What Side Effects Really Mean
- Article | Patient Education May 10, 2018
According to WebMD, the most common side effects of a multi-billion dollar, cholesterol lowering, statin medication are joint pain, diarrhea, indigestion, “pain,” throat irritability, and urinary tract infections. The list of “infrequent” and “rare” side effects seems to drone on to the bottom of the page’s infinity, ranging in everything from hives to Hepatitis, depression and tinnitus. Most doctors and pharma companies offer no explanation for the great disparity in symptomatic expressions, but Chinese Medicine might.
Every one of us has a different physiological constitution, something both Eastern and Western Medicine agrees upon, though only the former delves into much detail on it. To introduce it broadly, approximately half of us are more “yang” in nature – thin-bodied, hyperactive, with a warmer internal climate; while the other half are more “yin” – bigger frames, lethargic with a cooler internal climate. I’d venture a guess that the patients who might experience diarrhea as a side effect are not the same ones experiencing throat irritability, as from a holistic perspective such “side effects” tend to show up in opposite types.
First of all, what is a side effect? By its implication a potentially undesirable outcome of ingesting a particular substance intended to do good. But even its wording, “side,” could be construed as manipulative, as the fact that a particular outcome is unwanted doesn’t make it any less a direct outcome, right?
For example, statin drugs work by displacing LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream into the liver’s hepatocytes, which explains equally why it lowers cholesterol, also may cause Hepatitis.
But what if it doesn’t cause Hepatitis, which most of the time seems to be the case? What if a patient takes a statin drug and never experiences throat irritability or diarrhea, or even pain (though I’m yet to see that in clinical practice)? Does that mean they’re in the clear, and the medication is doing them no harm?
In spite of my holistic medical bias and detest for pharmaceutical companies, I recognize western medicine has its place, mostly in the role of saving lives in critical conditions. Modern medicine can do things holistic medicine could never dream of, and even these chemical concoctions that I hold as a last resort, are, in the vacuum of a chemistry perspective, brilliant creations.
On the other hand, any scientist would agree that medication works by manipulating a particular mechanism in the body, thereby robbing Peter to pay Paul. Where we differ, I suppose, is in whether this is the only way to pay Paul, and/or if paying Paul is always necessary. There are as many studies that disprove cholesterol levels’ connection to heart disease as there are the opposite; not to mention the fact that we’re now learning that large-sized LDL particles may be as healthy as HDL! Are doctors actually testing for what size LDL particles make up each patient’s levels before prescribing? I digress.
It makes me even more concerned when a patient tells me they experience no side effects from a medication they’re on, as such a result should be scientifically impossible. The fact is no one gets Diabetes from a brief period of eating sugar, nor do we get COPD after even a whole decade of smoking. If there’s one thing we learn in life it’s that our bodies can take a beating. The very next thing we learn is this is true to a point. Disease grows and lurks beneath the surface long before showing up on biomedical exams. People don’t just wake up one morning with Hepatitis the way we wake up with the common cold, and even the latter is always preempted by some subjective degree of immune deficiency. Inflammation develops in the liver just as tar accumulates on our lungs, to the point that the scale finally tips and modern medicine labels us “ill;” when really we were ill the whole time.
Frankly, our country is in many ways short-sighted, mentally lazy, now exemplified by our chosen leader (also an issue that’s been lurking beneath the surface for centuries). Ours is a “branch culture,” that neglects to address root causes of problems, evidenced in everything from our criminal justice system to marital dynamics or dermatology. Dandruff is obviously an expression of some internal imbalance, but we address it as a hair problem with commercial shampoo products. Anti-snoring strips are sold to attach to the outside of our nostrils and stretch them further apart instead of actually taking the time to figure how to reduce nasal congestion. Mattress companies are making a killing by advertising a better night’s sleep via a more comfortable pad, as if stress and depression, or magnesium and Vitamin D deficiencies aren’t responsible for most insomnia. Personally, I’ve gotten some great nights’ sleep on shitty air mattresses and laid awake all night on the finest of queen-sized pillow tops. We lock criminals away in cages instead of offering therapy and better opportunities, and use plastic surgery and inject our faces with botulinum toxin instead of abstaining from pathological substances that age us. Worst of all and most recently exploited, we block pain receptors instead of exercising or changing our diets, arguably the most obvious example of irresponsible, branch brain culture.
Nothing exists in a vacuum, nor is anything not causal. Put a person in a cage for ten years and only a moron would believe the issue is as simple as resolved, debt paid, now smoothly moving forward. There are repercussions of every reality we create. If we experience diarrhea or painour focus should not be on binding up the diarrhea or numbing our pain, but instead on what about our body is causing its dysfunction. Whether diarrhea, acid reflux, gas or any other stomach pathology, they have repercussions beyond themselves, a concept that should not be difficult to digest.
The stomach is where we absorb nutrients, which is what we convert into energy, which is what feeds our cells and vital organs. If the stomach is not working properly, guess what else will eventually not? Everything. For this reason if your medication lists digestive issues as potential “side effects” you should be alarmed, and not only if you experience them quickly and superficially. Whether taking a statin, anti-depressant, diuretic or thyroid medication, please keep in mind that you are addressing the branch, indisputably robbing Peter to pay Paul, and will most likely later on need Peter’s resources for other vital functions. My belief is there are always better (more challenging, creative) options to try.
Do not take this blog as official medical advice or stop any medication without the supervision of your doctor or primary care physician. Although… if you’ve been with the same physician for a long time and they are not open to your trying to get off your meds via dietary experimentation I’d advise at least getting second and third opinions. We’re all entitled to this.