By Dr. Mercola
Despite what the media preaches to you, your body has no intrinsic need for drugs. Over the course of a lifetime, the average person may be prescribed 14,000 pills (this doesn’t even include over-the-counter meds), and by the time you reach your 70s you could be taking five or more pills every day, according to Pill Poppers, a documentary.
The featured film asks a poignant question that anyone taking medications should also, which is, are these pills really beneficial, or are they doing more harm than good?
Drug Discovery ‘Owes as Much to Serendipity as to Science’
Pill Poppers takes you on a journey through some of the most popular drugs in the world, from the ADHD drug Ritalin to drugs for erectile dysfunction, depression, pain and contraception.
It starts out by taking you into a lab at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where 2 million chemical compounds are kept in a vault. Scientists know little about their effects; each could be lethal or lifesaving.
Through a process that could be described as finding a needle in a haystack, scientists methodically introduce a known disease molecule to each of the 2 million substances, one at a time, and assess whether anything happens.
If ‘something’ happens, further tests are then conducted to find out what and why. Literally hundreds of millions of such tests are conducted, and it takes about $1 billion and an estimated 15 years of work to reach the ultimate goal: a licensed drug.
Despite what most are led to believe, just because the drug makes it through the regulatory process it’s no guarantee of safety. Typically, more information is learned about a drug after it’s been released to the market than before, because only then does it get the widespread exposure that clinical trials cannot simulate.
It’s usually after millions of people have already started taking a drug that severe, sometimes deadly, side effects are observed, but unfortunately for some, it will be realized too late. As stated in the documentary:
“Drugs are not designed but discovered, and we only find out what they really do to us when we take them.”
Patrick Vallance, the head of drug discovery at GSK, even said: “In many ways you learn as much about your medicine after it’s launched as you knew before.” (Of course, GSK has also pleaded guilty to felony charges for knowingly manufacturing and selling adulterated drugs, a practice that adds even more of a ‘learning curve’ when drugs are released… )
The Effects of Many Medications Are Discovered by Mistake
Many people assume that the medications they’re taking are exerting carefully designed effects on specific biological pathways in their bodies. In reality, these effects were not designed but rather observed – often simply as a matter of sheer dumb luck – and the medication was then “discovered.” The erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, for instance, was originally developed to treat angina. That it led to increased erections was simply a surprise.
The ADHD drug Ritalin was also discovered by accident, as it was originally designed to treat adults with depression. We’re only now beginning to understand how this drug works, and what its long-term side effects entail, yet now it’s already morphing into a drug with another purpose: as a ‘study drug’ for people without ADHD. And this is only a short list.
While these may sound like beneficial ‘mistakes,’ the surprises can work both ways. Often, drugmakers and scientists are ‘surprised’ to learn that their new blockbuster drug leads to unknown (or undisclosed) side effects, altering and disrupting far more functions in your body than was first realized. Viagra, for instance, can cause blue-green color blindness. And a commonly used class of diabetes drugs is now being investigated for causing pre-cancerous changes, while the antibiotic Zithromax (Z-Pak), may trigger lethal heart arrhythmias.
The truth is, no drug is side effect-free – a fact that many loyal pill takers are not aware of. These side effects are then often treated with… even more drugs, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Even GSK’s Vallance stated in the film:
“When you make a medicine you’re trying to disrupt a fundamental biological process. That’s a pretty profound change, you can’t do that without producing some unwanted effects — so then the question is, what risks are you prepared to take for what benefit?”
Creating Diseases to Fit the Treatments
Drug companies are masters at disease mongering — inventing non-existent diseases and exaggerating minor ones, with the end result making you rush to your doctor to request their drug solutions. It also misleads people into thinking drugs are the only option for every ill. Viagra is a perfect example, as it was originally intended only for men with actual erectile dysfunction. Many men have an occasional problem in this area, and that is normal, but Viagra is marketed in a way that makes it appear as though it’s not.
Another blatant example of creating a market for a disease where none existed before is low female sex drive, or female sexual dysfunction, for which drug makers are actively seeking a ‘cure.’ One more example? In order to market its antidepressant Paxil, GSK hired a PR firm to create a public awareness campaign about an “under-diagnosed” disease.
