Warning: Taking Drugs Can Be Harmful to Your Health
Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, 1999-2000. Ross Pelton, James B. LaValle, Ernest B. Hawkins, and Daniel L. Krinsky. Lexi-Comp, Inc., Hudson, OH, 1999. Paperback, 485 pp., $49.95.
What if you had a disease for which a drug was prescribed, and the drug did a good job of curing that disease, but your doctor overlooked its side effect of depleting your serum magnesium level, and consequently you had a heart attack and died, and the coroner failed to make the connection and decided that, well, you just had a heart attack and died?
Bummer. Think it couldn't happen?
Think again. In medical and pharmaceutical practice, a thorough knowledge of possible adverse drug interactions is crucial. The ancient medical admonition, primum non nocere (first, do no harm), is as valid today as ever. The challenge of abiding by it grows daily with the introduction of new compounds to an already huge pharmaceutical arsenal and the enormous number of possible therapeutic combinations they represent.
Ironically, the necessarily intense focus by healthcare professionals on avoiding drug/drug interactions that might harm the patient tends to obscure a more prosaic but no less important fact: individual drugs can interact with nutrient molecules already in our bodies, causing us harm by depleting them.
The potentially serious consequences of such nutrient-depleting interaction -- especially when you consider that the levels of certain nutrients in our systems may be too low for good health to begin with -- are largely overlooked by the orthodox medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, and the United States Food and Drug Administration.
The Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook aims to correct that situation by making the needed information easy to find. The authors -- all of them pharmacists, and with backgrounds in other aspects of health and nutrition as well -- have heeded the classic business adage, "Find a need and fill it." The Handbook alerts the healthcare profession -- calmly but persuasively -- to the ways in which various drugs can deplete our bodies' stores of vital nutrients, with consequences that could range from merely annoying to fatal. (The trick is knowing what to expect.)
The drug/nutrient interaction possibilities are so numerous and complex as to require a meticulously cross-referenced and indexed handbook -- with clear and detailed descriptions of both the drugs and the nutrients, and with references to the source literature. And that is what we have here -- including abstracts for the references. The authors make no rash claims of completeness or total accuracy, but the scope of this book is impressive, and everything about it suggests both scientific integrity and publishing excellence (although the small type size will make reading a challenge, especially for older folks). Browsing and spot-checking -- this is definitely not the kind of book you read like a novel -- revealed a commendable thoroughness and clarity in both concept and execution of the material. And the personal message by Dr. Pelton, contained within the book's introduction, is a gem that should be required reading in every medical school.
Like the well-known Physician's Desk Reference (PDR), which is uncompromisingly written for medical professionals but is often used by laymen who are seriously interested in the drugs they're asked to put in their bodies, the Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook will serve an extremely useful function for professionals and laymen alike.
But the book's value is not limited to its information regarding drug/nutrient interactions. The comprehensive discussions of the nutrients themselves are illuminating -- and potentially life-saving. For example, many people take megadoses of vitamin C, the myriad health benefits of which are well established. Vitamin C is nontoxic, and the only significant side effect of large doses is diarrhea. So far, so good.
But large doses of vitamin C can interfere with tests to determine occult blood in the stool and to monitor blood glucose levels in diabetics. A false result in either of these tests can have dire consequences, so it is incumbent on those who administer them to ensure that the patient is not taking vitamin C in doses large enough to pose such a risk.
But do the test administrators know all that they should? It's a cinch that some do and some do not. No one is perfect. But two heads are always better than one, so if the patient knows something the doctor does not know (or has overlooked or forgotten), the chances of a good outcome are improved.
In an ideal world, we could confidently entrust our health -- the most precious thing we have -- to our doctors when things go wrong and drugs are indicated. In reality, we are still primarily responsible for our own health, because it is up to us to say yes, no, or maybe to whatever a doctor prescribes. It behooves us to understand the implications of what we are being asked to do, and to collaborate with our doctors to ensure optimal treatment.
We must learn all we can to maintain and enhance our health and to assist our doctors when tests or treatments are necessary, by augmenting their knowledge with our own. This book is admirably suited to that purpose and is highly recommended to all healthcare professionals and to all laymen who take their health seriously.
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