Are Seniors Taking Too Many Medications?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Medications

The Dangers of Polypharmacy

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

seniors taking too much medicationModern medicines are truly miraculous. They control the  symptoms associated with many major diseases. At their best they  save lives. But have we become too reliant on medications to cure  everything that ails us?

Every medication has side effects, and many medications interact  with each other in harmful ways. That has become a major concern for our senior citizens because many of them end up on 5 or more medications, something the  medical profession refers to as polypharmacy.

Why Are Seniors Taking So Many Medications?

It starts innocently enough:

  • antioxidant aging Your cholesterol edges up a bit, and your physician recommends  that you go on a statin to reduce your risk of a heart attack. This  is in spite of the fact that it has been almost impossible to prove  that statins actually decrease heart attack risk in people who  have not yet had a heart attack (See “Do Statins Really Work?”  (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/cholesterol‐lowering‐ drugs‐right/) and “Does An Apple A Day Keep Statins Away?”  (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/apple‐day‐keep‐statins‐ away/))
  •  Sometimes your cholesterol may not even be elevated. In today’s world statins are often recommended if you are over a certain  age, are overweight, and have some other risk factor such as pre‐ diabetes or high blood pressure.
  •  Your blood pressure starts to inch up (something that happens to most people as they get  older), and your physician recommends one or two blood pressure medications.
  •  Your blood sugar gets a bit high, and your physician recommends a drug to control your  blood sugar to prevent your pre‐diabetes from turning into diabetes.
  •  Perhaps you develop a minor arrhythmia (something else that often happens as we get  older), and your physician recommends one drug to control your heart’s rhythm and  another drug to thin your blood.

Before you know it you are on several medications. As if that weren’t bad enough, each of these  medications has side effects, so you often need to add other medications to control the side effects  of the original medications. For example:

  •  Perhaps you develop heartburn, gas, and/or bloating from the statin, so your physician recommends a drug to control those side effects.
  •  Perhaps you develop headaches, depression, or g.i. symptoms from your blood pressure medication, and your physician gives you one or more drugs to control those symptoms.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. It is easy for senior citizens to end up on multiple  medications. The question is whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

Are Seniors Taking Too Many Medications?

are supplements dangerousA recent study (Qato et al, JAMA Internal Medicine,  doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.8581, published online March 21, 2016) shows just how big a problem this has  become. The authors conducted a longitudinal, nationally  representative sampling of community‐dwelling adults  aged 62 to 85 years old. They conducted in‐home  interviews that included medication inspections with  2351 participants in 2005‐2006 and again with another  2206 participants 5 years later in 2010‐2011.  The results were startling:

  •  Simultaneous use of at least 5 prescription medications increased from 30.6% in 2005‐ 2006 to 35.8% in 2010‐2011.   That is a 17% increase in just 5 years!
  •  The percentage of adults using medication combinations with the potential for major drug‐ drug interactions increased from 8.4% in 2005‐2006 to 15.1% in 2010‐2011.   That’s almost double in just the last 5 years! To put that into perspective, it means that almost 1 out of every 6 seniors in this  country is at risk of major drug‐drug interactions.
  •  Most of those dangerous interactions were due to physician prescribed medications,  although interactions with over the counter medications also contributed to the total.

The authors of the study concluded “These findings suggest that unsafe use of multiple  medications is a growing public health problem.”

The Most Dangerous Drug­-Drug Interactions

The problem is that these drug‐drug interactions aren’t minor  inconveniences. They can kill you. Here are some of the more  dangerous drug‐drug interactions the authors listed:  Let’s start with those drug‐drug interactions for physician‐ prescribed medication.

  •  Statins used in combination with some blood pressure  medications or with Coumadin can lead to excessive  bleeding, muscle damage and kidney failure.
  •  The combination of those same blood pressure medications with anti‐platelet blood  thinning medications like Plavix dramatically increases the risk of a heart attack and death.

DangerAnd, it’s not just interactions of physician‐prescribed drugs that are of concern. Interactions  between physician‐prescribed drugs and over the counter medications can be equally dangerous.

These interactions are particularly insidious because patients often don’t tell their doctors about  over the counter medications they are using. For example:

  •  The combination of blood thinners with pain relievers such as aspirin or Aleve generally  leads to excessive bleeding.
  •  However, the combination of certain anti‐platelet blood thinning medications such as  Plavix and either pain medications like Aleve or acid reflux medications like Prilosec can  have the opposite effect – causing blot clot formation (such as deep vein thrombosis)  which can lead to heart attacks and cardiovascular death.

Is There a Better Way?

age-related muscle lossIn an editorial that accompanied this study (JAMA Internal  Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternalmedicine.2015.8597)  Dr. Michael A, Steinman said “There are many older adults  who would be healthier if they threw away half of their  medications. Yet, there are people with multiple chronic  diseases who can benefit from multidrug therapy…We  [currently] do not have methods that allow us to reliably  evaluate medication therapy…for the outcomes that really  matter, namely whether a drug is actually helping the  patient, causing adverse effects, or is necessary at all.”

If your doctor doesn’t really know for sure whether the medications you are taking help you, hurt you, or have no effect, you might be wondering whether  there is a better way. The answer is a clear YES!

  •  Multiple studies have shown that lifestyle change is more effective than medications for  keeping blood pressure under control (for example: Guzman‐Castillo et al, BMJ Open,  doi:10.1136/bmjopen‐2014‐006070).
  •  Studies have also shown that lifestyle change is more effective than medications for  controlling diabetes (for example: Knowler et al, New England Journal of Medicine, 346:  393‐403, 2002).
  •  The evidence for heart disease is so strong that both the National Institutes of Health and  the American Heart Association recommend that a little TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle  Change) be tried before resorting to statins and other medications to lower cholesterol and reduce heart attack risk (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/cholesterol‐ tlc).

Fortunately, you don’t need different lifestyle changes for different diseases. One size fits all!  I  have talked about a healthy lifestyle in great detail in past issues of “Health Tips From the  Professor.”  In brief, a healthy lifestyle consists of a  mostly plant‐based diet with healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates, and healthy proteins. Then add  in exercise, weight control, and appropriate supplementation and you have a winning  combination.

Why risk the dangers of multiple medications when there is a better way?

The Bottom Line

  1.  A recent study has clearly demonstrated that the use of multiple medications in senior  citizens aged 62 and older is starting to reach dangerous levels. Between 2005 and 2010:
    •  The percentage of seniors using 5 or more medications has increased from 30.6% to  35.8%. That’s a 17% increase in just 5 years.
    •  The percentage of seniors using medication combinations with the potential for  major drug‐drug interactions has increased from 8.4% to 15.1%. That’s almost  double and represents 1 out of every 6 senior citizens.
  2. These dangerous drug interactions aren’t trivial. They include excessive bleeding, heart  attack and stroke, renal failure and death, just to name a few.
  3.  There is a better way. Studies have shown that lifestyle change is more effective than  medication at controlling many chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure,  and diabetes. Lifestyle change has no side effects and no dangerous interactions. More  importantly, you don’t need different lifestyle changes for different diseases. One size fits  all! I have talked about a healthy lifestyle in great detail in past issues of “Health Tips From  the Professor” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com). In brief, a healthy lifestyle  consists of:
    •  A mostly plant based diet that includes healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates, and  healthy proteins.
    •  Exercise, weight control, and appropriate supplementation.
  4.  So if you or someone you love are taking multiple medications, talk with your doctor about  the lifestyle changes that you are willing to make. Most doctors would be delighted to  reduce the medications you are taking if you are willing to do your part.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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