Monthly Archives: September 2010

6 Things For Your Journey To COMPLETE Health

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Being healthy is a journey.  You never arrive at ‘completely healthy.’  There are always going to be things that can be improved and worked on.  This requires a whole body approach.  This approach includes being physically active, watching your diet and supplementing it with the necessary nutrients.  I discuss that side of being healthy a lot.  Today I want to talk about the other thing you must do to be healthy – nourish the soul.  There are many things that can be done to nourish the soul, but today I’ll list a few to get you started.

Laugh

Laughter truly is the best medicine.  Laughing is an activity that everyone likes to do, but not everyone takes the time to do it.  Laughing reduces stress, improves mood and reduces circulating stress hormones that can potentially have negative effects on our health.  Take the time everyday to laugh.  It might be watching your favorite TV show or reading your favorite cartoon in the newspaper.  Whatever it is, take time to do it every single day.

Go on a Hike

This is a great way to get outside and enjoy the beautiful fall weather.  Up here in the Northeast, the foliage is out and looking spectacular.  Something about being outside on the top of a mountain is a great stress reliever and allows us to connect with nature.  It’s also great exercise!

Go Pumpkin Picking

This is a great activity, especially if you have small children.  And it’s a great time of year for it.  The pumpkins are out and need to be picked!  It’s a great way to enjoy some quality time with your family away from the house (and the TV!).

Go Apple Picking

Similarly to the above, apple picking is a wonderful outdoor activity that gets us out of the house.  Apples are ripe this time of year and most apple orchards will let you go picking for a small fee.  The best part is you get to keep the apples and eat them later.  It’s great for the soul and an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Treat Yourself

Take yourself out for dinner (a healthy one of course!).  Buy yourself that new gadget you’ve held off on purchasing or get your nails done.  There are a million things you could do for yourself and sometimes those things just feel good.  Often times we put ourselves last and it’s helpful to move you up to the front of the line from time to time.

Meditate

Meditating, doing yoga or your variation of a spiritual pastime is a great way to reduce stress and slow down to enjoy the moment.  It allows you to just be…and nothing else.  It also allows the busy Mom or Dad to take time for themselves.  It doesn’t have to be long – just 10 minutes is sometimes enough to re-center your focus and get you through the day.

There are many more things that you can do, but the list above should help you get started.  Remember to be truly healthy you must have a healthy mind, body and spirit.

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Reducing Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Naturally

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As of next year the first of the baby boomers will reach 65 years old and by 2029 all of them will be at least 65.  This is significant because as we age certain diseases become more and more prominent.  One of them is Alzheimer’s disease.  This disease robs people of the faculties much too soon and causes heartache and financial hardship for families across the US.

Just How Big Is The Problem?

About 24 million people worldwide are known to be affected with dementia. This number is expected to balloon to 84 million by the year 2040.  These numbers include all forms of dementia, but up to 80% of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  In the US alone 5.3 million American’s have Alzheimer’s Disease and 96% of them are over the age of 65.  In just five years the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s will jump to 7.7 million and by 2050 the number is projected to more than double to 16 million.  The numbers truly are staggering.  As a matter of fact, AD has recently passed diabetes, yes diabetes, as the 6th most common cause of death in the US.  As our population continues to grow older because people are living longer, the problem is likely to get worse.  Current statistics show that just over 50% of people who are over 85 will go on to develop AD.

AD is also a very expensive problem for the United States.  In 2005, total Medicare spending was $91 billion and the total US cost was $172 billion for AD.  AD patients make up roughly 13% of Medicare enrollees but account for more than 1/3 of its spending.  The problem will only grow as our population ages.

So What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?

The best way to treat AD is to prevent it in the first place.  There is very good research behind several nutritional supplements that can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia as you age.

