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Pills Can Only Delay the Inevitable
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
Monday, January 07, 2008

I am 73 years old. I have been a doctor for 50 years. I am definitely old enough to kick back and retire. I have enough money to live comfortably, and I have 3 children who could and would take care of me should I ever need to be dependent on them. I would have no problem calling them on those promises. I have been a good daddy.

I can't retire! I've got too much left to do. I am the only doctor in America with exactly the right experience and relevant life story to be a spokesperson for the radical Health Care reform and revision our country so desperately needs. Hey, have you heard guys, there is a Healthcare crisis. Our Healthcare System is circling the drain. It's in the news, daily.

I sometimes think of myself as a modern day Paul Revere. But my message is not about the British coming. They've got enough problems back home with a NHS simply unable to keep up. Goal for wait time to see a specialist for severe back pain and disability: 90 days! Hint: "goal" means they are not that good yet. They've got the same problem we have. All of them trying to survive in the midst of too much.

No, my message is, "Prevention, not pills!!!" We can't afford to keep developing and prescribing new prescription medicines to try to counteract our increasing number of debilities, the result of near universally followed unhealthy diets and lifestyles. Medicines are fine if you are truly sick. Antibiotics for pneumonia or a bladder infection make sense. Ditto meds for stomach ulcers, the pain of a broken bone, chemotherapy for cancer and meds for the inflammatory and degenerative neurological diseases. The list is too long to enumerate here. Some medicines are not just beneficial, they are truly lifesaving.

But taking prescription medicines every day for the rest of your life? That don't cure anything and don't even make you feel better? Just to prevent getting sick from eating a garbage diet? And I'm here to tell you that the pills aren't working out all that well for most folks anyway. You see pills are like seatbelts. Seatbelts are great. Seatbelts are sometimes life savers. Everybody buckle up. But you still better drive carefully. If you don't, you're very liable to get hurt or killed in the process of banging up your car. Worse, you're likely to loose your insurance!

All of these blood cholesterol, sugar and pressure lowering, bone strengthening, heartburn and anxiety relieving, memory restoring, bowel moving and pee-pee speeding up or slowing, sex life improving sleeping pills promise much more than they ever can deliver. At best these 12 or so pills you have to take daily can only delay temporarily the deterioration in function, health, mental acuity and well being that too many people are experiencing as they approach and reach retirement age and beyond. And those folks only live that long if they've taken all their pills faithfully, indefinitely and correctly. In every survey of large numbers of pill takers that is almost never the case. Ugh…who wants to take a bunch of pills everyday that don't make you feel any better? (I notice no one's holding up their hand.)

Bad example numero uno? Former President Bill Clinton, one of the world's most beloved, intelligent and successful men. He always had access to good medical care and insurance to pay for it. Yet he had a heart attack at age 60. He had stopped taking his high cholesterol pills and never changed his diet. A whole lot of folks keel over and drop dead with their first heart attack. Never knew what hit ‘em. Boy, would that have messed up Hilary's plans!

The consequences of negligent behavior like that are not going to be benefited much by Universal Health Insurance for everybody. Let's face it: the majority of Americans are failing at the grade-school-level class Healthy Lifestyles and Diets 101. Auto insurance wouldn't work if almost everybody crashed into each other. And it quickly would become unaffordable. Health insurance doesn't work if almost everybody gets sick for the same reason. There isn't enough money and there aren't enough doctors and nurses and hospitals either. That is the Health Care Crisis. Critical systems failure due to massive overload. Good analogy: our much beleaguered health care system has been overwhelmed by a tsunami of citizens from all walks of life with preventable illnesses and risk factors for getting illnesses.

Why is this happening? What has gone wrong with the American way? Short answer: too much. Our entire lives, one of our greatest pleasures has been eating good/great food, the more the better. After a Thanksgiving feast, many folks lie groaning on the couch, barely able to sit up to watch the football game. Gluttony is no longer limited to national holidays and your birthday. "All you can eat" is a very popular and successful marketing strategy at some restaurants. Portion sizes at others have increased 25 to 50% in the last decade or two. When my lady and I eat at the Olive Garden, we split an entree and still take some home for next day.

When I was growing up (1934-1954) there were always shortages. During the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War…. as I grew up there was never too much. You didn't see any fat people walking around. There weren't any really fat people, except in Carnivals. Because there wasn't enough food for most people to get fat. Diabesity is a recent scourge afflicting all developed countries. Diabesity is the normal expected response of humans to the widespread, year-round food excesses and exercise deficits we have been experiencing these last 40 or 50 years.

