By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
This is the last of our series on “medicines can heal, medicines can kill” as our focus for September which is the Generics Awareness Month.
For this series, we refer to the common medicines nowadays that we get from the botica or the store. These are synthetic, meaning artificial, they are made in the factory, not by nature.
Medicines work by acting at the cell level. All parts of our body are made up of cells, the smallest building block. When we swallow a medicine or when it is injected into our body, this is absorbed to our blood and travels to all parts of our body and, therefore, can affect all the cells in our body. This explains the side effects which are usually undesirable, and may even be fatal. There is no absolutely safe drug, remember that. Thus Dr. David Werner stated many decades ago “medicines can heal, medicines can kill.” Our concern in the Philippines is that our government regulations are weak so that one can easily buy medicines in the store on self-prescription. So what are we, the public, to do? Know our medicines very well.
Last week, we discussed pain relievers like paracetamol and mefenamic acid which are overused or abused nowadays. These can cause stomach irritation and even stomach bleeding which is deadly, and yet, these drugs don’t treat the cause of the pain. There are many ways to deal with pain aside from taking these synthetic drugs and the first thing to do is look for the cause and remove it. While investigating the cause, we “ip-pe” or tolerate the pain and observe. Then there are organic plant essential oils which can relieve the pain without the side effects.
Let us look now at popular anti-hypertensives or drugs which claim to lower blood pressure. But before that, let us first remember that, as we have discussed repeatedly in previous issues, blood pressure rises mainly because of two main problems. First, our blood is “malapot” or sticky or thick. Second, the blood vessels are narrowed because of chemical build-up in their walls, just like “sebo” builds up in your sink drain. Sometimes, our blood vessels are temporarily narrowed because of fear or anger. But once these emotions pass, blood pressure then returns to normal. Thus, the goal for treating high blood pressure should be to reverse these two conditions- malapot na dugo at makipot ang daanan ng dugo. So let us see the following:
This is an angiotensin II receptor blocker (quite a mouthful) which works by blocking a substance in the body that causes the blood vessels to tighten, so in effect, it relaxes the blood vessels and thus blood pressure goes down. There are two concerns with this mode of treatment –first concern is that it works fast (some like this). I am not hypertensive, thank God, so I don’t know how fast is fast but my reference says it works in about 6 hours or more if you are taking the drug first time. If you have been living with a blood pressure of 160/100 for years then your blood pressure suddenly goes down to 120/80, then you will feel weak, even dizzy. Other side effects may be chest pain, easily get tired, anxiety, increased creatinine in the blood, cough, colds. Don’t take it with painkillers because it can increase the risk of kidney damage. Recently, some batches of losartan were recalled from the market because these were contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical (the dangers of mass production).
The second concern with losartan is that it does not remove the cause of narrowing. It does not remove the dirt that has accumulated in the walls of the blood vessels. So they are still there waiting for more dirt until the vessel is completely blocked.
Losartan has close relatives named telmisartan, valsartan and olmesartan.
This drug was born to the market earlier than losartan. Just like losartan, it is a blocker. It is a calcium channel blocker. This is interesting – it is said to lower blood pressure by blocking the entry of calcium ions from the blood vessel to the heart muscle cell. Wow, that is the power of technology! A gadget to see these ultramicroscopic substances move from one cell to another. For first timers, this drug will work in about 8 hours. Because it lowers blood pressure quickly like losartan, then you will feel weak, dizzy and easily gets tired, swelling of hands and feet, etc. Just like losartan, amlodipine does not address the two major causes of high blood pressure.
3. Simvastatin or any of the “statins”.
These claim to lower cholesterol in your blood by slowing down the production of cholesterol in our body. You see, in the design of nature, we produce our own cholesterol- at the right amount at the right time so simvastatin will lower this. Again this is not the solution for high cholesterol in the blood because the problem is not with our body’s production but with our excess eating of cholesterol from food and drink. And worse, it can cause adverse side effects like headache, joint pains, muscle breakdown and even kidney failure.
These synthetic medicines may improve the way we feel but they are only temporary measures as they don’t really treat the cause. So would you like to be buying them forever and spend your pension on “maintenance” medicines? The ultimate way to improve and maintain good health in the long term is to be more grateful, eat better, move more, and take care of our body. It is our choice. ***
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your works, I will meditate.” Psalm 145:5