Question of the Week

March 16, 2009


As prescription drugs become more common and more readily available, people around the world are using more and more medications on a regular basis.

"European heart patients are taking more medication than ever before to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, but bad habits such as overeating and smoking are undermining the drugs, a new study says. Despite big increases in heart patients on medication, most still have high blood pressure and nearly half have high cholesterol. ... The experts found that more young patients are smoking, and more patients are fatter and diabetic compared with similar groups from 12 years ago. 'In terms of the lifestyles of patients with coronary disease, everything is moving in the wrong direction,' ... About 43 percent of patients still had high cholesterol. And while more people now take medications to lower their blood pressure, Wood said that hadn't made any difference. 'The response of physicians is just to give more and more drugs, but what we need is a comprehensive lifestyle program.' Experts said trends were similar in the United States."
CBS News

When trying to prevent or manage various medical conditions, medications can be useful. However, medications are not designed to replace healthy lifestyle choices.

"'Diet and exercise' is the foundation of all diabetes management because it makes your body's cells respond better to insulin (in other words, it decreases insulin resistance) and lowers blood sugar levels. If you cannot normalize or control the blood sugars with diet, weight loss and exercise, the next treatment phase is taking medicine either orally or by injection."

For people who want to improve their health through diet and exercise, some may not know the best changes to make.

"'Although some patients may already be eating a relatively healthy diet, medical nutrition therapy can increase patient's knowledge of "cardioprotective foods" and assist them in individualizing the guidelines to fit their preferences and lifestyle,' says [Martha Weintraub, MPH, R.D.]. A significant number of patients reduced the fat in their diets to less than 30 percent of calories, as recommended for a heart health. Many participants also lost weight and/or increased the number of days each week on which they exercised for 30 minutes or more. 'Often, we see heart patients who are on multiple cholesterol medications but have never seen a dietitian."

Dietitians can help people know which lifestyle choices would be best, and they can help people cater these choices to their personal needs.

"Worried about your cholesterol? You may want to schedule a few appointments with a registered dietitian, to get some sound advice about how to shape up your eating habits, according to a new national study led by University of Michigan Health System researchers. Not only are you likely to lower your cholesterol levels, you may be able to avoid having to take cholesterol medication, or having to increase your dose if you're already taking one. And you'll probably lose weight in the process, which also helps your heart."

A healthy diet can improve health and reduce the need for medication. Adding exercise to a healthy lifestyle can serve similar purposes. Just as getting advice from a registered dietitian can help someone know the best dietary choices, consulting with a qualified health and fitness professional can help a person find an exercise program to meet their needs.

"Exercise remains an essential strategy to help individuals stave off heart disease and help cardiac patients avoid a second episode. ... Primary prevention applies to individuals who are currently heart healthy; secondary prevention is relevant to those who have already experienced a cardiac problem. Exercise as a prevention technique continues to gain recognition and endorsement, as heart disease is now known to be the leading cause of death for American men and women. 'We have enough science to tell us exercise is helpful both in the treatment of risk factors and in preventing a second heart problem,'... Qualified health and fitness professionals should provide a step-by-step approach to developing a safe and effective exercise prescription."

While it may seem obvious that a healthy diet and regular exercise will improve a person's physical health, those who take care of their physical body can have notable benefits to their mental health as well.

"A brisk 30-minute walk or jog around the track three times a week may be just as effective in relieving the symptoms of major depression as the standard treatment of anti-depressant medications, according to the results of a Duke University Medical Center study. ... Based on the DSM-IV definition of depression, 60.4 percent of the patients who only exercised were no longer depressed after 16 weeks, compared with 65.5 percent for the medication group and 68.8 percent of the combination group. ... the differences between the groups were not statistically significant. Researchers did note that patients who took the anti-depressants saw their symptoms relieved sooner, but by 16 weeks the group differences had disappeared."

Questions of the Week:
Why do you think some people use medications rather than making lifestyle changes? When can lifestyle changes reduce the need for medication? When are medications useful to compliment lifestyle changes? When should people talk to medical professionals about finding the best dietary plan to match their lifestyle and medical needs? When should people talk to a professional about finding the best exercise plan? When should people talk to medical professionals about finding the right medications to compliment healthy lifestyle choices?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site