A Word About Drugs Vs. Natural and Alternative Therapies

Most of my patients come to me for acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine precisely because they don’t want to take drugs (ie medications or pharmaceuticals, not recreational drugs).  Whether they don’t tolerate Western medications well or they are simply opposed to taking them, I believe these patients are onto something.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t use pharmaceuticals when absolutely necessary to stay alive or to improve the quality of our lives, but I do firmly believe that for most ailments, especially those due to overeating, overindulging in alcohol, tobacco or other substances, and a sedentary lifestyle, there are safer, more effective, non-drug alternatives that can lead us to better health.

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that for people with mild depression, anti-depressants were no more effective than placebo.  According to USA-Today, as of August 2009, 27 million Americans (about 10% of us) were taking anti-depressants.  It’s not clear how many of those patients are mildly depressed, but the implication is that antidepressants may not really be of benefit to them.  Let’s consider just the common side-effects of Paxil, one of the medications studied:  anxiety; blurred vision; constipation; decreased sexual desire or ability; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; dry mouth; gas; increased sweating; increased urination; loss of appetite; nausea; nervousness; numbness or tingling of the skin; stomach upset; trouble concentrating; trouble sleeping; weakness; yawning.  Would it be worth risking these side-effects to take a medication that may not work?  Alternative remedies for depression recommended by the study include exercise, reading about the disorder, seeing the doctor, and getting psychotherapy.  Side effects?  None.

Other commonly prescribed drugs include those for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, three conditions that could also be managed or resolved with an improved diet,  increased exercise, reduction of mental/emotional stress, acupuncture, massage therapy, dietary supplements and herbal medicines.  Yes, I do acknowledge that it is more difficult to change what you eat and how you behave than to take a pill.  But is it really?  What if, as is often the case, the side-effects of that one pill lead to the taking of another pill, and another until you are taking several medications, each with a long list of potentially dangerous side-effects?  Is that really less difficult?

Positive changes in diet, exercise and stress management deliver multiple benefits:  weight loss, increased energy, better sleep, improved mood, stronger bones and muscles, fewer illnesses and reduced stress.  Negative side effects might include:  withdrawal from and cravings for unhealthy food & drink (usually temporary) or occasional musculoskeletal injury.  I’m thinking of one patient in particular whose obesity has caused high blood pressure and diabetes.  The medications she takes have caused side effects requiring further medication, each of which makes her uncomfortable in one way or another.   Thought she’s finally taking diet and exercise seriously, and hopes that someday she can eliminate some of these medications, I can’t help but wonder what her life would be like if she had taken it seriously from the beginning.

What if you could convince your body to work better for you without drugs?   This is the goal of all natural therapies, including acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.  Of course there are instances where pharmaceuticals are absolutely necessary:  I have another patient with multiple sclerosis who absolutely needs medication to control the progression of her disease, but she also benefits from acupuncture, herbs, supplements, dietary changes and exercise which further improve her life and, I am convinced, will improve both her prognosis and her longevity; other patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment use acupuncture to combat nausea and vomiting, fatigue, muscle pain, insomnia and other side-effects, improving the quality of their lives and helping their bodies withstand and complete treatment.

We have to stop fooling ourselves that pharmaceuticals can take the place of healthy choices and that alternative therapies and natural medicine are either quackery or cure-all.  The truth is something much more simple:  healthy choices lead us to better health, most of the time, and when we get sick or injured, there are many side-effect free ways to resolve what ails us.  When these fail, pharmaceuticals may be needed to get the body back on track, but in my humble opinion should be used as the alternative rather than the norm.

To make an appointment with Julie Permut, Lic Ac, click here for her online scheduling system or call 603-924-6624.

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