I just finished reading the book "
Mind Over Meds" by Andrew Weil, MD. For those of you who may not have heard of Dr. Weil, he is an integrative medicine physician who is the director of the University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Center. Before reading this book, I had heard of integrative medicine, but didn't really understand what it meant, but now I do. Integrative medicine is a medical specialty (just like other specialties such as gynecology and geriatrics), and physicians who are board-certified in integrative medicine have completed a residency and taken a rigorous board exam.
Like all physicians, integrative medicine physicians are able to prescribe medications to treat medical conditions, but are also trained in and familiar with non-pharmacological management methods, including nutrition, botanical (herbal) remedies, mind-body medicine, breath work, exercise, manual medicine (osteopathy, chiropractic, and massage), and traditional systems (Chinese medicine including acupuncture, and Ayurveda). Integrative medicine can also be combined with other specialties, such as integrative dermatology or integrative cardiology.
The main thesis of Dr. Weil's book is that in the US, we all take too many medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, for conditions that in most cases would be better treated with a variety of non-pharmacological methods.
One of his primary concerns is about drug toxicity (the more common term for drug toxicity is "side effects"). He writes, "The most widely used pharmaceutical drugs are extremely potent. Potent drugs may be necessary in cases of critical and severe illness, but we now use them for all disease conditions, even those that are not severe. Unfortunately, concentration of pharmaceutical power inevitably also concentrates toxicity; the two are inseparable" (p. 8). Another of his concerns is about drug effectiveness.
There are many commonly prescribed drugs that have been shown through good research studies to not be very effective at treating the conditions they are used for, but doctors continue to prescribe them, and patients continue to take them.
Dr. Weil also explains a problem with medication called the "homeostatic trap." Homeostasis is the body's tendency to seek equilibrium. If a medication suppresses one of the body's natural functions (for example, suppressing inflammation with anti-inflammatories), the body "reacts against the pharmacological actions, making it difficult to lower dosage or discontinue medication because of rebound symptoms" (p. 14).
Mind Over Meds" has chapters devoted to the most commonly used drugs in the US, including antibiotics, statins, medications for GERD, antihistamines, medications for the common cold and flu, sleep aids, and many more. Each chapter includes how the drug works, a history of how its use became so common, the side effects, and examples of integrative medicine approaches that could be used along with, or could eventually supplant, the use of the drug. I read each chapter with interest, especially the ones on medicines that family members and patients of mine are currently taking.
I learned tons by reading this book, which is why I wanted to share some of the information in this book review. It made me think very seriously about my own health, and the health conditions of various family members and patients, as well. Because physical therapists are healthcare professionals who cannot prescribe medications, we tend to be well-versed in the philosophy of nondrug approaches to healing that is found in integrative medicine. We also understand how biomechanical problems such as poor breathing, posture, and movement can affect whole-body function and health, as well as poor sleep, poor diet, lack of conditioning, and variety of other things; conversely, improving those things (without drugs) can improve health conditions. I will be recommending this book far and wide and hope you will consider reading it!