Monday, June 1, 2009

...And Call Me In The Morning

I recently attended a weekend of lectures in New York where I heard some awesome speakers:  Barry Sears (“founder” of The Zone Diet), Dr. David Katz (Director & Co-Founder of Yale Prevention Research Center; Associate Professor, adjunct of Public Health – Yale University School of Medicine; author; and medical contributor for ABC News), and Dr. Mark Hyman (in addition to his medical practice, he is editor-in-chief of Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, an author, and in February addressed the US Senate regarding the direction of health care in America today).

These men are all doctors, yet they were at my school addressing health counselors – people that are trying to work to keep these guys from getting much business.  I, in no way believe that doctors are unnecessary, nor do I believe that prescription medication is unnecessary.  I have a hard time with people who are dogmatic about either side of that coin.   I do believe that we are much better off when we can prevent illness in the first place, as opposed to waiting until something is wrong and then begin “treatment”.  As some ancient Chinese guy once said (and this is loosely quoted…), “Trying to create health after someone is already sick is like crafting weapons after a war has started.”

What I found interesting about these three men was that they all seem to be motivated by a sense of compassion, and I think that is what makes them good at what they do.  Each told stories that were touching.  Each related ways that they had been moved to action, to do something different; something “against the grain” of traditional medicine in spite of what their peers, or others “in authority” said to dissuade them.  Each has made great contributions to moving our country toward a healthier way of life.

A startling statistic I heard that weekend was that proper prescription use is the 5th leading cause of death in the US (no, I did not intend to type “improper”).  I am not sure what year this statistic was gathered, and have been unsuccessful in being able to locate a comprehensive list of the top causes of death over a number of years, but another interesting statistic I came across, from a 2000 edition of the AMA listed iatrogenic causes as the #3 killer in the US (iatrogenic is a term used when a patient dies as a direct result of treatments by a physician, whether it is from misdiagnosis of the ailment or from adverse drug reactions used to treat the illness – drug reactions being the most common cause).  Note:  this is the US in this statistic…not some country practicing medicine from the dark ages…where we spend a few trillion dollars on health care every year.

Are you aware that while advertising has been cut back for nearly everything else, advertising for prescription medications has actually increased during this recession?  I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard not to laugh out loud when hearing the disclaimers for some of the prescription drugs advertised on television.  Something used to treat arthritis pain might also cause anything from diarrhea to ankle sprains to fungal infections to depression to hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) – just to name a few.  I want to say, “Yeah, but at least my joints don’t hurt!”  Some of these disclaimers also list as side effects: “and in some cases: death.”  The entire commercial seems to take place in a beautiful, flower-covered meadow or on a scenic beach, or someplace in a neighborhood just around the corner from Nirvana.   The people are happy and seem carefree, especially now that their symptoms have all been taken care of, thanks to the Wonder Drug being touted in the 30-second clip.  Sometimes, we are left wondering what condition, exactly, the advertised drug is being prescribed to treat; yet have no doubts about its results:  relief, happiness, beauty, and finding ourselves someplace really ‘beautiful’.
Do I think there is any benefit in prescription drugs?  Absolutely!  I also think we are often times looking for a ‘quick fix’, and would rather take a pill than try to get to the root of the problem and address it holistically first.  Two out of the top ten selling drugs on the market are ones used to treat digestive symptoms.  How sad to think that possibly something as inexpensive and ‘side-effect-free’ as altering your diet might cure your chronic digestive issues, when you think the only “right” treatment is taking a pill for the rest of your life.  Suffer from insomnia?  There are quite a few pills for that, too.  Of course, you might have to contend with viral infections, dizziness, hallucinations and even infection, but hey, at least you can sleep.  Did you ever wonder if there were food causes and cures for insomnia, as well?  What if you could alleviate your insomnia simply by eliminating a particular food from your diet?  Seems too simple, doesn’t it?  Yet for some people, this is actually the case.

Recently, someone I spoke with was describing a situation with their child who was being treated for ADHD with prescription medications.  They’d asked their spouse to consider that their kid’s symptoms might be diet related (there is a lot of information to suggest that in some instances, this could be the case).  They said that their spouse refused to believe that there was any relationship between what was put in the kid’s body, and the behavior of the kid, and had no intention of ever considering it.  I find it curious that this would not be at least a first “pre-medication” step.  Have you read the side-effects of Ritalin lately?

In the airport recently, I overheard a guy attempting to impress one of my classmates – a gorgeous single girl in her 20’s who, by the way, just happens to have a master’s degree in public health (unbeknownst to him).  Upon hearing she was headed home to Pittsburgh, just like him, he happened to mention (brag?) that he was a pulmonologist and was trying to open a restaurant.  Dr. Much Compassion spoke authoritatively about the benefits of various drugs and tests and procedures – and how nutrition had no role in actually being well, and then discussed his restaurant plans.  My friend asked him about his menu plans, and if there were going to be any local or organic foods served in his establishment.  His response?  “Oh, no… I’m not doing any of this because I care about people and health or anything.  I’m doing this to make money.”  Now that’s someone I want taking care of me…

I absolutely do not think that Dr. Compassion is a fair representation of all doctors everywhere, I simply use this example to show the variety of exposure to the medical “experts” I’ve had in the past few days.  I think it’s important that we be conscious about how the foods and medications we put into our bodies actually make us feel, and that we become as educated as possible about what, exactly, we are putting in there in the first place.   We only get one shot at this.  There are no “trade-ins”.

Your fork is the most powerful tool in the world.  How are you going to use it?

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