Vitamin E

Here’s what one study found on vitamin E:

“Among MCI-AD patients, the longitudinal decrease in cellular vitamin E was associated with the deterioration in cognitive performance. These results suggest that accumulation of oxidative damage may start in pre-symptomatic phases of AD pathology and that progression to AD might be related to depletion of antioxidant defenses.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 Aug 6.

So what does that mean.  Basically what this study found was that among patients who has mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or AD, people with the lowest levels of vitamin E had poorest performance on mental testing.  Oxidative damage is the process by which our brain tissue is broken down in AD.  Vitamin E helps fight this process.

Another study concluded:

“In conclusion, high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of AD in advanced age. The neuroprotective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of different forms, rather than to alpha-tocopherol alone.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.

This is saying that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood were associated with a significant reduction in AD with advanced age.  It also says that when taking vitamin E you should be taking a combination of forms, not a singular type.  When you look at the back of your vitamin E supplement be sure that it says ‘mixed tocopherols.”  That will provide you with the most benefit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the supplement of the hour right now.  It is being studied by everyone and just about everyone has found that it is critically important for overall health.  New research also shows it helps prevent AD.

“Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with all-cause dementia, Alzheimer disease, stroke (with and without dementia symptoms), and MRI indicators of cerebrovascular disease. These findings suggest a potential vasculoprotective role of vitamin D.”

-Neurology. 2010 Jan 5;74(1):18-26. Epub 2009 Nov 25

This study is telling us that vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with higher risk for dementia and AD.  What this means is that even having levels that are slightly decreased (insufficiency) are associated with higher risk.  Keeping vitamin D levels up not only is important for bone health, cancer reduction and fall prevention but also reduces your risk of AD.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Another study on vitamin D found that:

“Clinical data suggest that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with an increased risk of several CNS diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia.  Overall, imbalances in the calcipherol system appear to cause abnormal function, including premature aging, of the CNS.”

– Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Dec;34 Suppl 1:S278-86

This study is particularly interesting in that it shows that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of several CNS or central nervous system diseases including AD.  It also concluded that imbalances in the calcipherol, or vitamin D, system causes premature aging of the brain and central nervous system.  Why is this problematic?  Remember, the number one risk factor for AD is aging.  If we can slow this process, particularly in the brain, we can slow the onset of AD.  Vitamin D can do this for you.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

“A plethora of in vitro, animal model, and human data, gathered over the past decade, highlight the important role DHA may play in the development of a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including AD. Cross sectional and prospective cohort data have demonstrated that reduced dietary intake or low brain levels of DHA are associated with accelerated cognitive decline or the development of incipient dementia, including AD.”

-Clin Interv Aging. 2010 Apr 7;5:45-61.

DHA is a particular form of omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil.  This study concluded that low intake of this particular fatty acid or low brain levels of it are associated with cognitive decline and accelerated development of AD.  This is of particular interest because of all of the wonderful other benefits that omega-3’s give us.  You can prevent or reduce the risk of many other diseases simply by supplementing with fish oil.

There was this study as well:

“Plasma DHA was associated with slower decline on BVRT (Benton Visual Retention Test) performances in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers only. EPA and DHA may contribute to delaying decline in visual working memory in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers.”

-Neurobiol Aging. 2010 Jun 4.

This study was done on people who have the gene that is linked to an increased risk of AD.  What it concluded was very exciting.  Basically it found that the higher the omega-3 DHA was in the plasma the slower the decline in memory in people that were genetically predisposed to getting AD.  That’s wonderful news!  Many people think that their genetics are their destiny, but this study showed otherwise.

In Summary

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of research that is available on how to combat and reduce your risk of developing AD.  What we did not touch on in this article is that keeping your heart healthy and controlling your blood sugar is of utmost importance.  Do those things and take the supplements listed above and you can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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FrankenSalmon – Genetically modified for whom?

It’s a good question.  Who benefits from genetically modified salmon?  Well for one, the company producing it does.

This fish in the back is genetically modified. The one in the front is a non-genetically engineered salmon of the same kind.

