Ana Nogales, Ph.D.

Family Secrets

Can Medicine Really Be Trusted?

Many patients question the medication prescribed by their doctors.

Posted Aug 29, 2018

© Can Stock Photo / gajdamak
Source: © Can Stock Photo / gajdamak

As a psychologist (note that psychologists do not prescribe medication), many of the patients I see question if they should take the medication prescribed by their physician or psychiatrist due to concerns about the toxic effects and/or complications they can produce. They are often under the impression that medicines are "poison," and they distrust their doctor’s prescriptions thinking that he/she has vested interests with pharmaceutical companies. I have also heard conspiracy theories asserting that doctors actually only want to maintain a disease and not cure it, because by curing it, they’d run out of business. With that in mind, they refrain from taking their doctor’s prescriptions and resort to natural remedies.

What types of medicine do we find today?

Allopathic medicine. This is the type of medicine you buy at the pharmacy with a medical prescription. In order for a medicine to be approved for use by the general public, it must first go through several extensive processes and research studies by scientists in laboratories, such as chemists, pharmacologists, medical doctors, and bio pharmaceutical analysts to determine its effects at a molecular level. When a pharmaceutical company has evidence that the new medicine can be safe and effective, further studies are then done to analyze its effects on people with the same diagnosis.

Scientists compare the effects of the new medication to the effects of those participants who were given a placebo. Only when the therapeutic effect is verified, which can take an average of 10 years of study, is the medication presented for FDA approval. Some of these medicines that promised results may not pass approval and are then discarded. At this point, the investment on the product (time, effort, money) is lost. This is what research teams at many universities and medical laboratories do, costing them billions of dollars until the medicine can be approved. Pharmaceutical laboratories have the right to keep patents on such medicines for many years in order to recover costs and invest in new product research. This is what makes them so expensive. In other countries, they can produce medicines with similar formulas, but the components might not be exactly the same. Therefore, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

Another issue that scares many people is the long list of side effects that their medication can cause. Pharmaceutical companies must report all of the side effects that people may experience during the studies. That is why we read: "This medicine can produce various side effects, such as (a long list of adverse reactions including death).” It should be kept in mind that a medicine is only approved when its effectiveness has been proven.

As previously mentioned, we also have the option of using holistic medicine, natural/herbal remedies and homeopathic medicines:

Holistic medicine integrates the mind, body and spirit. It is preventive and curative. It supports and strengthens the immune system. It promotes health for a better quality of life. Holistic medicine includes herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, physical therapy and other alternative medicines. Plants have been the basis of medical treatments throughout the history of humanity. But, just as plants can be curative, they can also be toxic and exert counterproductive effects to prescribed medicine, affecting other organs and fertility. If medicinal herbs are considered to be food or a source of nutrition by the FDA, they are not considered to be medicines, and therefore, their effectiveness and/or toxicity is unknown. Many people take vitamins under the impression that they are natural medicines. But even vitamins can have harmful effects. A consultation with your doctor is very important before taking any holistic herbs or remedies.

Homeopathy is based on the principle of the "law of similarities," i.e., the notion that a substance that produces symptoms of a disease- when administered in small amounts- can cure the disease. This concept was brilliant when it was proposed 250 years ago, at a time when today's technology did not exist. We are still researching atomic and molecular effects of medication, a concept that was unheard of when the system of homeopathy originated.

Ultimately, the best means of maintaining good health is to be well informed. However, when the time comes to make crucial decisions pertaining to treatment of an illness, who will you consult? Ideally, you might choose a team of professionals who understand medicine and all of its complexities to prevent or alleviate your condition in the best way possible without excluding possibilities. Then, the answer relies on the inclusion of recommendations. I understand that this is not always feasible. Here are a few suggestions when approaching medical care:

  • When you have a critical medical problem, it is important to consult with a trusted physician and not wait for the condition to get worse and become more difficult to treat. If you think that your doctor only sees you because they want to take your money, then change your doctor. If you think that all doctors cannot be trusted, then you might have a problem and should ask a family member for help in making positive decisions. If you have questions about a medicine, ask your doctor directly instead of following any treatment recommendations you might find on the internet. You need to make an intelligent decision about your treatment, and therefore you must be informed by a professional.
  • If you are concerned about becoming addicted to a medicine, ask your prescribing doctor. Not all medications are addictive, but some are, and again, you need to be informed.
  • Do not discontinue your medication without consulting with your prescribing physician. Some medicines need to be tapered off under doctor’s guidelines, as interrupting them might produce dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Don’t lie to your doctor by telling him/her that you’re taking the medication when you’re not. This will lead your doctor to conclude that the treatment is not adequate and he/she will prescribe another medicine which might complicate your clinical picture.
  • It is also important that you communicate your intention to take natural herbs which you believe do not cause harm, so that your doctor can tell you whether or not they will be effective or harmful to your condition, as there is more than enough evidence that natural medicines can impact people’s health.

We are all striving towards living healthier lives, not only for ourselves but as a commitment to our families, since they might have to pay the consequences for our failure to adequately care for ourselves. We all know that to live healthy lives, we need to be consistent with good nutrition, moderate (not extreme) physical exercise, good sleep, no addictions, and lowering our levels of anxiety or stress. Family and love are always good medicine, while friends and a healthy social life are also aspects that should not be counted out. Even pets play an important role. Ultimately, all of these factors contribute to our health.