There’s a sucker born every minute

It’s been said that, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I often think of this remark while watching TV medical commercials

By Dr. Clifford Jones

It’s been said that, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I often think of this remark while watching TV medical commercials, the ones that promote drugs to treat common ailments, then show pictures of someone riding a horse, climbing a hill or hugging their partner.

But then the commercial adds, “See your doctor if you notice a rash, skin sores, sudden pain, dizziness, abdominal bloating, fever, chills or coughing up blood. Drug X can be associated with changes in blood pressure, nausea, visual problems, numbness of legs, an increased risk of blood clots and cancer.” The list of hazards continues as long as your arm.

My question? Why would any reasonable human consider taking the risks of this medication unless they’re taking their final breath and have nothing to lose? But it’s obvious what has triggered this paranoia. We are bombarded daily with health data by the media. There’s a staggering list of over-the-counter (OTC) pills and an expanding list of prescription drugs. Hence, we are all warned we ignore this medication at our peril.

Madison Avenue learned long ago it’s easy to seduce people when corporations have millions of dollars to spend and a perfect sales pitch. It’s been said facetiously that people have become so obsessed with health that if the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written today, it would declare the pursuit of health, rather than happiness, as the third inalienable right of Americans.

The end result is that North Americans have been programmed for illness. Today, a well person is someone who hasn’t seen enough TV ads, been examined by enough doctors and had enough tests done.

Another problem is that nothing seems to be normal these days. For instance, a recent medical report says that even ‘normal’ blood pressure may be too high. And doctors are being told to reduce their patients’ blood cholesterol levels lower and lower.

Sir William Osler, Professor of Medicine at McGill, Johns Hopkins and Oxford Universities was an astute commonsense doctor. He remarked that, “One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicines.”

Osler, if he were alive today, would point out that every year 100,000 North Americans die from prescription drugs and another 700,000 are admitted to emergency due to their complications. I’m sure he would also stress that natural remedies have not produced dead bodies.

Voltaire, the French philosopher and writer, would also add sound advice. He had a risky habit of criticizing the government during the French revolution, and was tossed into the Bastille for it, not a five-star hotel. During that time he wrote, “The art of medicine is to amuse the patient while nature cures.” He also philosophized, “It’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong!”

I’d like to end this column on an optimistic note. But in spite of such sage advice, history continues to show that a sucker is still born every minute. Every year huge amounts of minor painkillers are sold. Some are effective but many are consumed because few people today will tolerate the slightest ache or pain. It means that year after year 22,000 North Americans die from gastrointestinal bleeding due to minor painkillers.

Billions of dollars are spent every year ‘taming’ the stomach’s acid or stopping its production by proton-pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec. But these drugs have been associated with pneumonia, life-threatening diarrhea, osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Unfortunately, the majority of patients, when given a prescription by their family physician, have no idea of the many side-effects associated with the drug. After all, why would a physician suggest a drug that was going to be harmful? But one common drug used for treating anxiety and depression has a list of 85 possible side-effects.

Admittedly, some of these complications are rare. But when a rare one strikes, it’s a 100% hit.

So how can you escape being one of the suckers born every minute? It’s quite easy. I’d suggest adopting a sound lifestyle. Moreover, good sense should tell us all that Madison Avenue is more interested in your pocketbook than your health. Unfortunately, common sense is an uncommon commodity.

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