Monthly Archives: September 2011

Prescription Drug Deaths Outnumber Traffic Accident Deaths

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For anyone that considers prescription drugs safe and harmless, this is sobering news.  For the first time, deaths from prescription drugs now outnumber deaths from traffic accidents.

Deaths from prescription medication has been on the rise for years.  As a matter of fact, deaths in the last decade have doubled from drugs.  This is in contrast to deaths from motor vehicle accidents which have continued to decline as advancements in automobile safety mount.

In 2009 37,485 people died from prescription medication overdoses.  The primary culprits are anxiety medications and pain killers.  To put this astronomical number into perspective 37,485 deaths would be equivalent to a commercial jet carrying just over 100 people crashing everyday!  Can you imagine if the airline industry had this kind of record? Not only would no one fly but the government would shut them down permanently until the problem could be fixed.

The problem is not that these drugs exist, it’s the way we view health care.  We are too ready to accept the quick fix which, in reality, is not a fix at all.  It is simply a pill that covers up the symptoms we don’t want to experience.

I think we must also blame how easily these drugs are available.  It is all too easy to walk into a doctor’s office these days and walk out with a very powerful prescription.  These drugs are often very addictive and when combined with other drugs that are easily available, like alcohol, they become exceptionally dangerous.

Because these drugs are readily available, people tend to view them as safe.  They feel they can take high doses and not be at risk of any serious adverse event. Traditional medicine has done a very poor job informing the public of these dangers.  And the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want people to know the dangers either.  That might reduce their bottom line!

What if we changed our health care paradigm?  What if instead of getting a pill for every ache, pain or uncomfortable feeling we changed the way we lived, ate well and exercised and sought more conservative but effective methods to our health issues?  Wouldn’t we be significantly less dependent on these drugs?  Of course we would!

I am not naive enough to think that this would eliminate the entire problem.  There will always be people who choose the abuse these drugs despite our best efforts.  But what about the people who die from these drugs who were taking them as prescribed?  Or the people who became addicted to the drugs even though they were taking them as prescribed originally?  Had those people sought alternatives to their conditions earlier, their fate may have been much different.

The answers to our health problems do not lie with the pharmaceutical industry.  Currently, drugs are our primary source of “health care.” Unfortunately, there is nothing healthy about it.  Drugs can serve a purpose.  They can help when used appropriately.  We find ourselves in trouble when we rely on them for everythingas we do now.

Our goal should be to take less drugs, not more.  The pharmaceutical industry is constantly investigating new ways to get us to take more and more drugs. As evidence, Pfizer would like nothing more than for Lipitor to be available over-the-counter. It would significantly increase sales.  Is it a coincidence that their patent is running out and it will now be available in generic form from it’s competitors? I think not. This is not health care.

The most effective way to stay healthy is to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.  Should a health issue arise, seek conservative care first.  Try things like chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, talk therapy or a change in your lifestyle before you resort to a prescription.  It might just save your life.

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What’s that sound?

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Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is an exceptionally common problem.  As many as 2 million Americans experience this on a daily basis.  It can range from very minor to annoying to debilitating.

Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss.  Prolonged exposure to loud noises is the most common cause of hearing loss.  It is this loss of hearing that is actually causing the tinnitus.  Say what? Hearing loss actually causes people to hear sounds that don’t really exist? Yes!

People often describe tinnitus as ringing in the ears.  However, the list of sounds that are considered tinnitus is very long.  Other sounds that people might perceive include ticking, clicking, whooshing and buzzing to name a few.

Recent research, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest several new approaches to treatment, including retraining the brain, and new avenues for developing drugs to suppress the ringing.

As a chiropractic neurologist the above statement about retraining the brain got my attention.  This is something that is near and dear to the heart of all chiropractic neurologists.  We use techniques that retrain the brain every day.  We use these techniques to help people with a wide variety of conditions ranging from anxiety to muscular imbalances and pain.

Traditionally, patients with tinnitus are told the problem stems from damaged hair cells inside of the ear.  They are told it is these hair cells that are sending the wrong signals into the brain which interprets them as noise. Turns out, this is not true.

Because each hair cell is tuned to a different frequency, damaged or lost cells leave a gap in hearing, typically a specific frequency and anything higher in pitch.  It is this gap which causes problems for the brain.

Chiropractic neurologists have been saying for a very long time that ringing in the ears is actually brain based.  This new research supports this assertion. Below is information from coauthor of the recent study Shaowen Bao, adjunct assistant professor in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley

Experiments in the past few years have shown that the ringing doesn’t originate in the inner ear, though, but rather in regions of the brain — including the auditory cortex — that receives input from the ear.

