,
Piroxicam - Feldene
Ketorolac - Toradol
Nabumetone - Relafen
Indomethacin - Indocin
Table 2. Complications of NSAIDs — Incidents Reported
Gastrointestinal intolerance — 20 to 40% (double if over 65 years)
Gastrointestinal ulcers — 18% after three months (17, 18)
Leaky gut syndrome — 90% after single doses
Fluid retention — usually seen
Kidney damage — 20% in high risk patients
A wide variety of miscellaneous reactions such as anemia, lowered white blood cell count, rash, itching, dizziness, sleepiness, etc. are frequently associated.
Table 3. Examples of Cholesterol Lowering Agents