Andrew Weil on Overmedication
In the June 22, 2017 New York Times, reporter Steven Petrow published a brief interview with Andrew Weil in connection with Weil’s new book, Mind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When AlternativesAre Better – and When to Let Your Body Heal on Its Own.” (Here’s the link: https://nyti.ms/2sTxgzc.)
It caught my attention as an acupuncturist because acupuncture is a non-pharmacologic (i.e., an alternative to medication-centered treatment) soft-tissue therapy. The lesions created by inserting acupuncture needles stimulate the body’s healing mechanisms to address pain and dysfunction and to restore the individual to health.
In the interview, Weil makes a series of critical points about the use of pharmacologics in American medical care:
“Too many people are taking too many medicines – something that has been building steadily through the past century.”
“There’s a deep-rooted mind-set on the part of both doctors and patients that medication is the only way to treat disease. [Patients] expect to be medicated when they go to doctors” rather than managing problems through non-medical methods.
While there is reason for short-term use of medications, prolonged use “raises the possibility that they could prolong or intensify conditions as a result of the body’s homeostatic reaction to them as it tries to rebalance itself.” Weil gives two examples:
treating GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) with prolonged use of proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. When you discontinue use of these medications, symptoms worsen, which leads to dependence.[i]
antidepressants, which “with long-term use, . . . can intensify or prolong depression.” He recommends acupuncture for mild to moderate depression, along with regular exercise, reducing caffeine, cognitive therapy, vitamins B and D, St. John’s Wort, fish oil, and “spending more time in the company of happy people.”
He cautions against overusing NSAID’s (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), a group that includes aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, which can be useful in the short term but which “carry some very severe risks of increased bleeding and other cardiovascular and kidney problems.”
He believes that most over-the-counter medications for the common cold “are useless.” He includes not only decongestants and cough suppressants but also the herb echinacea and the homeopathic remedy oscillococcinum.[ii] (He does recognize the importance of the Chinese herbs astragulus and andrographis in fighting colds.)
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that “over the past 15 years, more than 165,000 people in the United States have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids, and millions more have suffered adverse consequences. The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids have contributed to a precipitous increase in heroin and fentanyl overdoses.”[iii] Acupuncture is a nonpharmacologic treatment of choice and in a rational world it would be part of the mainstream. There are reasons it is not part of the mainstream, but the picture is changing. As you may have read in my February 17, 2017 blog ("The American College of Physicians Endorses Acupuncture"), the American College of Physicians has endorsed acupuncture for lower back pain as a means for lessening Americans’ dependence on the use of opioid painkillers.
Dr. Weil speaks positively about acupuncture in the interview, as noted briefly above. He brings our attention to the current medication crisis and argues forcefully for integrating alternatives into American healthcare.
At the end of the interview he reports that his Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona has graduated almost 1,500 physicians,” adding that the demand for integrating the mainstream with the formerly non-mainstream is growing in the United States. “I’m confident,” says Weil, “that one day soon, we’ll be able to drop the word ‘integrative’ – it will just be good medicine.”
I’ve now bought the book and will report to you about it in my next blog. I’ve looked through the index and “acupuncture” has several mentions.
[i] Reading this, I was reminded of a gastroenterologist I knew, an old-timer who’s now gone, who once angrily told me that GERD was an invention to sell medication.
[ii] Are you aware that oscillococcinum is supposedly derived from the flu “bacterium” that killed 50 to 100 million people during the 1918 flu pandemic? The doctor who allegedly isolated the disease agent, from the heart and liver of the Long Island duck in the 1920’s, called the bacterium “Oscillococcus” because he thought the pathogen oscillated in the field of his microscope. But flus are caused by viruses. In addition, the Korsakovian method of dilution for homeopathic remedies like Oscillococcinum involves diluting the original, symptom-causing agent in water 200 times, each successive dilution involving 1% of the prior dilution, which means that in the final product the concentration of the alleged active agent is less than the weight of a proton. There’s nothing in the pill other than sucrose and lactose. “When Boiron (the company that makes oscillococcinum) spokeswoman Gina Casey was asked if a product made from the heart and liver of a duck was safe, she replied: ‘Of course it is safe. There's nothing in it.’” I’ve taken this from the Wikipedia entry on the product: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscillococcinum.
[iii] “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: Lessons from the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Gellad, FW; Good, CB; and Shulkin, DJ. JAMA. May 2017. Volume 177, Number 5. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2608540
© 2017 William Weinstein, L.Ac.