Ever since early man discovered natural herbs and resins that seemed to ease his common maladies, we humans have been hooked on drugs. In the modern world, these heavily marketed agents are used to counteract the effects of our sedentary lifestyle or to rescue us from poor choices when it comes to our diet and recreational activities.
Of course, some pharmaceutical products have had a major impact on the health and longevity of the human species: vaccines, antibiotics and chemotherapeutic agents for some cancers (especially childhood leukemias) come immediately to mind. But many of our prescription drugs would not be necessary if we engaged in a healthy lifestyle and they often impose new health problems related to their side effects. Statins, the classic miracle drugs of the past decade or so, have been touted as the ultimate answer to preventing cardiovascular disease and are heavily advertised on American television; yet, within the past few months, evidence has surfaced that associates higher doses of some statins with an increased risk of developing diabetes. And just this week, studies were released that question the long term use of bisphosphonates, drugs used to combat osteoporosis; also heavily marketed on TV, these agents prevent reabsorption of bone, a natural process in the regular remodeling of our skeleton. The new studies reveal that, despite their remarkable effects in the first few years, these agents may be associated with long term effects that could actually increase the risk of future fractures.
These ongoing revelations regarding the long term effects of unnatural chemical agents are hardly a surprise to those of us in the medical profession. We regularly encounter patients who are taking twenty or more drugs, prescribed to combat maladies that are often secondary to inactivity, obesity, tobacco use or the excessive consumption of alcohol. The prevention of disease, including cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, is best addressed through regular exercise, a healthy, balanced diet and the choice to forgo smoking and other self-inflicted risks. While the use of some medications may become necessary, there is no such thing as a miracle drug.