Just as important as the "pumped up" supply side is the incredible marketing that is going on continuously, everywhere we look and listen. Consider all the food messages we get everyday. TV is so amazingly powerful at selling stuff, and they're only getting better at it! The pictures! You could almost eat those pictures. Prime, savory, double creamy; and ambrosial, yet hearty, with a dense, velvety consistency. Mmmm, they've got you licking your lips. Those ad men are really good at it. They are earning their money. They have been at this for a long time and they have learned what gets us to order what we order, and buy what we buy, and eat… well, really "wolf" down, and "stuffing it in". Until we're all holding our bellies and groaning with pleasure. Gluttony is as catching as a cold virus.

We are in the middle of a genuine, nation-wide, actually world-wide pandemic, which cannot be blamed on the birds. And there is no vaccine available or even possible. What are our political leaders proposing to do about this developing catastrophe? The only thing I hear coming out of their mouths is "more insurance". We need more health insurance for all those folks and their kids who don't have any insurance and still get sick anyway.

Now this is an aside, and some people would say it sounds cruel, but let me make a little analogy. Let's suppose you have a car, and you don't have any auto insurance because you're between jobs and can't afford the premiums. So you've decided to take your chances that you won't have any accidents. You're out looking for work every day. Now you're going to drive carefully, right? I mean it makes sense, doesn't it? You have this big investment in a car, but you can't afford any insurance. With any brains at all you are going to go out of your way to not have any accidents, aren't you? That's a no-brainer! Always fasten your seat belt, never drink and drive, use chains when it's icy, keep up on routine maintenance, don't speed, don't run red lights, stop for a cup of coffee if you feel sleepy on the freeway. Be extra careful. Duh, that's just common sense.

OK, so find me one, just one person who has no health insurance for himself and his wife and 3 kids because he can't afford it. Find me one family like that who all go out of their way to take good care of themselves. Always eat healthfully at every meal. Only healthy snacks, and not every day. No one in the family is too heavy, everyone exercises almost daily, everyone gets enough sleep, everyone meditates or does yoga, takes long walks with the dog at sunset, etc, etc, etc. No one smokes or drinks to excess. Everyone fastens their seatbelts and gets flu shots every November. Everyone in the family washes their hands often, and avoids contact with people who might be contagious. (Have I left anything out?)

Duh, you don't have health insurance so you want to go out of your way to avoid getting sick. If that is your philosophy and practice, please hold up your hand. E-mail me immediately: doc@ nomoremedicines.com. I'm going to call ABC World News and recommend you and your family as "Persons of the Week" on Friday. What an example you could set for the rest of the country. Which by the way is in very great need of good examples.

Now if everyone lived this way, there would be plenty of money left over to provide completely affordable health insurance for those who got cancer, or multiple fractures in an auto accident that was not their fault. Or type 1 diabetes, over-active glands (like the thyroid, pituitary or the adrenals), psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's dementia. The list of illnesses that are not preventable by lifestyle and diet optimization is long. But fortunately most of them are not very common. You get sick from a non-preventable illness you either got some real bad luck or it runs in the family.

But the way most Americans live now, health insurance is about as unaffordable as flood insurance for residents of Southern Florida, Jamaica and St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans. You want affordable flood insurance? Live where you are not very likely to need it. You want affordable health care insurance? Live in a manner that you are not likely to need it very often.

My own medical history is a lesson in the possible. I was a sedentary, pack a day, stressed out doctor with a very high cholesterol of 240 and above optimum blood pressure. I had eaten the typical American diet my entire life. My favorite foods were ice cream, fried chicken with gravy, pizza and double cheeseburgers. I did no exercise and used a cart on my occasional trips to the golf links. (Throwing a golf club once in a while does not qualify as aerobic exercise.)

My family medical history was grim. Most of the men died before 60. I was not obese, however my waist was bigger than my hips. Now in 2007, with that story, any well trained doctor would insist that I take a statin to lower my dangerously high cholesterol. Even today few doctors have had any experience with the power of a healthy diet and regular exercise.

At age 40 I got (health) religion, stopped smoking, and a few years later started jogging. I became Pritikin's first medical director, went on his extreme low fat diet and ended up running 2 marathons when I turned 50. My cholesterol went down to 140 and I still have low blood pressure. The benefits of a healthy diet and exercise started so many years ago have persisted. I am now 73, walk twice daily, 7 days/week and work out at Gold's gym 3x per week. I look, act and feel 25-30 years younger.

If I hadn't wised up and changed my lifestyle, I would be either very old and infirm or dead now. I still don't need blood pressure or cholesterol pills and I never will!

I have taught 100's of people to follow my example. In my 50 years as a physician I have cared for 1000's of patients who didn't. Most had been prescribed multiple pills but because of their unhealthy diet and lifestyle, they ended up with all of the medical problems the pills were supposed to prevent!

So you have a choice: my way or the highway. The highway takes you to places you don't want to end up in, like a nursing home in diapers and restraints, taking 9 different medicines. I made my choice and saved my own life. If I can do it, so can you.

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