A Pill For Every Ill… Or Vice-Versa

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When it comes to medications, I find that people tend to fall largely into two main camps: those who reach for the pill bottle at the first sign of distress in their bodies; and those who stubbornly avoid any sort of interference whatsoever with the body’s natural ability to heal. I, admittedly, fall into the latter category. Mainly due to the fact that all my life, I have always experienced sensitivity to medications. Very rarely have I taken them without some sort of unwanted side-effect reeking havoc on my system.

Surprisingly, or not, this is quite the ordinary occurrence in our modern American culture. These days it seems that there’s very literally a pill for every ill. Or at least that’s what pharmaceutical companies and their advertisers would have you believe. And while this “quick fix” approach to health may offer much in the way of convenience, there are risks far greater and deeper felt than the odd adverse side-effect.

News articles abound that bring into sharp focus the rampant issuing of prescription medications that begins with the treatment of one chronic or debilitating illness, then turning into four or even six or seven times as many prescription drugs to treat the varying adverse side effects of the first. Avoiding drug interactions then becomes a tricky and expensive game of managing pill after pill, side effect after side effect and, in most cases, specialist after specialist. Sometimes with deadly consequences.

When did we become so convinced that we need drugs from day to day to function? We have somehow come to accept our dependence on drugs, so much so that we’ll pay exorbitant amounts of money to get what we need. Which in most cases is quite simply, freedom from our pain. How much of our dependence on prescription medications is simply due to our tendency to blindly trust in the findings of modern medicine and science, and how much is a direct result of the marketing and advertising of prescription medication by pharmaceutical companies?

To date, the U.S. is one of only two developed countries in the world that allow drug companies to advertise their products on television. The second being New Zealand. What’s more, ads rarely provide the sort of context that consumers need to make sound decisions about their health – about how often a drug actually works or whether an alternative treatment may actually provide more relief. One study, from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 57 percent of claims in drug ads were potentially misleading and another 10 percent were outright false.

This coupled with the growing number of cases where antibiotics are prescribed for ailments they will not treat, we are now seeing a steadily increasing number antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and fungi. Antibiotic-resistant infections are responsible for at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year. Add to this the fact that Americans with multiple medical conditions can take up to 20 prescriptions per day. For some, the effects of the medication taken are worse than the symptoms of the medical condition.

It’s statistics like these that are causing many people to wonder if medicine, for all it’s pill-popping convenience, is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. The “quick fix” is quickly becoming a one-way ticket on a speeding bullet train to a kaleidoscopic array of debilitating illnesses or symptoms, and even death. Many of us are finding ourselves saying out loud, as so many old television ads from my youth would begin by exclaiming, “There has to be a better way!”

“Let thy food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Enter the food as medicine movement. Is it as simple as eating what is readily available at the grocery store, straight off the shelf? Well, not quite. Here in North America, over 50 percent of our food is processed food. Only 5 percent of our food is plant-based food. A fact that many proponents of the food as medicine movement would like to see reversed.

Truth be told, the food as medicine movement has been around for decades. However, a small but growing number of California based physicians and medical professionals around the world are beginning to make food a formal part of treatment, rather than relying solely on medications. By prescribing nutritional changes, they’re trying to prevent, limit or even reverse disease by changing what patients eat.

And so patients begin to really look at their personal relationship to food. Many people don’t know how to actually cook anymore. Most people only know how to heat things up. This means being dependent upon pre-packaged food with high salt and sugar content. Teaching ourselves about which foods are nutritious and how to prepare them can actually transform our lives.

In the last year and a half I myself have been witness to, and proof of, such transformation. A training schedule that forced me to re-evaluate the fuel, or lack thereof, that I was giving to my body, coupled with several adverse reactions to medications (one reaction seeing me feverish and doubled over in excruciating pain in the emergency room) prescribed to me at the beginning of 2017 had me reassessing everything I was putting into my body out of necessity. The drugs that my physicians were giving me to make me better were actually making me sick. Nearly a full year into my own shift in perspective on treating my food as medicine finds me 25 pounds lighter, more energetic, vibrant and armed with what feels like a more grounded, and deeply satisfying relationship with my body and my food.

How do we incorporate nutrition and lifestyle advice into the treatment of chronically ill patients? It begins with a shift from the “quick fix” of relief in the short term, which is what medications are primarily focused upon, to adjusting our goals for health in the long term. Changes in nutrition and lifestyle have been shown to make lasting improvements to a person’s health, even after the treatment has ended. The same cannot be said of prescription medication. Plain and simple.

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