Integrative Medicine for Better Health
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An Interview With Ross Pelton
We’re a nation of pill-takers. Last year, we Americans spent over 125 billion dollars on prescription drugs. More than 70% of doctor visits result in a prescription. And if the doctor doesn’t prescribe the pills, we supply them ourselves through over-the-counter medications and nostrums. The only problem is, many of the common medicines we’re taking can result in nutritional depletion caused by the drug itself. Of the 1999 list of the top 20 drugs, 16 of the drugs are drugs that cause nutrient depletions. The result? Side-effects, both annoying and potentially serious, from the nutritional deficiencies.
Until now, news and reporting about this cause and effect of using prescription drugs has been largely absent from our media. Luckily, today’s savvy, health-oriented citizen has a champion in Ross Pelton R. Ph.D. Dr. Pelton is a respected expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging and drug-induced nutritional depletion. His research, findings, monographs, seminars, articles and books are pertinent for today’s thoughtful hands-on public and health care professional wishing to take advantage of the newest and most complete health information.
Dr. Pelton is a pharmacist, a health educator, a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Ph.D in Psychology and Holistic Health. His monthly column on clinical nutrition appears in American Druggist magazine. He was recently named one of the 50 Most Influential Druggists, and has served as Director of Education for Natural Health Resources, Inc.
As a health educator, Dr. Pelton has co-authored two books on the topic of drugs and their effects: the most recent isThe Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs, which is a consumer guide book of common drugs and their nutrition depletion effect and symptoms. The previous book is Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook for pharmacists and medical professionals (reviewed in Life Extension magazine, July 2000).
Life Extension magazine contributor Patricia Frank caught up with this busy man of boundless energy as he assumes yet another important health education role—this time in cyber-space. But before we delve into this role, we had a few questions to ask Dr. Pelton about his newest book.
Life Extension: Dr. Pelton, in your previous books, you discuss two groups of people who are likely to experience increased health problems from drug-induced nutrient depletion—the elderly and women. Could you speak a little bit about children, and the male population—especially with the increase in prostate problems and cancer?
Ross Pelton: Certainly. Children are at risk in a couple of different categories. Children receive a lot of antibiotics. Over the course of their childhood, so many kids can experience multiple antibiotics. Antibiotics can cause nutrient depletions by several different mechanisms. Children are at risk because of that. A common side effect for children is diarrhea during or after a course of antibiotics, which can be debilitating.
Men are not immune at all. I do not have specific documentation on the prostate medications causing problems, but certainly men take and rely a lot on anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular medications. If men are diabetic or have epilepsy—any of those types of drugs all deplete nutrients, so certainly men may experience problems also.
One of the reasons I cite women is the number of women taking estrogen. In 1998, Premarin was the number-one prescribed drug in the United States, with 46,759,000 prescriptions filled. Plus, women can have all of the same problems as men—cardiovascular problems, epilepsy, diabetes and so on. When you add in estrogen medication as estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) or oral contraceptives, nutritional depletion becomes an increasing problem for women.
LE: Do you think, then, that it’s not a good idea for women to take hormone-replacement therapy at menopause, or if they do, should they supplement their diets to address the depletions that will take place?
RP: Let me answer that in a couple of different ways. First of all, I am not advocating that people [avoid taking] the medications that they need. What we’re trying to publicize is the fact that many medications deplete nutrients. For that reason, we advocate that people certainly consider additional nutritional supplements to overcome the nutritional depletions that these drugs cause. In many cases, additional nutritional supplements will help the medications work better, people will have fewer side effects and they will have improved health outcomes. This is a win-win situation.
In fact, in many cases, taking additional nutrients may necessitate that the people use less of their medications. For this reason, I encourage pharmacists to bring the physicians into the loop and get the physician and the patient and pharmacist all involved in monitoring the patient’s progress.
LE: Do you have an example of how supplements “boost” the effectiveness of prescription drugs?
RP: Yes. If you give a patient Coenzyme Q10, and the patient is on some sort of cardiovascular medication, the CoQ10 is likely to strengthen the heart muscle and decrease the need for medications. In fact, several studies that I have show that close to 50% of people with various types of cardiovascular disease can discontinue from one to three medications within about six months, by getting on high dosage CoQ10 therapy. That’s pretty impressive, actually.
LE: That’s from a recent study?
