Drugs Or Supplements; Which Do You Need? Part I

Sometimes medications are necessary, even life-saving. But many times drugs are not needed, are overused, and are harmful; sometimes they're downright dangerous. In 2011, US doctors wrote 4.02 billion prescriptions; that's an average of roughly 13 prescriptions for each man, woman, and child-about 1 per month. Each year more than 100,000 people die from adverse drug reactions and another 2,000,000 are seriously injured. The fourth leading cause of death in the US is properly prescribed pharmaceuticals. When improperly prescribed drugs are included, the death rank for pharmaceuticals comes in at third (after heart attacks and cancer). In 2009, there were more deaths caused by legal drug use than by motor vehicle accidents.

Every year about 1.5 million people in the US have adverse drug reactions that are so serious, they need to be admitted to hospitals; that's more than 4,000 people every day. The Center for Medical Consumers explains: "The presumption that the FDA approval process guarantees safety is absurd. The two clinical trials required by the FDA are usually short-term and always conducted by the drug makers themselves. Rare or uncommon serious adverse reactions to drugs are typically not apparent until hundreds of thousands of people take the drug over the course of many years. Worse of all, drug companies are known to withhold negative trial results from the FDA." Because evidence about a drug's side effects can become apparent after it's approved, many doctors recommend a 'do not use' period-to avoid new drugs on the market for at least 3 years and up to 7 years.

"Lemon Drugs"

Professor Donald Light, PhD, says that the pharmaceutical industry produces numerous "lemon" drugs that don't work. "Current incentives for research produce few [drugs] that substantially improve patients' chances of getting better or avoiding death but [produce] a large number of barely innovative drugs each year." Along with lower effectiveness comes a heightened risk of adverse effects, often severe. He based his conclusions on a wide range of data from independent sources and studies. One analysis of 111 final applications for drug approval found that 42% were missing data from adequately randomized trials, 40% were supported by flawed testing of dosages, 39% lacked evidence of clinical efficacy, and 49% raised concerns about serious adverse effects. "The incentives and institutional practices around testing and regulatory review predictably result in approvals being based on trials so biased and poorly run that no one knows how much better or worse new drugs are." In a press release he said, "Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs' benefits." Ultimately, many drugs are pulled from the market due to serious side effects-after many people are harmed or die-then more new drugs appear.

Drugs have Unknown Side Effects

Drugs stimulate or suppress-force your body to do either more or less of something. No one knows all of their side effects. One reason is that adverse effects vary from individual to individual depending on age, degree of sensitivity, health status, nutritional needs, presence of other drugs, time of day, and more. Exposure to hormone disruptors, plasticisers, pesticides, toxic chemicals in food, water, air-any and all can disrupt natural balancing mechanisms in our bodies and affect reactions to drugs. Other problems are that drugs: 1) work by interfering with normal biochemistry; 2) mask symptoms so that the underlying causes are often not approached; 3) deplete nutrients that could have been used for repair, detoxification, protection, and healing; and 4) create side effects sooner or later which foster more health issues-then more drugs are prescribed.

Do Doctors Over Prescribe?

US doctors are quick to prescribe drugs and often give little thought to side effects and non-drug alternatives. About 68 million of the 4 billion prescriptions filled in the US each year contain some sort of error. More than 50% of all medicines are not correctly prescribed, dispensed, and sold; more than 50% of patients take their drugs incorrectly. A commentary in JAMA states there is a paucity of education for doctors on ways to become more careful, evidence-based, effective prescribers. Drug doses are set arbitrarily even though there is a wide range of patient responses. These doses are too high for many people. Sometimes there is a lack of certainty that specific drugs actually work. For example, blood pressure medications may function in some other way than actually lowering blood pressure; clinical trials show that about 50% of people on placebo will have normal blood pressure within a year. A study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that drugs are often prescribed because the threshold for what constitutes an 'illness' keeps getting lower and lower. In large part this is attributable to the influence of pharmaceutical companies. For example, what was once normal blood pressure is now too high or, if approaching 'high,' is now 'pre-hypertension' for which medication is prescribed. Or, instead of instructing someone with slightly elevated blood glucose to eat better foods, lose weight, and exercise which could improve or normalize their condition, the person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and told they will need medication for life. The study also found that physicians are caught up in an "auditing and reward system"-they are rewarded by drug companies for prescribing more drugs. Then there is the "prescribing cascade" in which drugs are prescribed to help relieve side effects caused by other drugs; then even more drugs are added to relieve new side effects from the recently prescribed drugs.

Do Drugs Produce Health?

"Pharmageddon" describes 'the prospect of a world in which medical care and medicines produce more ill- health than health, and when medical progress does more harm than good.' For safer drug use: 1) Make sure a drug is really needed (nondrug therapies are often preferable; some drugs may cause side effects that are worse than the problem you want to treat). 2) If a drug is indicated, in most cases (especially in older adults), it's safer to start with a dose that is lower than the usual adult dose. 3) When starting a new drug, see if it's possible to discontinue another drug. 4) Assume that any new symptom you develop after starting a drug is caused by the drug (report it to your doctor). 5) Look up the drug and find out if the symptom could be an adverse reaction; if so, ask if you really need a drug and, if you do, whether a safer drug could be substituted or a lower dose taken. 6) Find out if the drug is known to interact with other drugs, supplements or foods. 7) Be cautious and skeptical about new drugs. 8) Talk to your doctor about stopping drugs. Above all it's essential that the underlying cause of the problem is discovered and approached rather than trying to mask symptoms.


Drugs can lead to decreased absorption, displacement, or increased excretion of numerous nutrients. The effects of various drugs on nutrients have been only moderately studied. Yet what is already known is startling. Here are a few of the findings:



Estrogen/progestin hormones (hormone replacement

Vitamins B 1, B 2, B 3 , B 6, B 12, C; folate; zinc, magnesium,


therapy, contraceptives)

selenium; tyrosine; destroy healthy bacteria in gut


Acid blockers (proton-pump inhibitors, histamine-2

Vitamin B 12, folate, iron, zinc, vitamin D, beta-carotene,

receptor antagonists, antacids

calcium, magnesium, copper, impaired protein digestion

Corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone, hydrocortisone)

Calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc, selenium,


vitamins C, D, and K.


Antidiabetes drugs (e.g. Metformin)

Vitamins B 6, B 12; folate, CoQl0, sodium, zinc, magnesium,







Antihypertensives (beta blockers, calcium-channel

Vitamin B 6, sodium, potassium, CoQl0, zinc, melatonin


blockers, ACE inhibitors, vasodilators)




Potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, vitamins B 1,


B6 and C


Potassium-sparing diuretics

Folate, iron, vitamin C, zinc



Calcium, vitamin D, folate, biotin, Vitamins B1 and B 12; L-


carnitine, possibly vitamin K



B vitamins, vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, zinc,


iron, potassium, disruption of beneficial bacteria


Benzodiazepines (for anxiety, sleep)



SSRI antidepressants

Sodium, folate, melatonin, possibly thyroid hormone levels

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (including aspirin)

Folate, iron, potassium, sodium, vitamin C