We know there’s so much to be grateful to modern medicine for but a new book questions whether doctors are becoming far too-prescription happy and doling out pills when they’re not necessary and could even be causing you harm.
In the book, Too Many Pills: How Too Much Medicine is Endangering Our Health and What We Can Do About It, GP James Le Fanu refers to some shocking statistics to demonstrate how caution is being thrown out of the window when prescribing drugs.
He warns the most worrying is the increase in the number of annual hospital admissions due to adverse drug reactions – up by a whopping 76.8 per cent in just nine years.
It is not just Dr Le Fanu who is fed up of all this pill popping.
Patients too are tiring of their side effects and lack of efficacy in treating some of their ailments and are exploring other, more natural, options.
"Drugs have their role, and no one should stop taking prescribed medication without the supervision of their doctor but a lifestyle problem most likely needs a lifestyle solution," says Dr Shan Hussain who left his lucrative career as a GP to set up a holistic practice which takes into account lifestyle, diet and exercise.
"Certain cases of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, for example, can be entirely managed with appropriate dietary and lifestyle interventions.
"Lifestyle factors can play a part in the development of anxiety and depression too.
"So it’s important to address these factors and do our best to resolve them without necessarily resorting to pills."
Dr Jessica Braid, a trained medical doctor who has been practising natural medicine for more than 11 years, agrees.
"Diet and lifestyle influences many conditions and can radically reduce diseases," she tells The Sun.
"Drugs can be for symptomatic relief and there are other alternative practices such as chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy that can make long-lasting improvements to your health."
To prove their point, we speak to three people who ditched the drugs and found alternative ways to treat their health problems, with remarkable results…
‘The medication made me depressed’
Annie Psarra, 26, communications consultant, Buckinghamshire
"It happened very suddenly.
"I woke up one morning in January this year, got in the shower and nearly passed out from a shooting pain down my back and legs.
"The pain didn’t subside and I could barely move.
I couldn’t sit or lie down comfortably and if I stood up for too long, the pain burned and brought tears to my eyes
"The GP examined me and mentioned it was likely to be nerve pain from the sciatic nerve and prescribed a drug called amitriptyline – widely used to treat nerve pain as well as depression.
"He told me to take one 10mg tablet a day with co-codamol, a painkiller containing codeine and paracetamol, while referring me to the NHS musculoskeletal unit for an MRI scan.
"The combination of drugs, the doctor warned, might affect my mood.
"For the next few days, I felt drowsy, tired and in pain.
"I couldn’t sit or lie down comfortably and if I stood up for too long, the pain burned and brought tears to my eyes.
"Back at the surgery a week later, the doctor upped my dose to 20mg of amitriptyline a day and I soon started to experience intense feelings of hopelessness and doom.
"It felt like the walls were closing in on me.
"I just couldn’t see how the pain or anything could get better.
"After six weeks of taking the medication with little improvement, having to take days off work and even work from home, I decided to come off the medication.
CRIPPLING BACK AND LEG PAIN
SCIATICA is when you experience a burning sensation running down from your back to your leg, into your feet.
It can also cause stabbing or shooting pains, tingling like pins and needles or numbness in your bottom, backs of your legs, feet and toes.
The condition tends to get better of its own accord in four to six weeks, but can last longer.
You should see your GP if things like back stretches, gentle exercise, painkillers haven't worked, or the pain is getting worse.
Osteopathy and physiotherapy can help ease the pain and treat the cause.
In severe cases it can be a sign of a serious back problem, like a slipped disc.
Go to A&E or dial 999 if you have sudden weakness in both legs, have numbness or tingling around and under your genitals or inner thighs, of if you lose bowel control.
This could be a sign of a serious back problem, that requires treatment straight away.
"I’d spoken to a friend who had taken amitriptyline for his insomnia who had been affected mentally in a similar way and he said I was better off without it.
"Still waiting on a date for the scan, I booked an appointment with a private physiotherapist through a recommendation from a friend.
"Within just two sessions, he had isolated the potential issue causing the pain – a misaligned pelvis – and I was already feeling better.
"He showed my partner how to do the stretches and manipulations around my back and legs at home and it worked brilliantly and I was back on my feet properly after a couple of weeks.