RP: We have two studies that document that. One study was published in Molecular Aspects of Medicine in 1994. In fact, both studies were in 1994. One located 109 patients with elevated blood pressure and within an average of 4.4 months, 51% of the patients came totally off of between one and three hypertensive drugs. The other study had a larger population base. This study looked at 424 patients who were diagnosed in six different categories of cardiovascular disease, so the study was broader than just elevated blood pressure. Overall medication requirements dropped considerably. Of these patients, 43% stopped taking between one and three medications.
LE: That’s pretty powerful documentation.
RP: Yes, it is. It is amazing information to realize that a large percentage of people could come totally off their medications, and that when you strengthen the heart and the cardiovascular system a lot of these cardiovascular problems improve.
LE: Do you feel that the majority of traditional Western medicine physicians are aware of these studies, should be aware of these studies, or does one need to go to a holistic practitioner?
RP: First of all, I would say that the majority of physicians are not aware of this information. In doing this research I was amazed at the vast number of studies that are in the scientific literature documenting and reporting drugs that deplete nutrients. I’m now close to six hundred studies documenting drug nutrient depletions.
I don’t know the answer for sure, but I suspect the reason that physicians and pharmacists and other health professionals have either ignored or overlooked this topic for so long is that all of these studies that I have researched and organized have occurred in hundreds of medical journals over several decades of time. I don’t think people ever realized how much documentation was out there on this topic. And of course, this information doesn’t get adequately publicized.
LE: Why is that?
RP: Drug companies are not addressing or publicizing studies that tell us that their drugs deplete nutrients, and so in many cases, this information was just [not dispersed] until we actually organized all the information and presented it in our two books.
LE: Why two different books on the same topic?
RP: It is very important for physicians and pharmacists and other health professionals to be aware of our research and the documentation about drug-induced nutrient depletion, and that’s why we wrote the reference book for health professionals. But we also realized that all physicians and pharmacists aren’t going to take our seminars or aren’t going to have a copy of this book at their fingertips so we wanted to get the information out to the general public also.
LE: It seems this information should be part of everyone’s reference library, if they’ve ever taken a pharmaceutical or will ever need to take one.
RP: This is something that’s affecting many, many millions of people.
LE: We are seeing, hearing and reading about more and more women with breast cancer. It’s scary. What pro-active steps can women take to help prevent breast cancer?
RP: That is what we summarized in our book, How To Prevent Breast Cancer. We recommend that women adopt a healthy diet by switching away from the standard American diet and focus more closely on [one that is not necessarily] strictly vegetarian but moves in that direction. Our diets should get more focused on non-processed health-oriented foods. A vegetable centered diet will be higher in nutrient density, higher in phyto-chemicals and higher in fiber. At the same time, it will be lower in fat, lower in salt and sugar, and lower in pesticides. Just by getting into a good, healthy diet, six major factors that can influence breast cancer will move in a beneficial direction.
Also, we encourage women to exercise regularly, and reduce their alcohol intake. There are a variety of things in diet and lifestyle that affect estrogen levels, and we now know that the greater a woman’s life-time exposure to estrogen, the greater her risk for breast cancer.
LE: So, what I am hearing from you is that we truly are what we eat and that the typical American diet seems to impact not only the risk of breast cancer but other cancers and diseases that are on the rise.
RP: Yes, I think that the commercialization of our farming, our food production and our food processing have been detrimental to health in developed countries. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, food processing became a major part of American culture and fast food restaurants started to take off.
