Protect yourself from dangerous drug interactions with help from your pharmacist
You already know how dangerous most prescription drugs are for your health. But there’s a disturbing medical trend called polypharmacy that’s even more deadly.
Technically, polypharmacy is described as taking five or more prescription medications at the same time. And sadly, this isn’t unusual—especially for older people. Each drug interacts with the others, multiplying their side effects.
Mainstream doctors may say this isn’t a big deal since they understand the interactions of one drug with another drug. But as people take more and more drugs, the potential for complications skyrockets.
Not to mention, in this era of “specialized” medicine, many patients see numerous doctors, who may prescribe medications without checking to see what else the person is already taking.
Lack of communication between all of these sub-specialists, combined with rushed office visits where patients don’t have time to fill doctors in on their complete medical history, multiplies the risk of adverse drug interactions exponentially. More on this in just a moment.
But first, have a closer look at just how dangerous it is to take numerous medications.
Chances of dangerous side effects increase dramatically with each extra drug
Let’s say you take three drugs daily, which most mainstream doctors think is just fine. In fact, as I discuss on page 1, the “delusional duo of heart disease,” the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, based their new blood pressure guidelines on a study in which patients were taking an average of three or more drugs just to lower their blood pressures.
The study actually found that the drugs caused more complications than the condition they were trying to treat (which is probably one reason why it was cut short)!
That’s hardly surprising when you do the math. With three drugs, the number of possible individual drug interactions can be estimated by the mathematical expression 3-factorial (3 x 2 x 1), or 6. That means you could suffer from six possible different drug interactions.
That’s bad enough, but a new study conducted by a trio of pharmacists reveals that 11% of Americans take five or more drugs a month.1 And it’s even worse the older you get.
Polypharmacy dangers increase as you get older
The researchers reported that a whopping 30% of people age 65 and older take eight or more prescription medications daily.
So let’s do the math on that, using the 8-factorial equation. The number of interactions jumps dramatically. 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 equals a mind-boggling 40,320 possible drug interactions for someone who takes eight drugs a day.
That’s not even taking into account potential drug interactions with dietary supplements. Sadly, the effects of widely used drugs on vitamin and mineral nutrients is a story rarely told. Mainly, because if there is a drug-dietary supplement interaction, doctors blame the supplement—not the drug.
Record numbers are hospitalized from drug reactions each year
Pharmacists, who are on the front lines, recognize that polypharmacy has become a “staggering” problem in the U.S., as cited by the researchers in the study mentioned above. Indeed, this over-prescription trend is resulting in increased deaths and hospitalizations—especially among older people.
In fact, the pharmacists noted that prescription drug problems are linked to an estimated 119,000 deaths every year. And more than 175,000 Americans over the age of 65 need to visit the hospital each year due to an adverse reaction from a commonly prescribed drug.
Why? Mainly because taking too many drugs causes disorientation and cognitive deficits, leading to increased falls—a major cause of disability and death in older Americans.
Why the “one drug fits all” approach is so perilous
So how did we get to this sad state of affairs?
Well, in our overspecialized, disintegrating healthcare system, many older patients visit several different specialists. Each of these specialists peers down his or her treatment silo, often without due regard to the patient’s other medical problems or prescriptions.
After all, they reason, if one prescription drug causes side effects, they or another doctor can then prescribe a drug to address any complications caused by the first drug.
Of course, the “electronic medical record” pushed by the government (and now required of doctors) theoretically provides a record of all medications to all healthcare providers for coordination and monitoring. But what it’s really done is create information overload and a lot of “white noise” in the system, according to the pharmacists.
Another problem is the “one drug for one disease” approach of modern medicine, which the mainstream touts as providing superior science and technology.
But the great irony is that this supposedly minimalist approach to healthcare has actually led to a lengthening list of drugs, interactions, and complications for many patients.
That’s because while the drugs for diseases are treated individually, the patients are not. In other words, the “one size fits all” approach standardizes dosages of drugs for a single disease—rather than for the person who actually has the disease (and perhaps other health ailments).
Why dietary supplements flummox the mainstream
Meanwhile, natural approaches using nutrients and botanicals are derided by mainstream medicine for not fitting into this “one drug for one disease” category.
Why? Because each vitamin, mineral, or herbal remedy has many beneficial effects, both for preventing and for reversing virtually every chronic ailment.
You’d think that would be a good thing. But not if you’re big pharma…
With drugs, some are now designed to prevent disease. Others are designed to treat disease. And still others are designed to simply manage various health conditions (if they even work at all).
But in natural medicine, a single nutrient or herb can have multiple benefits for disease treatment, prevention, and management—not to mention quality of life and other health metrics.
The mainstream says that’s “not specific” enough. But why should these wide-ranging benefits be seen as a problem—unless you’re a mainstream doctor who doesn’t understand how nutrients and botanicals actually work in the human body?
The simple step you can take to avoid polypharmacy
If you consult a pharmacist in Europe, he or she will review all of your treatment options—including natural approaches, as well as drugs. That’s because European pharmacists are aware of the costs and complications of drugs, as well as the alternatives.
Fortunately, this trend is becoming more common in the U.S. as well. More and more pharmacists are educating themselves about multiple disease prevention and treatment options, and are willing to discuss them with patients.
That’s why I recommend getting to know your local pharmacist. You’ll quickly learn which ones can discuss dietary supplements intelligently.
Once you’ve found a pharmacist you like, ask them which hours are less busy for them. Then, stop in to discuss any drugs you may be taking and ask how they interact with each other—as well as with the dietary supplements you take.
Pharmacists are aware of the growing problem of polypharmacy, and are actually there to help. Don’t be afraid to seek their advice when it comes to your medications. It could very well save your life.
1“Addressing the Polypharmacy Conundrum.” US Pharm. 2017;42(6):HS-14-HS-20.