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The Fear of Lifelong Medication Prescriptions

The biggest medication fear my patients share with me is the fear of lifelong medication, especially for conditions like high cholesterol, hypertension, or heart disease. Fortunately, no medication has to be taken forever. You have choices, and each choice has certain consequences, good and bad.

Medications Aren’t Forever

In mainstream medicine, it’s common to start a patient on acid reflux medications and leave them on for life. The same happens with high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, anxiety, high cholesterol, and thyroid problems.

A good patient-doctor team will constantly revisit medication options and ask if they are still necessary and if the data still demonstrates their value.

We used to give people PPIs for life. Now, we know they interfere with mineral absorption.

I still have patients on beta blockers for hypertension, a drug class quite ineffective for this purpose and one that has a long list of side effects.

The Downside to Long-Term Medications

We routinely prescribe insulin for Type 2 diabetics once other medications are maxed out. Unfortunately, insulin makes diabetes worse. In fact, taking insulin increases the patient’s chances of worsening their diabetes.

It’s certainly necessary when a patient cannot control their blood sugar otherwise, but it’s a rare example of how the medication used to treat the condition actually makes the condition worse.

So, how do you stop taking insulin? By understanding why you were prescribed it in the first place and appreciating that it’s great for short-term blood sugar control but not very effective for long-term use. There are lots of other ways of decreasing insulin resistance.

Stopping Your Medications

Most patients have a 50% compliance rate regarding their medications, meaning they take their meds as prescribed only 50% of the time.

Looking back at my own personal track record with meds, that seems about right.

So what happens if you stop your meds early? Often, nothing at all, which is why so many patients stop their medications early. However, better ways exist to decide which medications are necessary and which can be avoided.

If you are taking a medication for hypertension and afraid you’ll end up on it forever, ask yourself what you’re willing and capable of doing to stop that medication. Can you change your diet, give up a certain food or lifestyle, change jobs, exercise, change sleep patterns, or meditate?

Some medications, once stopped, cause an initial rebound effect; blood pressure shoots up after stopping many BP meds, and acid reflux worsens when stopping antacids.

Plan Your Taper Protocol

When patients first come to DNH, we sit down and decide which medications can be stopped. We create a plan together with our patients to taper off and monitor progress.

Common medications we can successfully stop include antidepressants, antacids, blood pressure medications, and sometimes cholesterol medications.

Your plan will be unique, and your doctor can help you design a protocol that works best for you. Monitoring your biomarkers or symptom parameters is helpful if you don’t overdo it.

Sometimes, your first attempt at stopping a medication will fail. Just like the first time you attempt to quit caffeine or cigarettes, you might fail, the subsequent attempts eventually will prove successful.

Why Do You Want to Stop?

A very important question I ask my patients is why they want to quit a particular drug. It’s an obvious question, no? Not really; the answers require quite a bit of insight.

If a patient fears that a certain medication will have an unknown or unproven side effect, I want to explore that with them. Maybe they read something I’m not aware of, or they have an unrealistic fear we need to address.

Perhaps they feel frail on medications, which is worth exploring. For some, staying medication-free is an important part of their overall health plan.

If it’s the cost of the medication (rarely), then we can source cheaper, safer generics.

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