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Prescription Medication Dangers
How Prescriptions are Promoted to Fix Lifestyle Choices

Are your pills making things worse?
Are your pills making things worse?

When a personal trainer takes on a new client, they go through a medical questionnaire. One section of the form is just for clients to list the medications they're on. There are two reasons why that information is essential.

First, the drugs you take can change how a trainer monitors your workout.

For example, beta blocker drugs are usually prescribed after a heart attack or to treat abnormal heart rhythms. They slow down your heartbeat. That means clients taking beta blockers may not be able to get their heartbeat up as high as standard fitness charts say. If adjustments aren't made, you could push a client further than what might be helpful.

Second, several drugs interfere with and reduce the effectiveness of exercise.

Statin drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol are a prime example. In an important study carried out by the Division of Cardiology at Duke University Medical Center, researchers found out that statins dramatically REDUCE the effectiveness of a cardio workout.

Knowing about those potential problems helps a trainer create more realistic projections about what that client can achieve.

Over the 20 years I've been training, the number of pills clients have been writing down has steadily grown. Some take so many drugs; they now have to attach a separate sheet to list them all.

The first time I wrote an article about how many pills Americans were taking was in 2005. Then the best estimates said approximately 44% of the country were taking prescription drugs.

By 2018, that number had increased dramatically. According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, “Nearly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than 50% take two.” For people who are 65 or older, that number is even higher.

A study published in 2019 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 89% of adults 65 and older are taking a prescription medicine. More than half (54%) are taking four or more prescription drugs.

When you dig a little deeper into the drugs people are taking, a pattern emerges. For people over the age of 40, the most common prescriptions are for ACE inhibitors to reduce high blood pressure, lipid-lowering pills for cholesterol, antidiabetic agents, beta blockers and antidepressants.

There's a theme running through those prescriptions. Four out of five on that list are to treat conditions that afflict people who are overweight or obese.

Then there are the drugs to deal with the side effects. If one pill keeps you up, you get prescribed another that puts you to sleep. Got diarrhea from your medication? Drink this medicine to stop it. Have migraines from a drug? Take another one to feel better.

Much of this has happened because of three fundamental problems. How drugs are promoted, who they're marketed to and accountability.

First: Drugs are promoted as the solution, often ignoring more effective lifestyle options.

In 2015 there was a study published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Researchers said that if you were on track to develop diabetes, you might consider taking Metformin. That would reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 18%.

That same study looked at the option of exercising regularly and eating a low-calorie and low-fat diet. Those actions would reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 27%. Plus, the diet and exercise option wouldn't risk the side effects of diarrhea and vomiting.

Second: Drugs are promoted as a way to avoid medical problems without comparing them to lifestyle options.

The drug Fosamax is promoted for middle-aged women to build stronger bones. But, over the last 15 years, no research shows taking bisphosphonates like Fosamax will prevent bone breaks 10, 20 or 30 years in the future. The only benefit shown has been for people who were already diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Plus, you get fun side effects like heartburn, stomach upset, acid reflux, vision harming eye inflammation and severe muscle and joint pains. British researchers found that taking the drugs for 3-5 years doubled the risk of esophageal cancer. In rare cases, some people experienced the horror of osteonecrosis, a condition where the patient's jawbone rots and dies.

Perhaps the most devastating side effect was that long-term use by women who did NOT have osteoporosis might lead to weaker bones.

Studies show that the most important thing you can do for bone health is exercises that require “...high forces and/or generate high impacts...” Engage in at least 30 minutes of resistance and high-impact exercise, at least three times a week.

Are medications HELPING or HURTING your fitness?

Are medications HELPING or HURTING your fitness?

Third: People are piling on prescriptions without looking at everything together.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center, “53% of those who take prescription drugs get them from more than one healthcare provider.” Every person writing you a prescription should have a complete list of everything you're taking. That includes over-the-counter pills and supplements.

Several online tools will allow you to enter all your medications and check for dangerous interactions. That's a good place to start, but ultimately you need to go over the list with a doctor or pharmacist. If you're relying on prescription medications to correct lifestyle problems, you should talk with your doctor and make an honest appraisal of your health.

WebMD Drug Interaction Checker Drugs.com Drug Interaction Checker RxList Drug Interaction Checker Medscape Drug Interaction Checker

Take control of your weight. If you smoke, stop. If you drink a lot, cut down. Get informed! You can make changes in your life by choosing one thing you want to improve and start right now.

8 Questions Before you Start a Prescription

  1. Do I have to start a new drug, or are there lifestyle changes I can make first?

  2. Precisely what is the drug for, and how will I know it's working?

  3. Should I use a new drug, or is there a potential "old reliable" that can be used?

  4. What are the measurable benefits of taking the drug?

  5. What are the risks and potential side effects I should be aware of?

  6. Will any supplements, herbs or other medications I'm taking interfere with the new drug?

  7. Is there a generic version of the drug that may save me money?

  8. When should my next appointment be to determine the efficacy of the new drug?

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Updated 3/4/2021