LIFESTYLE VS MEDICINE
I've been plagued by a lot of questions for a while now and I wanted to put them out there to see if any of you share them….

So this is about my own ideas, thoughts, concerns and complete disbelief at our new age approach to wellness. I'm completely perplexed by the state of affairs of our health system and the attitude and lack of accountability by the majority of people today.

It's concerning to me the amount of pills and medication the average person is prescribed and consuming on a daily basis, not to mention the self-administered medications like 'mild' pain killers. Its seems that these days we take a pill for almost everything: Can't sleep? Take a pill! Have heartburn? Swallow this! Headache? Pop one of these! Since when did it become ok to become completely complacent with our poor lifestyle and rely on a 'magic pill' from the doctor to right all the wrongs that we make on a daily basis? Since when did it become acceptable to no longer accept responsibility for our own actions?

Is this all due to lack of knowledge?

Lack of access to factual, evidence-based science?

Is it due to a misconception promoted by drug companies and the media that pills are your best and only option?

Or was is it ‘Big Pharma's’ promotion of 'the pill cure' that influenced our thinking so that we believe something manmade has more of a benefit than a natural, ‘lifestyle’ counterpart?

Are the medications we take really safe?

Regardless of the underlying cause of our pillpopping culture, I'm also left with questions about the drugs themselves… Apparently drugs must go through stringent guidelines and testing before being given approval for public consumption. But is that the case 100% of the time? And does that testing go far enough to discover the potentially dangerous side-effects of taking these drugs in both the short and long-term? …A lot of drugs are prescribed long-term (decades in some cases), and I often doubt whether sufficient time is taken to really gain a clear and thorough understanding of the potential dangers of a drug and/or to provide a more definitive idea of its safety. Instead, I feel I often see (although I could be wrong about this) a push for approval, followed by a secondary phase of ‘screening/testing’ where any problems reported by patients taking the drugs are noted as and when they occur. But, never mind, there are profits to be made!

On top of that, as far as I am aware, there is no system in place to test what happens in the body when these drugs are mixed and intertwined into a potentially deadly pharmacology cocktail. I believe it’s impossible to test all possible drug combinations (and dosage levels) along with potential dangers of long term use. I think a lot of medications are taken for extended periods of time, with some prescriptions having no end in sight or no real plan to come off them. At present, the only thing doctors can use to check this is something called a Drug Burden Index (DBI). The DBI is designed to "measure overall exposure to medications with anticholinergic and sedative properties that implements the principle of dose response to determine the effect of medication exposure." 1 In other words, it's supposed to measure the detrimental effects of taking one drug with the other and then give a score to see how much risk a patient is at by combining these medications together. The problem I see is in its simplistic approach and lack of clear cut evidence which leaves a lot of room for guess work, and error by omission. From my understanding, and I could be wrong, it is concluded from the scoring that the 2 drugs with the highest score COULD have conflicting problems and MAYBE dropping one of them MIGHT reduce the complications being experienced by the patient. But what about the rest of the drugs the patient is taking? Just because two drugs didn't receive a high enough score can we now safely assume they're both working harmoniously together and not creating any other problems, no matter how minor? As I previously stated, this is my view on what I see and is purely opinion.

But who's to blame for all this? Is it the drug companies for creating the drugs? Or, is it the doctors for prescribing them? Or, is it us? Have we created a culture of pill-poppers who want a 'fix all' pill and will be outraged if, after visiting the doctor, they leave without a script and bottle of pills to boot? Personally, I believe a lot of Doctors are afraid that if they don't prescribe the current drug for a condition that they could be sued for withholding available medications and may end up with a very grumpy patient who just decides pack up and go to a doctor who WILL give them what they're after. (again, this is purely my own speculation)

Man vs Nature…

And why have we forgotten nature in all of this? For centuries different ethnicities throughout the world have turned to ‘Mother Nature’ for medicinal cures. I still think our greatest natural health ‘remedy’ can be found in the way we live our lives (i.e. our lifestyle) - eating a healthy diet, making attempts at reducing stress (physical and mental), and engaging in regular exercise have all been showed to have huge positive effects on health, and can have a significant impact on a number of health complaints (including but not limited to: hypertension, type 2 diabetes, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, low back pain, IBS, fatigue, depression….and the list goes on). Yet despite this we still spend an astronomical amount of money on pharmaceuticals each year, and our doctors are still handing out prescriptions for ‘pills’ rather than ‘prescriptions’ for lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity, eating more fruit and veg, and decreasing consumption of processed foods.

So does this all fall back under the category of personal responsibility (or lack thereof)? Are we each responsible for our own lifestyle choices and hence ultimately responsible for our own health? Is it up to us whether we do or do not take medicines and drugs to treat our health ailments? Or are we all caught in a system and a way of thinking that advocates ‘treatment and cure’ rather than ‘prevention’ and places too much emphasis on medicinal treatments for physical (and mental) illness, rather than promoting natural lifestyle strategies that can be equally effective and which are less likely to cause unwanted side effects? And is there a lack of access to the knowledge that we need as individuals to make smarter lifestyle choices?

I don’t have the answers to these questions – I’m just putting them out there!

A photo I saw recently sums up my own view perfectly. It stated, "People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and we are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food." How have we come to be in this sad state of affairs, why is there no correlation between the two?

I like to think there is becoming an awakening and a shift away from this way of thinking and behaving but have we already gone too far? And what can we, as personal trainers and health enthusiasts, do to help this shift? Should we do anything at all? Is it even our responsibility and could it be potentially dangerous to do so?

I don't want you to think I’m one sided on this issue. Modern medicine has definitely had a positive impact on treating many diseases, but for many of our ‘modern diseases’, as well as many other minor ailments that plague people on a daily basis, maybe we should start to address the underlying causes instead of carrying on in the same manor which created the problem in the first place while taking that ‘magic pill’ in the vain hope the problem will just go away.


Rob Cook



References

1 Hilmer SN, Mager DE, Simonsick EM, Cao Y, Ling SM, Windham BG, et al. A drug burden index to define the functional burden of medications in older people. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(8):781-7.
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