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Last updated August 5, 2016 (originally published January 18, 2015)

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist








Harold, a 77 year old from Dearborn Michigan sits at his
kitchen table nervously sifting through his plastic pill
dispenser.  He counts out the 14 pills for Monday --- his
angina pills, plus his blood pressure medication, plus the
antibiotic for the sore on his leg from diabetes that won’t
heal, plus the new medication he takes to help him get rid of
the lingering grogginess, a side effect of the medication he
takes at night to help with the insomnia which is a side effect
of the blood pressure medication... then the two pink pills he
now takes for his low hemoglobin. ..how many is that?, he
sighs. Too many darned pills.


Harold is not a real person but his problem is. The average
American between the ages of 65 to 69 years old takes
nearly 14 prescriptions per year. Those between the ages of  
80 to 84 are taking an average of 18 prescriptions per year.


We Americans are the most medicated people on Earth. A
Mayo Clinic study in 2013 found that 70% of Americans are
taking prescription medications. That's 7 out of 10 of every
man, woman and child in America. The most common
prescriptions are antibiotics, antidepressants, and painkiller
opioids.
 

Not every source agrees with the stat from the Mayo Clinic.
The
Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48% of us
have taken at least one prescription medication in the past
30 days and 10.7% of us have taken 5 or more prescription
medications in the last month.

So, even if you take the CDC numbers rather than those of
the Mayo Clinic, we are truly Pharmacy Nation.



If You're Sick and Over 50--Suspect Your Medications





























Even doctors are becoming alarmed at the multiplicity of
medications we are taking, especially as we get older. Often
the medications cause more medical problems than the initial
medical condition itself.

Many prominent physicians now look
first to our medications
as the source of problems they find.


“Any new symptom in an older person should be considered
a (possible) drug side effect until proven otherwise,” said
Dr. Jerry Avorn, Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical
School and Chief of the division of pharmacoepidemiology at
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.


Not surprisingly, your risk for experiencing a bad reaction ---
perhaps even a life-threatening reaction --- to a drug
increases with the number of prescription drugs you are
taking.


In a 2005 study led by Dr. Jerry Gurwitz from the University
of Massachusetts Medical School, scientists sought to
determine how often the health problems of seniors is
actually caused by their prescription medications.  The study
examined the health of all residents in two long-term care
facilities for the period 2001 to 2002. During that time, there
were 815 health problems created by bad reactions to
prescription medications and a full 42% of these bad
reactions were preventable.


Here are the surprising findings.


If you are taking anti-coagulants --- blood thinning
medications -- you have a 2.8 times higher risk of
experiencing a  bad reaction to your drug, which is in fact
preventable, than someone who is not taking blood-thinning
medications.


If you are taking diuretics, you have a 2.2 times higher risk
for a bad drug complication than someone who is not taking
diuretics.


If you are taking antipsychotic medications, you have a 2.8
times higher risk.


If you are taking anti-seizure medications (antiepileptics),
you are a 2 times higher risk.



In a separate study conducted in 2003, Dr. Gurwitz and his
team discovered that the following prescriptions drugs are at
fault for a large percentage of the preventable adverse
reactions:


Cardiovascular medications (24.5%),

diuretics (22.1%),

nonopioid analgesics (15.4%),

hypoglycemics (10.9%), and

anticoagulants (10.2%)



The magnitude of the problem has so alarmed the Food and
Drug Administration that it is developing a system to help
track reactions to medications prescribed to the millions of
Americans covered by Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans
Affairs Administration and private insurance called the
"Sentinel System".




Unfortunately, the Sentinel System is not yet ready. Your
best course of action? Now, and even after the Sentinel
System is in place, you should aim to limit the medications
you take to the extent your doctor advises. Improving your
general physical condition as much as you can will certainly
help. Here are the basics that may help to get you started,
with your doctor’s guidance,  toward reducing your
dependence on prescription medications:



Get Enough Sleep

The list of health problems either caused by or which are
exacerbated by insufficient sleep is long. Inadequate sleep
affects between 50 and 70 million Americans, according to
the Institute of Medicine.  


Not getting enough sleep is a trigger which sets off a
cascade of health problems including increasing your risk for
diabetes, high blood pressure ( hypertension), obesity,
depression, heart attack, and stroke, warns a 2006 report
from the  Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Sleep
Medicine and Research.


Clearly, just getting enough sleep could dramatically improve
your health profile, potentially moving you from a category
of people who needs medication to treat one of the myriad
problems. Here is a list of
tips to improve your sleep quality.


Lower Your Blood Pressure with Sardines

Sardine protein lowers blood pressure in those with high
blood pressure by almost 10 points, according to a 2000
study from Kyushu University, Kasuga, Japan.


Sardines contain a compound called “valyl-tyrosine” which
acts as a natural ace-inhibitor, the same chemical pathway
used by many blood pressure medications. Those who drank
a sardine-rich drink for 4 weeks experienced a drop of 9.7
points in their systolic (top number) blood pressure and 5.3
points in their diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure.  
attempt to achieve.  


Of course, sardines are not the only food which helps to
lower blood pressure. Here is the
complete list.


Lose Weight  

Losing weight is the single most effective step you can take
to reduce your risk for a host of diseases, including
Type 2
diabetes.

In 2006, a study involving scientists from many of the
leading universities in the US, led by Dr. Richard Hamman of
the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences
Center, set out to discover what effect losing weight had on
diabetes risk. The study examined 1,079 participants ranging
in age from  25 to 84 years. What the scientists discovered
was an almost stepwise relationship between the amount of
weight you lose and your Type 2 diabetes risk.  


For every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of weight you lose, you
drop your diabetes risk by 16%.  If you already have
diabetes, losing weight can bring your risk category down
from full-blown diabetes ( sugar levels over 140) to pre-
diabetes.

And if you have pre-diabetes (sugar levels above 120 but
below 140), you may drop your status down to normal.
reduction in risk, adjusted for changes in diet and activity.



Over the 3 year period of the study, participants who stuck
with the program of intervention --- dietary changes and
increased physical activity --- saw their incidence of Type 2
diabetes fall by 58%.  Here is a
list of strategies to help you
lose weight safely.


Losing weight, if you are already overweight, also improves
your cardiovascular profile.




































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Foods That Shrink Your Waist

Ideal Weight for Women

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Urine Color-What It Means


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Sardines can drop your blood pressure in 4
weeks by 10 points.