Bao’s experiments in rats with induced hearing loss explain why the neurons in the auditory cortex generate these phantom perceptions. They showed that neurons that have lost sensory input from the ear become more excitable and fire spontaneously, primarily because these nerves have “homeostatic” mechanisms to keep their overall firing rate constant no matter what.

“With the loss of hearing, you have phantom sounds,” said Bao, who himself has tinnitus. In this respect, tinnitus resembles phantom limb pain experienced by many amputees. (From sciencedaily.com)

The neurons that have lost sensory input in the brain are the neurons that are responsible for the perceived noise that people hear.  These neurons have undergone a process called transneural degeneration.  To stabilize these neurons they need more input.  But because they cannot receive it from the hair cells in the ear that are damaged, other areas of the auditory cortex must take over.  This retraining of the brain takes time, but if performed diligently, the results can be phenomenal.

We know this is a possibility because the brain is plastic.  That is, it changes in response to the stress and environmental input it receives. When a finger is amputated, for example, the region of the brain receiving input from that finger may start handling input from neighboring fingers.

Drug therapy is aimed at increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.  GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  In order to slow down the firing rate of these over excited cells, we must increase the levels of this inhibitory neurotransmitter.  The good news is there are lots of natural therapies that work to raise GABA levels or drive GABA receptors in the brain.

One way is to use the amino acid taurine.  I use it frequently.  Another is a product called phenibut (Phen-i-bute).  It is a natural GABA derivative that crosses the blood brain barrier and binds to GABA receptors.  I also use this frequently in my practice. These supplements, however, I believe are temporary solutions.  The permanent solution is to retrain the brain.

Tinnitus is a complicated and elusive condition, but we appear to be headed in the right direction in terms of research.  Always remember, the brain holds the key!

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NSAIDs raise miscarriage risk

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A recently published study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has concluded that women who take NSAIDs in the first trimester of pregnancy are more than twice as likely to have a miscarriage than women who do not.

NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are a very popular class of pain killers that many people use every day.  They are also used to reduce fever.  The new study investigated use of non-aspirin NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and other drugs.

It is estimated that about 17% of women use non-aspirin NSAIDs during pregnancy despite the already existing knowledge they can cause malformations.

The problem with this is NSAIDs are seen by many patients as basically harmless medications because their use is so incredibly common.  NSAIDs are also available over-the-counter and do not require a prescription to buy.  There is nothing stopping a pregnant woman from going to her local CVS and buying a bottle of Motrin to alleviate that pesky headache or continuing to medicate her chronic back pain.

The Canadian study compared the medical records of 4,705 women who had a miscarriage during the first 20 weeks of gestation with records of 47,050 women who became pregnant and delivered a child. The women in the study were aged 15 to 45 when they became pregnant.

Among women who had miscarriages, 352 had taken NSAIDs, compared with 1,213 of the women who did not experience pregnancy loss.

When calculating the risk associated with NSAID use, the researchers accounted for other factors that might increase the likelihood of miscarriage, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and anxiety.

Taking into account all of that information, the risk for miscarriage was 35% for women taking NSAIDs as compared to the usual rate of 15%.  That jump is quite significant.  Imagine if the average miscarriage rate was actually 35% and not 15%.  That would mean more than one out of every three women who became pregnant would have miscarriages.  That would truly be a worrisome number.

To me, this signifies that we need to stress to pregnant women that they should seek more conservative ways to manage their pain.  Head aches, neck pain, back pain, cramping and many other forms of pain are things that chiropractors deal with on a daily basis with success.  There is very little side effect, if any, to manipulation.  And there certainly isn’t an increased risk of miscarriage!

In traditional medical care NSAIDs are thought of as conservative care.  I doubt there are many responsible medical physicians who would recommend a pregnant woman take an NSAID because of the risk already associated with them, but the problem is they don’t have to.  These drugs are so readily available and people have been taught this is an acceptable form of conservative care.  They are not.  Additionally, they provide only temporary relief. Chiropractic care actually addresses the issues at hand and is corrective.  This is something an NSAID can never claim to be.

Most people, pregnant or not, deal with some form of pain from time to time.  Still others deal with it frequently. Unfortunately, most of those people reach for the bottle of pills to relieve the pain but not actually correct the problem that’s causing it.  Next time that happens, consider trying chiropractic as an option.  Not only will it relieve your pain, it will fix the problem too!

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