"Medicine definitely has its place but I also think we’re often the best judges of our own bodies and we should be open to exploring alternative options to drugs, especially if you’re experiencing bad side effects."
‘I wanted to treat the cause not just the symptoms’
Alexander Jones, 22, PR consultant, Brighton
"The headaches started in July last year, not long after I’d started working.
"I presumed it was something to do with my change in lifestyle; going from university to long days commuting into London and sitting in front of a desk.
"The pain was mainly down the right hand side of my temple, with a throbbing, pulsating sensation that could last anything from an hour to the entire day.
I started to feel anxious about the cause of the headaches, worrying I was simply taking medication to treat them…So I stopped taking the medication and tried to focus on finding the cause
"The GP said it was a migraine and prescribed Sumatripan as targeted migraine relief, which I’d take when the headache started but it tended to only take the edge off the pain rather than remove it altogether.
"The medication made me a bit drowsy so I tried not to take it more than once a week even if my migraines occurred three or four times because it made me confused at work or I’d find myself not being able to concentrate on conversations when out with friends.
"As time went on, I started to feel anxious about the cause of the headaches, worrying I was simply taking medication to treat them but was none the wiser about what was actually triggering them.
"So I stopped taking the medication and tried to focus on finding the cause.
AGONISING HEADACHES THAT PLAGUE MORE WOMEN THAN MEN
MIGRAINES are severe headaches, that feel like a throbbing pain on the side of the head.
Many sufferers will also experience nausea, vomiting and an increased sensitivity to light or sound.
It's a common condition, affecting one in five women and one in every 15 blokes.
The exact cause if migraines is unknown, but experts believe they're caused by temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
Some people find certain things trigger their migraines, including:
- starting their period
- certain foods and drinks
"My parents suggested I see a chiropractor and on my first visit, he examined me and identified that the problem was in my neck. It was too straight and had no natural curve, which was putting pressure on my nerves down the right side.
"I kept going to see him, twice a week for six weeks, in which time he carried out a series of manipulations on my back and neck and the migraines became much less frequent and the pain less intense.
"He also suggested I order a special block to lie down on every morning for a few minutes.
"Now two months on, I still see him once a week and am totally headache-free.
"It really is miraculous. It’s so easy to get carried away with treating symptoms but I’m so happy I probed further to find the cause."
‘I found my own cure to stomach pain’
Christine Clayfield, 58, entrepreneur, Kent
"I’ve suffered with stomach acid, reflux and stomach pain issues for ten years.
"It always struck immediately after I ate something fatty like fish and chips or when I had an empty stomach so I had to eat virtually every two hours.
"The GP prescribed 20g of omeprazole to take three times a day but I hated taking so many tablets and couldn’t help wondering what damage they were doing to my long-term health.
"When I recently started to have issues with swallowing – not being able to swallow the fifth bite of my sandwich, for example, and feeling overwhelmed with panic – I decided to start looking for alternatives, even though investigations showed nothing and there was no proof of a link to the medication.
MORE THAN JUST INDIGESTION
HEARTBURN can prove crippling for those people plagued by the condition.
When it is chronic, it's known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.
The main symptoms are:
- heartburn – burning sensation in the middle of your chest
- a nasty, sour taste in your mouth
And you may also notice:
- a cough or hiccups
- a hoarse voice
- bad breath
- bloating and feeling sick
Symptoms tend to be worse after eating, when you're lying down or bending over.
Lots of people suffer acid reflux, often it's triggered by spicy food, coffee, being overweight, smoking, pregnancy, stress and anxiety and some medicines like ibuprofen.
"I read a book called Gut by Giulia Enders with suggested drinking kefir milk – a fermented milk drink made from kefir grains that tastes like a drinkable yoghurt – and also came across a forum with someone suggesting the same thing and eating sauerkraut.
"I thought, why not? It couldn’t do any harm.
"I told my GP I would be coming off my medication and trying this dietary change and he thought it was a good idea.
"That was a month ago and I haven’t looked back.
"I drink 150ml of kefir milk on an empty stomach daily and eat sauerkraut once a week and it has been instant relief, with all my symptoms virtually gone after the first week.
"I am so pleased I’m not taking the medication anymore. I just wish I’d found out about the alternatives earlier."
Too Many Pills: How Too Much Medicine is Endangering Our Health and What We Can Do About It is available on Amazon.
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