Monday, January 19, 2009

Sometimes Natural Just Ain't So

I have spent the last few days on the FDA sites, learning about my medications, and supplements given to augment them. First, I want to warn you- you may be frightened by my findings. You may find yourself running to the bathroom, taking all your prescription bottles, and "extras" like Vitamins and over the counter meds, and comparing them to the notes you will find. I warn you, this is exactly what I did, and I'm happier for it.

The FDA was started to help regulate medications sold to patients during the mid-twentieth century. It was designed to be a watchdog over the pharmaceuticals, and more so, over the medications given to patients as prescription. By the 1950's, you needed a specific prescription to get medications, rather than having the apothecary mix them for you. Dosages, chemical levels, and the efficacy of medications are all under scrutiny by the FDA before a drug is sold to the public. However, efficacy isn't always tested properly, and fully before these drugs are released, and supplements or food items aren't considered by the FDA.

Before you wonder, is she completely against ALL medications? No, I'm not. At all. I have grown to admire Jonas Salk far more from the studies. He was someone who wouldn't patent his polio vaccine, as he saw that it belonged to all the people who needed it. He wasn't trying to maneuver a medication into the market so it would provide profitability for a corporation. He really was a great medical professional. I have learned about the work done at the Cleveland Clinic and the doctors who are working to find cures rather than line wallets. But, there are medications that are in your homes, NOW that are still being tested for their actual uses, the contraindications of using them, and the harm caused, including deaths, and you are the test subject.

Several doctors have told me to take vitamins and increase my use of mineral supplements. Some of them said this to me back when I was still in grade school, noting the tearing fingernails, and bad skin that kids get as they enter puberty. I thought taking a multivitamin was the smart way to go. For a few months, I ended up finding myself in the bathroom a lot longer than I needed to be because of cramping and pain associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The reality was that I had been exposed to a lot of milk by-products. For years, I was lactose intolerant, and I had only created a bigger issue within my body by trying to help out.

Friends have offered their supplements to me as miracle wonder cures for the joint disorder I have, or for the usual day-to-day issues we all have. Headaches can be cured with tea tree oil. Eucalyptus is a cure for asthma. Coconut Oil relieves dandruff. The list could go on for hours. Some of the biggest offers I have had were in tea form. Green tea will stop me from eating. Ginseng will make me smarter. My vision will increase if I have carrot juice tea. And of course, St. John's Wort cures everyone from depression.

There are still tests going on for the use of supplements and most of the medications you have in your home. Some of these tests are done through REAL patients having REAL symptoms, and are noted in a database called MedWatch by physicians and other medical professionals. The information is voluntary, and is gathered for evidence in favor of or for failure of the chemicals we place in our bodies. From nail polishes to chemotherapy medications, there are those who do keep track of the issues we have faced, and do place that information in to this database.

But, there is still a huge area of concern over any medications which don't show signs of their effectiveness. Since programs like MedWatch are voluntary, the only way to find out if a specific medication causes problems is to read the labeling. Read all of it, including the section that says "inactive ingredients".

Sign onto sites that allow you to test your meds against their side effects of using OTHER medications. Such as, if you use Codeine, could you still take Motrin? If you are on birth control pills, do you have a problem if you take migraine medication? How about taking Calcium and hormone medications? Do you know what happens if you take a green tea, with caffeine, and a blood pressure medication, too? How about this- when you visit your doctor, do you bring in all bottles- prescription, over the counter, AND supplements which you are taking?

By going through my medications, and viewing the reports on the FDA sites, as well as the Drug Interaction Checker websites, I discovered three of my meds are on a "watch" list. Two medications taken together can cause heart problems. And, six of my meds are list "although rare, death or internal bleeding may occur." Six of these are likely to kill someone. This was discovered through actual reported deaths by doctors who used MedWatch. Hospitals aren't required to autopsy, or report if someone dies due to a medication. The number of deaths may be greatly under reported.

No one is saying "stop buying meds". I am saying be educated about what it is you are taking. If you don't ask your doctors about the side effects, don't become a statistic who is facing unnecessary trauma, or even death by assuming s/he would tell you. When you get a prescription it comes with a form that tells you the chemical compound, the details required by law, and certainly and most importantly, the side effects. If you are thinking about trying a medication, first visit the FDA sites and see what they've got on them. You may save your own life.
Here are a couple more drug interaction checking sites:
PDR Health This site is done by Physician Desk Reference, the predominant tool for pharmacy and drug prescribing information for most US Doctors.

Today's questions: What would you do if you discovered the symptoms you were dealing with are actually the resulting side effects of another medication? How can you better educate yourself while still in a doctor's office? Are many of your medications new as of 2001, or are they older formulas?

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