Is It Bad to Take Medications?


This blog is dedicated to helping non-medical consumers make smart choices about how to handle their health and health care. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is there more misinformation or more misconceptions than where medications are concerned.

Sometimes when I advise prescription drugs to treat uncontrolled medical conditions patients react as if I am literally trying to poison them. I find the majority of patients, regardless of their intelligence, are not well educated about either the danger of not treating certain conditions or the benefit of treatment with the right drug at the right dose.

What is a good medication?

This is a good question. Not all drugs are good and more drugs than are necessary are bad. As a prescriber, in order for me to feel a medication is good for a patient, a medication must meet three criteria:

  1. It must be affordable.
  2. It must not cause side effects.
  3. It must achieve its desired result.

Any medication that does not meet these three criteria is not a good drug in my view.

I think I’m healthier if I don’t take medications.

This is THE biggest preconception I face in clinical practice and I face it several times every single day. It seems to me that 99.9% of patients believe this. The thing is – they are all wrong. Just because it is a widely held belief does not make it right.

The fact is most Americans age 65 and older have 2 to 5 chronic conditions for which medication is advised. And those conditions do not have any symptoms to warn you of their danger. You may feel fine but if your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, bone density or circulation are not controlled you need medication. Medications can control all these conditions, but without medications they remain silently out of control threatening both the quality and length of your life.

I remind my patients that in their grandmothers’ time most people were dead by the age of 65. But today life expectancies well into our 80s and 90s are possible. Medications are essential if these chronic life-threatening conditions are to be controlled.

I have a friend who takes more than 10 meds – I won’t do it!

That is, of course, is entirely up to you. But let me tell you this, if your friend has had a heart attack or stroke and has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – he or she should be on 10 (or more) meds. If your friend also has conditions like low thyroid, an irregular heart beat, reflux or osteoporosis perhaps even more meds are needed.

The point is not how many meds you are on, the point is that the meds have been prescribed appropriately and meet the criteria I outlined at the top of this post. They are affordable, don’t cause side effects and achieve their desired results.

I don’t believe in drugs, I just want to take things that are “natural”.

Next to people thinking they are healthier if they don’t take drugs, this is the second most common preconception I discuss with patients. Some of the sickest people I have ever seen have been those who loaded up on supplements at the health food store thinking everything there was safe because it’s “natural”. Two important points to understand:

  1. Supplements in health food stores are not regulated. That means there is no guarantee that what is on the label is in the bottle. Nor is there any guarantee that pill A is equivalent to pill B. There are as many hazardous chemicals in your local health food store as there are behind the counter at your drugstore. The difference is, in the case of pharmaceuticals, they are prescribed by a health professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. Both of these professionals are trained to safeguard your health.
  2. Most of our pharmaceutical medications were derived from plants in nature and then formulated in labs for purity and potency. For example, you can take red yeast rice – a “natural” supplement for cholesterol. It works the same way a statin drug does. The difference is, because it is not regulated, you won’t know anything about its purity or potency. And it may work if your cholesterol is only mildly elevated and you make the necessary lifestyle modifications. If it does – great! But if your liver is over-producing cholesterol, red yeast rice will likely not be strong enough to treat your levels to normal and reduce your risk.

My Advice

I do not believe every problem in life should be treated with a medication. And I believe more in healthy living than I do medication. BUT if you have a medical problem or condition that can be treated with medication I think it is folly not to take it – faithfully and exactly as prescribed.

If there is only one thing I want you to take away from this blog post it’s that being healthy is not measured by how few medications you take – its measured by how well controlled your health risks are. Medications, when presctibed properly, can literally work miracles at controlling health risks and may prolong and even save your life.

What is your opinion (now)?

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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