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Monday, November 2, 2009

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Trump Prescription Drugs

All of the people described below are real, but their names are not menioned to protect their privacy.

We're often amazed when someone who has always been involved in sports and fitness seeks a prescription drug solution to a health problem without making a serious attempt to solve the problem by natural means. One example is a man who had competed at the national level in an endurance sport, and later coached the sport for many years while still competing individually at a more modest level. He also ran regularly to keep in shape and competed seriously in some distance running events. As he got into his late 40’s he developed some musculoskeletal problems and switched to mainly low-impact endurance activities for fitness. However, he enjoyed rich foods and, while of slim build, developed a modest but noticeable pot belly. He mentioned that his cholesterol level had been high and he was currently on regular Lipitor treatment. He also talked about how he had gotten into cooking and described some of the high-fat dishes he had been preparing. He was spotted several times eating piles of French fries and giant cookies he bought regularly at his workplace cafeteria. Our thought was, “Why doesn’t he just try to eat a healthy diet somewhat lower in calories and saturated fat?” A loss of 10-15 pounds along a lower intake of saturated fat would very likely normalize his cholesterol level. But no - drugs were an easier solution. That is probably why Lipitor is the most prescribed drug in the U.S. (

A man recognized as an international authority on exercise and sport was asked if he was watching his sodium intake. He responded, “No, but my blood pressure was high and I’m on blood pressure medication.” Again we were surprised that this man opted for the drug solution instead of watching his diet. He had been a competitive athlete from grade-school through college and remained very physically active for decades. Why didn't he just watch his sodium intake?

A third man exercises avidly and competes seriously in various endurance sports. Training for fitness and competition is almost a religion to him. However, he readily admits his diet is terrible and includes lots of soda and salted snacks. Despite the great amount of endurance exercise he does, he was diagnosed with metabolic syndrome ( characterized by excess fat around the waist, low HDL level, high blood pressure, high triglyceride level, and insulin resistance. As a result, his doctor put him on a multi-drug regimen, which he will probably remain on indefinitely. We couldn’t help but think that if he reduced his caloric intake a bit and lowered his intake of simple sugars and salty foods, his symptoms would likely disappear. But somehow, he wouldn’t even consider that.

A man in his mid-forties who had been quite strong in the weight room, later added distance running into his fitness program, and successfully completed a marathon. At that time he was in great cardiovascular and muscular condition. However, he sustained a calf injury and stopped running regularly. Another injury limited the weight lifting exercises he could do. Overall, his exercise program became irregular. Over a period of months he developed a good-sized potbelly that was quite obvious despite being partially hidden by a wide leather weightlifting belt. He mentioned that his cholesterol level had become elevated and he had gotten on regular Lipitor treatment. We knew he would probably not need the drug if he just lost his potbelly.

Admittedly, the medical establishment treats Lipitor and other statins as wonder drugs and there have been few reported side-effects beyond muscle weakness and pain in some individuals. However, our feeling is that the natural way, if effective, is always preferable. Even with statin drugs, we don’t really know what the negative side effects might be over several years. Other drugs used to treat lifestyle-related health problems have widely-known negative side effects (e.g. blood pressure drugs:

Our conclusion: Try natural solutions to health problems when they have been proven effective. It just takes some effort and self-discipline. We are by no means condoning unproven and possibly dangerous treatments such as shark cartilage for cancer or bowel cleansing to cure a wide variety of ailments. For serious illnesses, it is best to follow standard medical treatment backed by clinical trials. Yet for health problems related to lifestyle, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high total cholesterol and low HDL, a regimen of healthy diet and exercise is usually the best solution. Being healthy is often just a matter of will.

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