The disease? Social anxiety disorder… previously known as shyness. You may have seen this campaign firsthand a couple of years back; ads stating “Imagine being allergic to people” were distributed widely, celebrities gave interviews to the press and psychiatrists gave lectures on this new disease in the top 25 media markets. As a result, mentions of social anxiety in the press rose from about 50 to over 1 billion in just two years… social anxiety disorder became the “third most common mental illness” in the US… and Paxil skyrocketed to the top of the charts as one of the most profitable and most prescribed drugs in the US.
The Drug Industry Is Now Trying to Treat Not Just Diseases but Risk Factors
The drug market is saturated with drugs to treat existing diseases and many drug firms are now trying to create markets for new drugs via disease-mongering. But another way to drum up business, which the industry is fully embracing, is using drugs to treat diseases you don’t even have…
If you have a ‘risk’ of heart disease, for instance, which could apply to anyone aged 50 or over, you should be taking a statin, according to some ‘experts.’ Typically, statins are reserved for people considered to be at high risk of heart attack or stroke, usually (incorrectly) defined as someone with “high” cholesterol. The current value of the cholesterol-lowering drug industry is estimated at around $30 billion a year – but the pharmaceutical industry is still salivating at the thought of how big that number could get if statins could be prescribed to even more people. Alas, researchers came out with a study stating that even people at low risk of heart problems should take statins!3
So even if you’re healthy, you still need to be popping pills to preserve your health, according to the drug industry. Millions of others take drugs for reasons outside of health, such as contraception, or rely on them for functions for which there are far better solutions, such as weight loss, sleep or, in the case of using ADHD drugs for studying, increased focus or energy. Yet, disease is not the result of a drug deficiency, nor will good health ever be the sole result of taking prescription drugs.
How to Avoid Becoming a ‘Pill Popper’
You don’t have to fall victim to the drug industry’s hype and find yourself taking a handful of pills every morning. Most chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are largely preventable with simple lifestyle changes. Even infectious diseases like the flu can often be warded off by a healthy way of life. As stated in Pill Poppers:
“The difference between a drug and a poison is basically the dose.”
On the other hand, staying well naturally, without the use of drugs or even frequent conventional medical care, is not only possible, it may be the most successful strategy you can employ to increase your longevity.
Consider Healthier Food Choices as a Better Option
For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should be looking to focus your diet on whole, unprocessed foods (vegetables, meats, raw dairy, nuts, and so forth) that come from healthy, sustainable, local sources, such as a small organic farm not far from your home. This is one of the most powerful physical interventions you can take to either prevent and/or treat disease.
For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw. Personally, I aim to eat about 80-85 percent of my food raw, including raw eggs that have not been raised on a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). Nearly as important as knowing which foods to eat more of is knowing which foods to avoid, and topping the list is fructose. Sugar, and fructose in particular, acts as a toxin in and of itself, and as such drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of accelerated aging.
Comprehensive Exercise Program, Including High-Intensity Exercise like Peak Fitness
Even if you’re eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including not only core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching but also high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I’ve discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions, so for more information, please review this previous article.
Stress Reduction and Positive Thinking
You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease — from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Effective coping mechanisms are a major longevity-promoting factor in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), meditation, prayer, social support and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium.
Proper Sun Exposure to Optimize Vitamin D
We have long known that it is best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure, and if at all possible, I strongly urge you to make sure you’re getting out in the sun on a daily basis. Vitamin D plays an important role in preventing numerous illnesses ranging from cancer to the flu.
The important factor when it comes to vitamin D is your serum level, which should ideally be between 50-70 ng/ml year-round. Sun exposure or a safe tanning bed is the preferred method for optimizing vitamin D levels, but a quality vitamin D3 supplement can be used (if you opt for this route, be sure you’re also optimizing your vitamin K). Most adults need about 8,000 IU’s of vitamin D a day to achieve serum levels above 40 ng/ml, which is still just below the minimum recommended serum level of 50 ng/ml.
High-Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible
This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.