Are your medicines safe?

Are your medicines safe?

If you have been reading my articles regularly, you would have realised that I am very much against the current drug-based model practice of modern medicine. I prefer a lifestyle and nutrition-based approach.

However, I do use drugs - either as the first therapy in cases where I need to achieve improvements quickly (and then safely try to reverse the health problem with natural and nutritional therapies); or as the last resort when everything else fails. The reason is that in general, drugs do not heal, but only suppress or control the symptoms, and they have many side-effects.

For example, I would like to remind all those who have high blood pressure (hypertension) and are on anti-hypertensive drugs that they only have their blood pressure (BP) "under control" as long as they remember to take their medications. Even if their BP is normal, they are not healthy, and they are certainly not cured of their problem. The BP is suppressed by the drugs. If they miss their drugs for a few days, the reality that their bodies are out of control will be evident.

Of course, this situation is better than if the BP is high and unsuppressed. But the best option is to normalise the BP through natural methods (eg slowing down the breathing rate), health lifestyle and diet, weight control, exercise, and nutritional therapies.

The same applies to treating diabetes (drugs only "suppress" blood glucose) and many other chronic diseases.

Because it takes much discipline to regain health after having neglected it for so long (and ending up with one or more chronic diseases), it is usually difficult to reverse the chronic diseases because the patients find it difficult to follow the prescribed lifestyle, diet, exercise and nutritional regimes.

However, those who are committed, disciplined and consistent have found the joy of being healthy again, and being able to stop being "drugged" daily, or at least being able to reduce their drug dosages.

One of my gym mates is a former drug representative who used to visit me for almost 25 years. As he aged, like most others, he got hypertension, and was promptly prescribed the anti-hypertensive drug that he was marketing for his company. So he proudly told everyone that the drug he was promoting worked very well, and he could testify first-hand. His BP was "well-controlled".

However, as soon as he retired, he realised the folly of being "under control" by drugs and decided to adopt a healthy lifestyle and diet, and exercised regularly. Besides, he need not continue being a "walking advertisement" for the effectiveness of the drug anymore.

With the time that he now has, he is in the gym almost every day, is slimmer and fitter, and has stopped taking the anti-hypertensive drug. His BP is absolutely normal.

Evidence-based

Evidence-based medicine

My concern today is that doctors rely too much on "evidence-based" drug therapies.

Recently, a major drug company was fined US$3bil (RM3.9bil) by the US Food & Drug Authority (FDA) for several offences, including concealing evidence that showed that their top-selling anti-diabetic drug may not be safe to use. This drug helps "control" diabetes well, but like all drugs, it also has dangerous side-effects (eg 43% increased risk of heart attack; see New England Journal of Medicine, June 14, 2007).

Diabetics are already prone to heart disease, so any anti-diabetic drug that worsens cardiac health is doubly dangerous.

Just two years ago another major drug company was fined US$2.3bil (RM6.9bil) for promoting "off-label" uses (ie. for therapeutic use not approved by the FDA) of four of its drugs.

There were many other cases, but these two stand out because of the huge fines.

A major medical journal recently lamented the fact that many articles regarding the effectiveness of drugs published in medical journals worldwide were in fact not written by the famous scientists and doctors whose names appeared as the authors, but were "ghost-written" by scientists employed by the drug companies.

The Mayo Clinic (US) also revealed that 90% of scientists who wrote favourably about the anti-diabetic drug mentioned above had financial ties with the manufacturer.

This brings the concept of "evidence-based" medicine to question, because the entire scientific/medical community relies so much on scientific evidence that determines if a treatment method or drug is safe and effective or not.

Regulating drugs

Regulating drugs

Many of us put much trust in the FDA as a regulator of the safety and effectiveness of drugs in order that the people can confidently consume the drugs prescribed to them. However, events that have happened over the last few decades make this assumption not necessarily always true.

Although the anti-diabetic drug mentioned above has been banned in Europe and many other countries, the US FDA decided to allow its continued sale in the US (although with restrictions imposed). A report by the US Senate Finance Committee not only accused the drug company of knowing about the (anti-diabetic) drug's risks well before they became public, but it also criticised the FDA for allowing clinical trials to continue, despite 83,000 heart attacks that the FDA itself had linked to the drug.

Many drugs that have been approved by the FDA (after seemingly very stringent assessment that takes many years) had to be withdrawn when it became obvious that the risks outweighed the benefits.

For example, in 2004, a very popular anti-inflammatory analgesic drug was voluntarily withdrawn by the manufacturer after disclosures that it withheld information about the drug's risks for over five years, resulting in possibly 140,000 cases of serious heart disease. The drug was one of the most widely used drugs ever to be withdrawn from the market, with annual sales revenue of US$2.5bil (RM7.5bil). The FDA had just approved a paediatric formulation (to be used in children) before its removal from the market.

I am highlighting all this to remind readers of the dangers of relying too much on drugs. Even if the reports are honest, all the drugs have side-effects, ranging from mild to serious.

The drug safety and effectiveness reports are often skewed towards approving their use and therefore benefiting the drug companies. Since our own drug regulators (and that of many other countries too) rely (to a certain degree) on the FDA's approval (or otherwise) of the medicinal drugs to be approved here, the reliability of the FDA as an honest regulator affects us too.

Most of the new drugs are manufactured in the US, and approval by the FDA is the first step to worldwide acceptance.

Holistic and nutritional medicine

Holistic and nutritional medicine

I have been practising and promoting holistic healing for over two decades, combining natural (eg qigong) and nutritional therapies with modern medicine.

I use hormones regularly, as hormonal optimisation is necessary before the cells can fully utilise the nutrients we take. I stress on exercise and weight management.

In this way, the need for drugs can be greatly reduced. Twenty years ago, very few doctors took this approach. I was even insulted by some doctors for using "unscientific" therapies.

I am glad to report that more of our doctors are realising the importance of nutritional therapy, ie relying on the goodness of natural nutrients (through proper diet and supplements) to promote and maintain health, and to treat diseases. Together with a healthy lifestyle, sufficient exercise and optimising hormones, nutritional medicine is a formidable alternative to drugs.

This weekend, I join about 150 of my medical colleagues who are attending a seminar on nutritional medicine and I hope more doctors will switch to nutritional therapies as the first choice (instead of drugs) when the patients fail to improve enough after diet/lifestyle/weight modifications and exercise (or if the patients refuse to comply).
 
Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles.

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