Financially, this would reduce the cost of farmed salmon.  And two, I suppose it would reduce the cost of farmed salmon in the supermarket.  That, however, is not a viable reason to genetically modify salmon because I never recommend people buy farmed salmon in the first place.

There has been a debate recently about the safety and use of genetically farmed salmon.  These salmon have been genetically modified to grow bigger and faster yet require 10% less food.  It’s called the AquAdvantage salmon.  It has genes inserted in it from its close cousin the Chinook salmon and from something called the pout fish.  The combination of this genetically engineered animal allows it to grow faster, larger and year round instead of just the warmer months.

This debate has made its way to the FDA who has yet to make a decision on whether to allow its sale.  So far all they have concluded is that “it is safe for human consumption.” I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in that because they also deem things like aspartame, artificial food dyes and high fructose corn syrup “safe for human consumption.”

There are several problems I see with genetically engineered salmon:

1. Environmental Impact

This is a biggie.  These salmon are not natural but they are farmed in natural environments.  They are farmed in the open ocean in huge nets that allow them to swim freely, more or less.  What happens when one escapes?  Millions of fish that are farmed in this manner escape every year.  They are sure to escape and because they are bigger and faster they will out compete the truly wild fish for everything from mates to food.  Then we will have genetically modified fish and non-genetically modified fish mixed together.  Why is this a problem?  Because the native salmon populations are already in danger and anything that could possibly eliminate them is a serious threat.  This qualifies.  It’s also problematic because our salmon population will no longer be pure.  No one can predict how nature will react and this is walking a dangerous line.

2. Is it safe to eat?

At this point, this is a question that remains unanswered.  I can say this though – an animal is born with a natural genetic code.  It has evolved over millions of years to operate best with that genetic code.  Changing that genetic code is potentially dangerous and could possibly have unknown consequences.  Genetic codes do change, that we know.  However, they do not change overnight as is the case with this new salmon.  They change over thousands of years and generation after generation is allowed to adapt.  We cannot possibly know what kind of impact allowing a fish to grow twice as fast will have on the quality of the meat or how it will affect it on a molecular level.  What if this rapid growth causes the production of an unwanted chemical within the muscle of these new fish?  What if that chemical, unknown to us, is dangerous the human health?  The possibility is there and it is dangerous.

3. Will you know you are eating this FrankenSalmon?

Should it be allowed for sale in the US, you will not be able to tell what kind of salmon you are eating.  Because the FDA says the genetically engineered salmon is not substantially different from regular salmon, AquaBounty wouldn’t be required to label it as genetically engineered.  This leaves us with basically no choice.  You could of course only consume wild salmon and you would be safe.  I always recommend this, but I am also a realist and know that it’s not always possible to get wild salmon everywhere you go.  This salmon will be farmed in Panama and currently it would be the only salmon farmed in Panama so under current labeling laws it would have to state that.  This may be another way to tell if it is genetically modified.  Unless something is done to make sure that genetically modified salmon are labeled as so, I fear people will be consuming them without knowing it and without a real choice in the matter.

These fish are actually siblings. The one in the front is not genetically modified, but the one in the back is.

Genetically engineering food is a slippery slope.  It opens up the proverbial can of worms.  Putting these fish into our food supply is a dangerous act and could lead to problems down the road in the environment and in human health.  At this point we simply do not know enough to safely put this into our diets.  Much more research and time needs to be dedicated to finding out whether this is safe for long term human consumption.

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Confessions of a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

The above video was brought to our attention from a patient of ours who happens to be a medical doctor.  The woman in the video is a former pharmaceutical sales person and speaks about the amazing ways in which Big Pharma tricks doctors into believing what they are prescribing has no downside.

Big business is big business no matter what the company is selling.  Just because the pharmaceutical industry makes drugs that are supposedly good for us (their words, not mine) does not mean they aren’t in it to make as much money as they can possibly make.  The problem is that these drugs are dangerous and Big Pharma tries at every turn to mislead the public and medical professionals to minimize the potential dangers of drugs.  Did you know that 106,000 people per year die from the negative effects of properly prescribed drugs? That number is almost as high as the number of people who die from stroke each year.

