Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are Drugs EVER Good For You?

Well the answer, I guess, has to be yes, but it pains me to say so. There are indeed some drugs out there that save lives. There are also others that eliminate symptoms which might otherwise be unbearable. So, I guess you could say (wince) some drugs are good for you.

Maybe my real question then should be stated differently. How about:

Do drugs save more lives than they eliminate?

This question pops into my head all the time as I see patient after patient who are on some medication or another to help "treat" their health condition. However, when looked at from an objective standpoint, many of these patients are also suffering from one or more side effects of the same drug. Some of these effects are so severe that, if nothing were to be done about them, they could eventually result in my patient being one of those nearly 200,000 deaths!

The true problem is that so many of these folks are being told by their doctors they can never get off their drugs. However, if treated appropriately, they could indeed eliminate the vast majority of these drugs they have been told they "need".

OK, back to the question- Do drugs save more lives than they eliminate?

One way to obtain more insight into this query is to simply look at how many people are actually harmed or killed by prescription drugs. When you do that, the answer you will find is downright scary. According to a recent study, each year drug related "problems" put 8.8 million people in hospitals, accounting for up to 28% of all hospital admissions. Of those 8.8 million, 198,815 people end up dead.

By the way, if we include surgeries and other medical procedures, we come to a staggering number of nearly 800,000 deaths PER YEAR being caused by direct medical treatment. This is more than either of the so-called #1 and #1a biggest killers in the U.S.- Heart Disease and Cancer.

The answer of "Yes" I gave at the beginning of all this seems to be even harder to say now don't you think?

Nonetheless, there must be at least a few drugs out there that help more than they hurt right? What about the simpler, "safer" ones? What about the ones that EVERYONE should be taking?

They're OK right?

How about a little test? Let's pick three common drugs and really dig to see if they help more than they hurt. My selection criteria for these three drugs is simple- If asked, most people would consider them either useful, harmless or both.


Why does nearly every senior citizen you know take a daily aspirin? Because it will help keep you alive right?


Did you know that all large, long term (the larger and longer term the better usually) research on using aspirin after having a heart attack show it has no effect on improving overall mortality rates? Instead, most research shows regular aspirin intake simply leads to a reduction in NON-fatal cardiovascular events, but an INCREASE in sudden cardiac death!

Some would also argue that daily aspirin use to "prevent" heart disease can divert attention away from other more useful preventative measures like eating well, reducing stress and exercising, as those taking it may be feeling a (likely unfounded) greater sense of security and protection.

Not only that, when we consider some of the real dangers involved with taking aspirin, we begin to realize it really has no place in the (dare I say mythical?) category of drugs that help but do not harm. You see, even though they're called "baby" aspirin they pack a mighty big, and harmful punch indeed.

Studies on aspirin have actually shown that, when taken long term it can cause:

  • A 58% increase in pancreatic cancer from as little as 2 aspirins per week.*
  • An 86% increase in pancreatic cancer from 14 aspirin per week (common dose for many people)*
  • A 200% increase in gastrointestinal bleeding (which can prove to be fatal in some cases)
  • A 300% increase in gastrointestinal bleeding when consumed along with an NSAID, like Ibuprofen

*An important side note- pancreatic cancer is one of the nastiest of all, with average survival rates of less than 3 years after diagnosis)

Tylenol (Acetaminophen)

Have you ever had a bad headache, toothache, injury or some other type of pain that prompted you to take a little more Tylenol than was recommended on the label? (if you happened to read it at all) I'd bet most of you answered yes.

Is Tylenol helpful? Yup- definitely helps reduce that pain.

Is Tylenol harmful? ........Yup.

This post is getting really long, really quick, so I'll get right to the point. Excessive (and possibly even recommended) intake of Tylenol can cause liver damage, liver failure and death. In fact, here are the FDA's recommendations on Tylenol intake:

  • Follow dosing directions and never take more than directed; even a small amount more than directed can cause liver damage.
  • Don’t take acetaminophen for more days than directed.
  • Don’t take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time. For example, your risk of liver damage goes up if you take a medicine that contains acetaminophen to treat a headache, and while that medicine is still working in your body, you take another medicine that contains acetaminophen to treat a cold. (a VERY common occurence!!)

Did you know there were such stringent directives out there for a "harmless" little drug like Tylenol? Scary huh?

The strangest thing of all to me is that the FDA makes it sound like, as long as you stay within recommended dosing guidelines, Tylenol is perfectly safe.

How can that possibly be???

If taking even a little more than the recommended dose can cause acute liver failure and death, how can a little less than that be totally harmless? In other words, I don't think a person goes from zero effects to acute liver failure and death with the addition of a couple more pills. In all likelihood, there's at least a some harm being done (to a very important organ by the way) well before such thresholds are reached.

So, does Tylenol pass the "more helpful than harmful" test? I think not.


The most popular in a long and (unfortunately) growing line of "wonder drugs" for lowering cholesterol and reducing heart disease risk. Now, if you were to simply pay attention to mainstream media, you'd think Lipitor and other statins were the greatest things out there since sliced bread. (Of course, sliced bread's greatness should be questioned as well, but that's a different post.)

However, there is a lot of research and opinion out there suggesting statins don't do much at all for us. And even though, in most circumstances, they don't seem to kill people right away, their safety is still a big question mark for me. More of my opinions on this topic can be read about here and here.

My last question then is- If such "helpful" and "harmless" drugs like Tylenol, Aspirin and Lipitor fail our test, which drugs actually pass the test?

There are probably a few out there, but I don't want to put forth the effort or expend the brain power to try and come up with one.

Wouldn't it just be easier to try and live a life that creates such boundless energy and vibrant health that you don't even need to bother with these drugs anyway?

Check out some of the links on the right side of this page and start investigating ways to do so. You won't regret it!!!


Free Market said...

My mother was on statin drugs for several years and suffered terrible side effects, including leg cramps. She's now doing much better since she stopped taking them.

My friend on the other hand has sever acid reflux and was prescribed Prilosec. I told him that this was only treating a symptom and that he needed to work on the real issues involved. No luck. I guess we can't win 'em all.

mikaljains said...

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