Fattening Pharmaceuticals

Last night, I delivered a talk to the Litchfield county chapter of the Connecticut Medical Assistants Society. This is an association of terrific women and men who daily turn your doctor's office into a functioning enterprise. If you think your last visit to a mainstream doctor was bad, try it at an office without the top-notch kind of staff that the CMAS represents. My lecture was titled, rather cleverly I thought, "What's Weighing You Down: Or, what to do when weight loss diets fail."

I think it is abundantly clear that Americans' weight problem sits squarely in our own ample laps. We eat too much, watch too much television, drive too much and exercise too little. The majority of the overweight population would see a significant reduction if they took the following simple steps:

1. Unplug the television. Take it to the attic, basement or garage or town dump and don't bring it back for six months.

2. Spend 1/2 of the time you spent lollygagging in front of the television in some form of physical activity. Walk, run, stretch, jog, do yoga, bench press with a can of peas -- I don't care, just move.

3. Do not drive your car for any trip under two miles. Walk or bicycle. You've got plenty of time, now that you aren't turning your brain into jelly in front of the television.

4. Spend the remaining extra time you've gained preparing home-cooked, nutritious meals. From fresh, raw ingredients.

(To those enquiring minds who want to know: Yes, I follow my own guidelines).

Even if you do 3 out of 4, you are almost guaranteed to lose weight. I say almost, because there are many people for whom some confounding factor is inhibiting their best efforts to shed pounds. Many of them end up in my office, and over the years, I have been able to pinpoint some common causes.

However, there is one cause of intractible weight gain that is consistently overlooked and ignored. For one simple reason: Too many people would stand to lose too much money if it became widely known that obesity is frequently a result of prescribed medications.

It is a somewhat horrifying reality, at least to me, to know that 45% of all Americans have taken a prescription drug in the past month.

And when you look at the top 10 classes of drugs prescribed, every single one of them is for a problem whose first-line treatment should be non-pharmaceutical.

The top ten on your friendly pharmaceutical hit list are:

1. Antidepressants 2. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (e.g. Tylenol, Ibuprofen) 3. Antiasthmatics 4. Blood pressure control 5. Cholesterol control 6. Antihistamines 7. Stomach acid control 8. Antiarthritics 9. Blood sugar control 10. Non-narcotic analgesics

So, let's do a quick breakdown. These 10 drugs represent about 90 percent of the drugs that 45 percent of the population is taking. And every single one of these drugs can cause weight gain as a side effect. (I find it particularly interesting that drugs used for diabetes treatment cause weight gain; an excellent example of the often muddle-headed logic that clouds much medical thinking).

Granted, not everyone taking one of these drugs will experience this side effect. But the enormous number of people involved makes it a sure bet that a significant portion of the American population is overweight as a direct result of the drugs that they are taking.

Odds are you won't see that critical piece of information in the mass media anytime soon.

But what's important is that you know it. And you probably know somebody who has exactly this problem -- whether they realize it or not.

So pass the word. Odds are that with the help of an alternative medicine physician such as a chiropractor, they can find a way to manage their disorder without using drugs. And they could lose weight at the same time.