I recently read an article about the cholesterol lowering class of drugs called statin medications.  It was a sort of tongue and check article that touched on this subject.  It was written by a chiropractor who works in a hospital.  He has frequent interaction with medical doctors because of this and is privy to the conversations that most people don’t get to hear.  In his article he said that he’s overheard some physicians saying that everyone should be on statin medications because of their “health benefits” and almost nonexistent side effect profile.  He went as far to propose, sarcastically of course, that we should just start putting statins in our water as a measure of public health.  After all we already put fluoride in the water.  Why not add a little statin in there too!?  The problem is that statins have little health benefit and have a very large side effect profile.

Big Pharma is trying to spin these types of ideas day and night.  Anything to increase profits and crush the competition.  At some level, people who work for these corporate giants want to help people and cure diseases.  The problem is that the people in charge care about one thing – money and power.  Power begets money and money begets power.  Once those two things are in the fold, you can forget about honesty in terms of research, marketing and maybe worst of all, political policy.  While they don’t directly control legislation, their 2500+ lobbyists do a great job making sure their interests are well taken care of.

There needs to be a change in the way Big Pharma is regulated.  If we do not, health care prices will continue to increase and America will continue to be one of the unhealthiest nations in the world.

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4 Substances That Slow The Aging Process

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Anti-aging is a large field in medicine.  Most of the diseases that human beings suffer from significantly increase as we age.  The theory is that if we can slow down the aging process we can live longer, more disease free lives.

Individual cells can live forever in the laboratory.  It’s been done.  This is a fascinating fact .  However, human beings are multicellular organisms and each cell does not live in isolation.  Further, cells that live forever in the laboratory live in ideal conditions.  They are not exposed to chemicals, hormones or undergo the same physical stresses that we do on a day to day basis.  But, the fact remains – a biological system, given the best possible scenario, can live forever.  So what if there were things we could do to slow the aging process?  We may not be able to live forever, but could we significantly increase our life spans?  The answer is yes.  There are several known substances that have a positive effect on the aging process that are available to everyone in supplement form.

Aging

Aging is a genetic process and a free radical induced process.  First, our genes are important.  It is helpful if Mom and Dad lived to be 100, but it is not essential.  Our DNA is stored in each cell in the nucleus.  Within this nucleus are the chromosomes that contain all of the DNA we were born with.  We get 23 chromosomes from each of our parents for a total of 46.  Every single cell in the body has an identical copy of these genes.  Each chromosome is shaped roughly like an X.  The ends of these chromosomes are called telomeres.  These telomeres are interesting in that they shrink as we age.  There are known substances that slow the shortening of these telomeres and therefore slow the aging process.

Free radical damage is also another way that people age.  Free radicals are potent molecules that bounce around in our bodies and break down our cells.  The theory is that the human body can only repair so much and this damage begins to accumulate over time causing us to age.  Now, it would make sense if we just avoided these free radicals wouldn’t it?  It would if we could.  Some of the most potent free radicals are nitrogen and oxygen which happen to make up 78% and 21% of the air we breath respectively.  Our diets are designed to help us fight this battle because we can consume antioxidants.  This class of nutrients fights free radical damage but it cannot win the war.  There are, however, compounds that are known to be powerful free radical scavengers and should be consumed on a more regular basis to slow the aging process.

