Medical Minimalism

Recently, a businessman from Los Angeles, who’d just arrived for a three-week stay at the Pritikin Longevity Center, walked into his first medical appointment at Pritikin in a stupor.

“It didn’t take long to realize he was in a drug-induced stupor,” his Pritikin physician recalls.

The 80-year-old man was on 17 medications and 15 supplements and herbs. They had been prescribed by six different doctors from the Southen California area who had rarely, if ever, spoken to each other.

His Pritikin doctor thoroughly analyzed all the meds, supplements, and herbs, and possible interactions, and uncovered several risky combinations, some very serious.

For the next three weeks, while the patient exercised and dined on the fresh, healthy foods at the Pritikin Center, his doctor meticulously monitored his health, keeping track of all symptoms while slowly paring down the drugs and supplements.

When the businessman left Pritikin, he was taking one pill. One. And he felt fabulous. “He got this REBOUND in energy and overall health,” his doctor recalls. “He felt 100% better. It was so very rewarding to watch.”

Minimizing Drugs, Optimizing Health

“While the current trend among many doctors is putting people on more and more drugs, one of our goals at Pritikin is helping people get off drugs. Here in our program, people discover that good food and regular exercise can often do a better job than pills,” explains Pritikin’s Medical Director and cardiologist Ronald Scheib, MD.

Medical Minimalism

It’s part of a nascent culture in America termed “medical minimalism.”

“Don’t get me wrong. When carefully prescribed and monitored, medications are great,” clarifies Dr. Scheib.

“But for too long, patients as well as doctors have fallen prey to the medical mystique of a pill for every ill. We need to begin a whole new mind-set and say to ourselves: ‘I don’t want to take anything more than what I absolutely need. And certainly, I don’t want to take anything that makes me feel bad.’”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad stuff happening right now. America is the most over-medicated society in history. Unknowingly, millions of people are ingesting risky combinations. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, anxiety, muscle pain, lower sex drive, weight gain, and even death. Our statistics bureaus don’t rank drug reactions as cause of death, but if they did, drug reactions might well be the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Two Million Americans at Risk

A recent study of nearly 3,000 Americans aged 57 to 85, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, warned that at least two million older Americans are taking a combination of drugs or supplements that can be a risky mix.

Here are just two examples of how easily we can get ourselves into trouble.

For pain relief, many people take codeine, often in the form of Vicodin or Tylenol-Codeine. The body’s metabolic enzymes convert codeine into morphine, and it’s the morphine that relieves pain. But something as innocuous as grapefruit juice can paralyze the metabolic process that turns codeine into morphine, which means the codeine would have little or no effect.

So the patient who’s drinking grapefruit juice keeps swallowing more and more codeine, hoping for relief, but then, what if he or she stops drinking grapefruit juice?  Within days, the body could build up toxic doses of morphine.

Herbs and Supplements

Also rife with potential problems are herbs and supplements. Many people do not understand that there’s a reason herbs like St. John’s wort and ginkgo biloba are so popular – they’re very powerful. Herbs and supplements can have a profound effect on how your prescription medications work – and how you feel.

At the Pritikin Longevity Center, the physicians analyze each patient’s list of medications, supplements, and herbs.

“We often find little nuances that the general population of physicians, with their average seven minutes of face-time with each patient, have little chance of picking up,” observes Dr. Scheib.

Optimal Regimen and Lifestyle

The end result is often a new regimen of medications and supplements, often significantly minimized, and a healthy new way of living, including healthy food and daily exercise.

“When all is said and done, the chief reason people feel better at Pritikin is because we change their foods,” explains Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin. “The foods they start eating and enjoying here – all the fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans – are rich in biologically active compounds that have beneficial effects.”

And the body responds very quickly. Within three weeks, published studies on the program at Pritikin have documented that most people with hypertension leave with their blood pressures in normal ranges, and medication-free, or with dosages reduced.

Many Type 2 diabetes leave with blood sugars in normal ranges, and medications eliminated or reduced. Cholesterol levels fall on average 25%; inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein drop about 40%.

The Pritikin Program is so successful that U.S. legislation was recently passed allowing Medicare to cover participation in the program for heart patients, called Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation.

Consults With Home Physicians

Pritikin’s physicians also consult with patients’ home physicians and prepare comprehensive discharge guidelines.

“Working with home physicians is the cornerstone of our ability to make change that is both beneficial and lasting,” sums up Dr. Scheib.

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