Hi everyone, just me again…
Early in my career I was asked, on a number of occasions, to visit some elderly patients in their nursing homes.
It was a real eye opener for a young Naturopath and although my training wasn’t focused on this environment, I was up for the challenge. After chatting with these lovely old people it was clear that they were being well looked after, however, when I perused their drug charts I was shocked by the number of pills that they were taking. When I asked about their prescriptions, they were all very clear on the colour, size, number and time of consumption of their pills. However, none seemed clear on what they were for, how they worked and what side effects were possibly linked to their medications.
Like many from their generation they had ultimate trust in their doctor and subsequently handed their health over to them to manage. Their health seemed a mysterious and complicated thing that was best left to someone more educated to deal with. Thus their family doctor was an integral part of their support team and, in fairness to the poor overburdened and overworked GPs of today, had a little more time to nurture their patients. Unfortunately one big issue was that the understanding of the ‘perils of polypharmacy’ were not as clear back then as they are now. As we now know, each well intended prescription provides a different proposition when combined. Back then my knowledge of this was minimal but my intuition told me that the whole picture was a recipe for reduced health potential and it left me with a resolve to try and keep my future patients away from such an outcome.
I’m pleased to say that when I now see my elderly long term patients they are not reliant on multiple prescriptions. Their biological age and psychological age appears much younger than their chronological age. They tend to see me for education and direction and clearly enjoy life-spans that align with their health-spans.
Unfortunately, the story is very different when I am visited by a new elderly patient. Just like my nursing home experiences of yesteryear, they are normally on multiple prescriptions and have been doing so for long periods of time, often without review. In these situations I am driven to find the answers to the following questions.
What are the side effects of the individual drugs?
What are the side effects of the combined drug prescriptions?
Are the reasons for the drug prescriptions still valid?
Is the risk/benefit of the treatment protocol safe and valid?
Are the nutritional deficiencies associated with the prescription being addressed?
The reason that these questions are so important is that knowing their answers is likely to mean better health outcomes and happiness for someone dear to you. To explain the gravity of these questions let me share some information about 3 drugs commonly used by the elderly that are often combined – the ‘statins’ for cholesterol, the ‘proton pump inhibitors’ (PPIs) for reflux and indigestion, and the ‘beta blockers’ for high blood pressure. By just looking at the side effects and nutritional deficiencies created by these drugs, you will see why I have concerns.
Common Side Effects – Muscle weakness and pain, nerve damage in hands and feet, anaemia, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, immune depression, acidosis, memory loss, pancreatic or liver dysfunction, cataracts, Type 2 diabetes, cardiac muscle damage…
Nutrients Decreased – Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Vitamin K, Selenium…
Common Side Effects – Broad nutritional deficiencies, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, increased risk of heart attack, liver/kidney/pancreatic disease, mood disorders, dementia in the elderly, gastric mucosal breakdown, increased food specific allergies…
Nutrients Decreased – ALL amino acids, ALL minerals, most vitamins…
Common Side Effects – Lethargy, fatigue, hair loss, muscle cramps, headaches, disorientation, hallucinations, gastrointestinal issues, depression, Type 2 diabetes, altered lipid profiles (↓HDL, ↑Triglycerides), progressive weight gain, sleep disturbances, low heart rate, cold intolerance…
Nutrients Decreased – Coenzyme Q 10, melatonin…
Please understand that I have not tried to demonize this situation by using the worst drugs. I have just chosen those most commonly prescribed! When you look at the lists, it is not a pretty picture and just to complicate things, the side effects often necessitate the need for more drugs with potentially more side effects! The other reality is that although we know the details of each individual drug, we are only just coming to terms with the enormity of what happens when we combine them. The scientific evidence suggests that the more drugs in the mix, the greater likelihood of new side effects and amplification of current ones. The whole picture is a complicated and toxic lucky dip!
So it brings me to the real purpose of writing this blog. When you first show symptoms of deviation in your health, you need to understand that there are 2 models that you can use to deal with them, the Disease Model and the Health Model. The Disease Model gathers a list of signs and symptoms and creates an appropriate match with a known disease label. Once achieved, you can then apply a treatment protocol that has been found to best fit the general population suffering from this disease label. This model aims to quickly move you toward relief and allows you to move back into your life with a reduction of pain and dysfunction. There is no doubt that the Disease Model is a great Relief Model. Particularly if you have an urgent need to relieve your signs and symptoms.