Supplements That Slow Aging

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a magnificent substance.  It is found in many things, but mainly in the skins of grapes.  It is also why red wine (in moderation) seems to have such great health benefits.  Resveratrol activates something called sirtuins.  Sirtuins are genes (known as SIRT1 though SIRT8) that function to repair breaks in our DNA strands that occur as we age.  These sirtuins also play a key role in maintaining the length of the telomeres discussed earlier.  Sirtuins also act to regulate inflammation in the body by inhibiting something called NF-KappaB.  This is a potent inflammatory enzyme that is responsible for many disease processes in human beings.  Resveratrol also decreases the production of adhesion molecules that attract inflammatory cells to our vessel walls and therefore inhibits atherosclerosis.  These adhesion molecules also promote the spread of cancer.  Taking resveratrol is easy but be sure when you buy a supplement it is of high quality and contains trans-resveratrol.  All other forms are useless to take.

Pterostilbene

This substance is very similar to resveratrol but it is found in blueberries.  It works with resveratrol in multiple complimentary mechanisms to limit NF-KappaB.  This is not available in supplement form, but you can certainly get it from eating as many blueberries as you’d like!

Quercetin

This magnificent substance protects against such diseases as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.  It has also been shown to help modulate blood sugar levels in diabetics and non-diabetics.  Blood sugar control is extremely important for longevity.  Quercetin acts by also inhibiting NF-KappaB.  This is also available in supplement form and is sometimes paired into one supplement with resveratrol.

Grape Seed Extract

This helps to regulate pro-inflammatory cytokine activity in fat cells.  It helps combat obesity and type II diabetes.  It also triggers genes for glucose uptake.  This assists cells in the absorption and removal of glucose from circulation.  This substance is very readily available in supplement form.

The research into longevity is quite interesting and there are many substances that can slow the aging process, not just the ones above.  Of course, you must also watch your diet and exercise to get all of the wonderful benefits that the above provide.  If you do those things and take these life lengthening substances you will live and longer and happier life.

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Federal Subsidies for Soda?

I recently read a great editorial blog from the Huffington Post.  It made the great argument that soda in this country is being subsidized by the government.  It’s not being subsidized in the traditional way that, say, corn is, but that’s semantics.  The way it is being subsidized is by allowing people to use the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formally known as food stamps) to buy sugary soda with their money provided by tax payers.  The government doesn’t allow SNAP to be used to buy alcohol or tobacco so why would it let people buy a product that is just as bad for your health as those two are?  Below is the entire blog.  It’s written by Michael F. Jacobson Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Let me know what you think.

Blog Entry

Forty-three million Americans depend on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, to help provide the foods they need for good health. SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is a critically important part of the government’s safety net and has become even more vital to low-income families since the economic downturn.

The program distributes benefits via an Electronic Benefits Card that can be swiped at participating supermarkets and, increasingly, farmer’s markets. But the benefits cannot be used to purchase tobacco, alcoholic beverages, supplement pills, hot prepared foods, and non-food items. For those products, SNAP recipients must use their own money.

Unfortunately, huge amounts of SNAP dollars are used to purchase carbonated soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Already among the least expensive foods in the supermarket, these drinks are nutritionally worthless and promote obesity, diabetes and other diseases that have a disproportionate impact on low-income Americans.

One supermarket executive shared with me confidentially that carbonated soft drinks accounted for 6.2 percent of the grocery bills of SNAP recipients. Considering that recipients will spend $65 billion of SNAP benefits on groceries in 2010, that works out to around $4 billion taxpayer dollars that go toward the purchase of soda pop. And that sum doesn’t include non-carbonated soft drinks, which are just as nutritionally poor, such as Gatorade, fruit-flavored drinks with little or no juice, and so on.

Though excluding sugar-sweetened beverages from SNAP would be controversial, setting nutrition standards for government food programs is hardly new. The school lunch and breakfast programs administered by USDA comply with strict nutrition standards that exclude soda and junk food, as does the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which is limited to foods that have specific health benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children.

The federal government should be doing everything it can to reduce soda consumption, not encouraging it. In fact, the government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee bluntly stated, “avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.” There would be stiff opposition to eliminating soda from SNAP from several quarters, and the soft drink industry would certainly pull out all the stops. That’s what happened when the idea of a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda was floated in Congress and in the New York State legislature. And Coca-Cola in particular has a long track record of using its “philanthropy” as a way of buying new friends and silencing critics.

