Give ’em A Break!

Now this time I’m going to defend conventional medicine. Admittedly to contribute to your skepticism about resorting to our tender ministrations but still, hopefully, for your benefit.

OK, I have a question for you and don’t be too sure you know the answer. Who has inadvertently killed more people, docs and their drugs or Natural Healers, the generic class of alternative medical practitioners, handing out supplements?

Well I don’t know either but it is closer than you think and that is what I want to talk about and that being so why you need to take charge of your own health.

As you will know from the When You Are Serious facebook page there was a recent article in Lancet Oncology linking one of the most commonly used blood pressure medications to an increased cancer incidence. Well, it has been recently found, again actually, that taking calcium supplements increases sudden cardiac death risk. Now death is quite a side effect.

A deeper look at diabetes treatment has found that treating to an A1c lower than 7.4 makes outcomes of death and debility more likely not less. Well, of course to get to below 7.4 for many diabetics means more drugs. Well OK, drugs are bad. How about all those B vitamins everyone takes for ‘stress’ and in their ‘energy drinks.’ One of the B vitamins, folic acid/folate, has been shown to increase prostate cancer risk, worsen the kidney disease of diabetes and lead to more strokes. Wow, that is just one of the B vitamins that people take like water.

Vitamin E. Lung cancer. Beta blockers for high blood pressure. Diabetes. High dose Vitamin D. Neurological toxicity. Statins. Cataracts, liver failure, etc.

Put a little sweetener in the food, people like it more, eat it more and buy it more. High fructose corn syrup is in everything. Everything. Mouth feel, fancy language for slippery, makes people like foods more; added to everything. That is usually soy lecithin. Soy equals low testosterone, mixed estrogen signals to bone, breast and other estrogen receptors in the body. That doesn’t sound so good either. Try buying a salad dressing without soy oil and lecithin. Just try.

High blood pressure. Oh my. Well it turns out there is no survival advantage treating this below about 140/90 even though that is when most docs start throwing the drugs around. Why would there be no survival advantage to treating below 140/90 mm/hg when we know that people with lower numbers seem to live longer (by the way this is not as robust as we once thought either but that is another story)? Why no advantage? Because drugs aren’t good for you that’s why. Hello?

Look if you are in the ICU with a headache and a blood pressure of 260/180 take any blasted drug they want to give you and thank God for it. Outside of that setting go slow.

With the above sketch of the perils of supplements and medications- believe me I could multiply the risks of each many, many times- with that sketch in mind let me ask you to “Give ’em A Break.’

When the Lancet Oncology article was released the harrowed howl of outrage from the medication’s defenders could be heard from Harley Street medical swells to the hallowed halls of Academe. “Irresponsible” was the best that was said. Having lived through the ‘Fat Wars’ when advocating a now known fact that saturated fats might not be demonic was tantamount to surrendering your medical license I know this pattern. The politicalization of science.

And here is where the story leads: science. Biological science and its infant brother Medical science is just out of the nursery. Bones are made of calcium: take calcium. These kidney stones have calcium in them: don’t take calcium. These arteries have cholesterol in them: don’t eat cholesterol. Homocysteine is high and B vitamins lower homocysteine: take B vitamins.

One of the jokes in the history of science is the old observation that sleeping powders ‘have the dormitive power.’ Boy did we laugh at that; the idea that naming an end was the same thing as understanding or causally accounting for an end. Well we laughed too soon. Medical science has advanced very little beyond that sad start. Still it has advanced. We know a lot. But not near as much as we think. And even making progress is strewn with calumny. Ask the authors of the Lancet article.

So when you are in medical crisis say ‘yes’ and when not be a skeptic. Go slow, try good food, exercise, relaxation. Stop and measure. Remember the important marker is not your blood pressure but whether or not you are dead and thus medications are not always the right answer. The important marker is not your blood sugar but whether you can see and feel your toes so more drugs may not be the right answer. You show up at your doc and what do you expect? He has his degree, his concern and compassion, 10 minutes of your time and he cannot change human nature. Human nature and your doc’s experience of it tells him a second drug or higher doses of the last one is the best that he can do for you. We docs are adrift in the sorrow, loss, tragedy and comedy of the human condition with hammers, saws, poisons and white coats. Give us a break! Take care of yourself for crying out loud!!!

Smile and God Speed,

Dr. Mike

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