However, the Disease Model has obvious limitations. Firstly, it is not focused on addressing the cause of your problem. For instance, if you are labelled with high blood pressure, the Disease Model would normally recommend a prescription of one or a number of pharmaceuticals, which you may be expected to take for the rest of your life. The Disease Model assumes that once you achieve such a label, there is nothing you can do to correct it and you need to be supported thereafter! It also assumes that the “one size fits all” strategy is the only option, despite the fact that every human is genetically unique. The Disease Model turns down the volume on your fire alarm without ever putting out the fire. If the Disease Model is all you embrace, you will need stronger medication in the future. Furthermore, it is a one way ticket to the polypharmacy of later life that appears all too common in our geriatric population. At this point you may say that the Disease Model has allowed us to live longer and less distracted from signs and symptoms. However, you’d be wrong!! When we look at those cultures who are the healthiest and longest lived it is a fact that they do not subscribe to the Disease Model. They practice holistic medicine , the foundation of Naturopathy, and have an increased healthspan that is decades longer than their Disease Model counterparts.
It should be said that in fairness to the Disease Model, it was born from a desire to create a public health system that was predictable, measurable and accountable and could be applied quickly and efficiently to large populations. Since its inception over a century ago, the Disease Model has become big business, a trillion dollar juggernaut that wields considerable power. In Australia the Disease Model is the politically preferred process and the one you are obliged to support via your taxes.
In fact, we at Claridge Naturopathics find some value in the Disease Model. In fact, we use this model in the initial stages of treatment whilst we are gathering a true understanding of the cause of your problem. We understand that if we are to focus on your health as a whole we need to relieve a signs and symptoms along the way. The Disease Model is the quietening of an alarm instead of addressing the reason the alarm is going off in the first place. That’s why, sometimes, we help you lower the volume so you can think about the cause!
The Health Model, as preferred by Specialist Naturopaths, comes from a very different place. It sees every sign and symptom as an indication that your body has let you down in some way and/or your lifestyle/environment is/has put you under pressure. In simple terms it is all about you and what you do! It aims to holistically look at these two areas, make a list of the specific areas that need to be renovated and subsequently organise them in order of their priority. It is complex and thorough and while it takes effort, it brings amazing reward. It replaces hopelessness with hope and helplessness with capability. It looks at the uniqueness of an individual and their situation. It respects the innate healing of the body and ultimately educates and empowers the patient.
Once the Health Model influence gains traction there is usually no need for the Disease Model. As signs and symptoms disappear the need for relief is no longer a priority. The only time the Health Model will not work is when you have dead or irreversibly damaged cells, as in Type I diabetes or after organ removal. Thankfully, these instances make up a small part of the disease pie and therefore, the Health Model is powerfully relevant to the majority of health disruptions. It is the Model passionately embraced by all the team at Claridge Naturopathics. It is the foundation of each of our individualised treatment plans. It breaks the cycle of long term medication and centres on health promotion rather than disease palliation.
Understanding these two strategies and utilizing their wisdom will help you to manoeuvre your health in the direction that will best support your future life. It is always important to get relief from your “What” but never give up on understanding and addressing your “Why”.
So if you are currently taking medication to relieve your signs and symptoms, and don’t know why they are there, keep looking for your why. I promise you that no effect exists without a cause. Once you identify the cause you then have the chance of improving your effect. Furthermore, until you can address your cause, please look into the risk/benefits of your relief therapy. Particularly aim to understand the side effects and find out the nutritional deficiencies created by them. Thereafter, counter them or seek help to do so. Otherwise, your presenting complaint will not be your only issue and your new bigger presentation will provide a greater distraction and require greater management.
I know that all I have written might, at times, sound a bit dramatic, however, this has not been my purpose. I guess when you are passionate about something it tends to shine through. Please know that I just wanted to remind you of the power that you have when it comes to your health. You don’t have to be a helpless observer, you can always be an active participant. Furthermore, this blog was not meant to be an anti-orthodox medicine treatise. We need all aspects of healthcare strategy to deal with the complexity of the human condition. Fundamentally my main aim was to help you understand a little more about “game of health” so that you can play it with a winning end result!
P.S. If you would like to learn more about the proven strategies that will empower you toward a long and healthy life, please come along to the last of our Community lectures of 2019 next Wednesday 17th October at BOOM GALLERY, Rutland St Newtown. ‘The Golden Years’ will be my chance to present the latest science and philosophy linked to longevity. Bookings are required so please call 52218220 if you are interested in attending.
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