A less controversial way to use the SNAP program to promote healthier diets would be to provide recipients with a financial incentive to purchase fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One easy way would be to provide a credit of say, 30 extra cents, for every dollar spent on healthy foods.

The SNAP program also funds a good chunk of the nutrition education that goes on in the United States, in the form of nearly $400 million in matching grants for state and local governments. But incredibly, during the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that SNAP education funds could NOT be spent to mount community-wide campaigns to discourage the consumption of specific foods, such as soda, and the Obama administration has retained that policy. As a result, health officials in the city of California, Maine, Wyoming, and San Francisco have been effectively gagged when they’ve tried to run campaigns about the health effects of soft drink consumption. We’ve called on the administration to reverse this gag rule, and let SNAP-Ed funds be spent in this most-cost-effective way. (New York City has been running an ad campaign that should be emulated all over the country.)

I suspect that most people would agree that it makes sense not to allow federal nutrition assistance funds to purchase Budweiser and Marlboros, and reasonable people could disagree on where exactly to draw the line. But Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and other soft drinks make no positive contribution to the diet, promote expensive and debilitating diseases, and make our already stark health disparities worse. I would draw the line at soda. This is a product–and an industry–that needs to be taxed, not subsidized.

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Pills, pills, pills…

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Welcome back!  We’ve been away for a while from the blog with the Labor Day holiday but we’re back with startling new information about the amount of prescription drugs Americans take.

In my opinion, prescription medicines are the most overly used consumer product available in this country.  Many times they are used for conditions that are incredibly responsive to dietary changes, exercise and supplement programs.  Examples of these conditions includes type II diabetes, high cholesterol, depression and asthma.  These also happen to be some of the biggest money makers for the drug companies.

New research points out just how drugged we are as a society.  Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44% to 48%, says a federal government study.  That’s right.  Almost half of the people in the United States reported taking at least one prescription drug in the last month.  Half! That means that almost 150 million people used a pharmaceutical product to deal with a health condition.

Use of two or more drugs increased from 25% to 31%, and the use of five or more drugs increased from 6% to 11%, according to the analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The numbers for people over 60 are even more frightening.  The study found that 90% of adults 60 years old or older used at least one prescription drug in the last month. More than 76% used two or more prescription drugs and 37% used five or more.

One in five children used at least one prescription drug in the last month as well.

These numbers are astounding. Big Pharma would have you believe they are helping people be healthy by having them take their drugs.  The truth is, however, someone is not truly healthy unless they aren’t taking any drugs.  These drugs are toxic and have serious side effects.  While some drugs are necessary and allow people to live longer lives, the vast majority are over prescribed and unnecessary.

Not surprisingly, spending for prescription medications has sky rocketed.  Since 1999, spending has more than doubled.    In 2008, spending in the US for medications topped $234.1 billion.  Access to health insurance increased the risk (yes, risk) of taking a prescription medication.  While I think it’s noble to try and get everyone fair access to health insurance, it is not going to make us healthier.  It will only guarantee that more people take more medication.

These numbers are disturbing but the trend is going to continue as long as people continue to insist that drugs are the only way to treat disease and people continue to disregard their responsibility for their health.

The research is clear.  One of the largest problems with our health care system is the cost.  The research is also clear that one of the largest contributors to that cost is the dangerous side effects and interactions from drugs that were taken as prescribed.  If half of all Americans are taking prescription medication from one month to the next and medications that are taken properly significantly increase health costs in this country, shouldn’t we be trying to get Americans off prescription medication?

In order to make health care more affordable we need to get people to be healthier.  That includes getting them to exercise, watch their diet and take supplements that have shown to be effective with very low (if any) side effect.  It does not include getting more people on more drugs.  To me this is not a hard concept.  The research reflects what I am saying.  It just needs to be implemented.

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