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The Three Dirtiest Drugs

… and Their Better Substitutes

When applied to bombs, the adjective “dirty” implies the presence of radioactive material in addition to conventional explosives, the radioactivity serving to contaminate the area of the bomb, making it inhospitable to life. When applied to drugs, “dirty” indicates that the collateral damage of the drug’s intended use creates highly unacceptable side effects. In my mind, drugs become particularly dirty when there are perfectly good nutritional or physiological interventions that are often overlooked by (or unknown to) the dirty drug’s prescriber.

Drugs meet our demand for a “simple” solution, as if we could just take one pill and fix a complex physiological reality in our body. Nature doesn’t allow for such simplistic versions of either our problems or our solutions! But drugs work well in a 30-second television advertisement. Here are the three big ones to watch out for:

 Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s)

PPI’s are the most potent of a class of drugs whose main action (to quote Wikipedia) “is a pronounced and long-lasting reduction of gastric acid production.” Our stomach’s gastric acid is a powerful digestive fluid, and plays a key role in protein digestion and resistance to infection by the acidic environment created by the gastric acid.  A recently released study clarifies just one of the side effects of blocking stomach acid, namely decreased vitamin B12 absorption. Who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to interfere with protein digestion in a long-term way?

The better solution for heartburn induced suffering may be, as I warned, complex! It may be as simple as avoiding excessive indulgence, if that is your downfall, or it might be as complicated as encouraging the proper emptying of the stomach, with supplements of magnesium, probiotics, and digestive enzymes, coupled with bone broth or glutamine for help in healing the irritated tissues.


Statins are prescribed to lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL) under the assumption that high cholesterol causes heart disease, although that strategy has never been validated in a research setting. With the exception of one or two categories of patients (men with recent heart attacks and/or coronary artery stent placement),  statin prescriptions achieve laboratory results without significant clinical improvement.

The dirty side of statins is two fold. First, statins block cholesterol production, unfortunately quite a bit upstream from the actual cholesterol product itself.  Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) synthesis is also blocked by statin drugs, and coQ10  performs many valuable functions in the body. Some of the clinical conditions that have been improved with CoQ10 supplementation include heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and migraine headaches, various forms of heart disease, gingivitis (gum disease), unsteady gaits, hearing loss, and more.

If you really want to hear me rant and rave, tell me your doctor has put you on a statin and neglected to recommend CoQ10 as a supplement.

The second clearly dirty side effect of statins is the marked increase in diabetes among those taking statins. People take statins to reduce heart disease, then get diabetes – which raises their risk of getting heart disease.

The sorry truth about statins is that the great majority of the time they are prescribed they are unnecessary. Although statins may indeed lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol), they do not reliably lower heart disease risk because high cholesterol does not cause heart disease.

The better solution would be first to take a more enlightened look at your cholesterol, which usually reveals that there is no problem. Many of my patients, over the age of 60, are quite surprised to hear that at their age: higher cholesterol is associated with longer life! For some people who truly do have a worrisome lipid picture, the more useful focus is proper nutrition and reduction of inflammation, rather than lowering all cholesterol in the blood stream: the good, the bad, and the unknown with one fell swoop of a statin.

Improper Antibiotics

Yes, of course, antibiotics save lives, but more often antibiotics disrupt our internal environment with serious repercussions.  My home state of Oregon, as well as the national Center for Disease Control, put in serious effort on an annual basis to educate physicians about the improper use of antibiotics. Yet antibiotics are prescribed from 57-97% of the time for bronchitis, where it is not supported by the current literature, and typically patients are given broad spectrum antibiotics, which will essentially eliminate anything in their path. 

I get to meet these patients a year or two later. They get repeated antibiotics when their symptoms relapse, infections jump back and forth between bronchitis and sinusitis. Irritable bowel is diagnosed along the way when their antibiotic-altered gut bacteria begins to complain loudly. (And in the broader background, behind all the individual suffering, we are nurturing antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten lives in communities and hospitals around the world.)

An alternative awaits these patients when I see them: I treat their current problem with bone broth, probiotics, a few supplements and perhaps a homeopathic remedy if appropriate . I suggest honey in hot water (with brandy if they’re old enough) or a bronchodilator if their cough is seriously troubling to them. Once their acute illness is over, they continue with probiotics, a healing nutritional plan and fermented cod liver oil (FCLO by Green Pastures) which is the modern, shelf-stable version of an old reliable immune booster, cod liver oil. I particularly like that FCLO includes fish oil as well as vitamins A, D, and K2, all of which contribute to immune health and resistance to the kinds of illness that encourage doctors without other tools to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics.

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