People just don’t realize how much is lost in food processing, and they also don’t realize how many negative things are in processed foods that are not part of a healthy diet. So, a really healthy lifestyle involves a couple of different things. Number one, you need to take real effort and attention to making sure you get adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients. Make sure you get all of the good things you need. By the same token, it takes a great deal of attention to detail to make sure you eliminate and don’t ingest many of the negative things that are so commonly available in the food and environment these days. LE: That’s a challenge. If one is a label reader, and you go to a typical grocery store and try to find foods that have zero or low sodium, no sugar and few additives, you’re out of luck. They seem to be added as a matter of course to everything. RP: Sure. I don’t think people should shop at regular grocery stores. I’m fortunate—in San Diego here, we have wonderful organic health food grocery stores, and it’s the only place we shop. LE: We do, too, in the Northern California area, but some folks in other places might not be as fortunate. RP: That’s true, but most major cities have health food stores now, and health-concerned people just will make the effort to seek out health oriented options. There are more and more available. Whenever I travel to another city, I get out the Yellow Pages and I look up and find the health food restaurants. It’s not hard if that’s part of your consciousness. And there are more and more mail order sources available for organic whole grains and organically grown seeds and nuts and things like that for people who want to make the effort. It needs to become part of our lifestyle and our belief system. LE: A conscious decision? RP: Yes, that’s right. LE: We’re starting to see more and more organic foods even in traditional grocery stores. What can the consumer do to be assured that the products they are getting are truly organic? Many manufacturers have adopted “all natural,” but if you read the ingredients “all natural” can include lots of sugar and salt. RP: I think that the organic food industry is doing a fairly good job of self-policing itself, so when I see the label that says that it’s “organically grown,” I’m pretty confident that it is organically grown. But you’re right, when food processors or food companies use the word “natural,” those things can be stretched, certainly. LE: Yes. Buyer beware. We’ve talked about the changes you’d make in the typical American diet. Are there any tests today, that you’re aware of, or that are in development, that can realistically analyze a person’s nutritional deficiencies? RP: Yes, there are more and more tests like these becoming available. There are a couple of different laboratories that have good lab tests that look at a wide range of nutritional markers that health-oriented physicians or nutritionists will use with their clients to look at nutritional status. One of the tests that I’m very interested in is a plasma amino acid analysis that looks at the amino acids that are the precursors for your neuro-transmitters. This is very relevant for the many people with anxiety and depression disorders, as it often turns out they have imbalances in their neuro-transmitters. Rather than give them Prozac or some of these other drugs, which really do nothing to enable the body to make more neuro-transmitters, you can do the plasma-amino acid analysis. [It will identify] what neuro-transmitter precursors an individual is deficient in. Then, [you can proceed to] do an amino-acid mix that preferentially will give more of what you’re deficient in so that your body’s brain chemistry can start to adjust and normalize itself.
LE: That’s fascinating. So if I wanted to do that, where would I go to have that done? Who would I contact?
RP: Look for a nutritionist or a health-oriented physician, or you could call a lab and ask if they or anyone in your area are doing these types of tests.
And actually you don’t have to have anyone locally. I’m in San Diego, and I can order the tests for people that live in different parts of the country. The lab sends the tests to those people and then those people find a physician in their area who will order the blood test for them.
LE: Great. That’s helpful. I was just reading about the high incidence of depression. One out of three or one out of four Americans are depressed. Some go untreated, some get treated, some go on a drug like Prozac and then get imbalances, as we’re talking about.
RP: Well, what’s really troublesome about all of these drugs like Prozac and Zoloft is that it’s really a shame that the major side effects of those medications go under-reported. Number one, a loss of libido—and not only sex drive. So people who are depressed go get anti-depressants expecting that they’ll help their life and then it totally messes up their sex life and their relationship. That’s not working in the right direction.
And also with these drugs, many people find it very difficult to get off them once they’ve gotten on them, and that’s kind of scary for a lot of people.
LE: Do you see a time coming, you touched on this briefly, when pharmacists and physicians and indeed consumers/patients would work hand-in-hand? Do you see any in-roads being made where pharmacists would hand out nutritional supplement advice along with the literature that currently accompanies prescription drugs?
RP: Well, we’re certainly working for that and advocating that drug companies or pharmacy chains and drugstores try to integrate this information into their computer systems. Then when a prescription is filled, the patient gets information that alerts them to these drug-induced nutrient depletions. As yet this is something we’re talking about, but we haven’t been able to get it implemented. It takes a lot of time to get computer programs all readjusted, and so it’s still in the talking stage.
LE: But it looks as though we’re making progress?
RP: Whenever we get the ear of one of the drug store chains, we suggest that this is an important topic that they should consider. We also suggest that they have their pharmacist take our seminars so that they can get exposed and educated about drug-induced nutrient depletions and make available the books in their drug stores so that their customers have access to that information.
LE: That makes sense. When a physician prescribes a drug he or she wants to see the patient improve, and if they see the patient coming back time and time again with other complaints, that doesn’t serve either doctor or patient.
RP: That’s right.
LE: We’ve talked a bit about antibiotics and their use. If you get an infection or have a complaint or whatever, it’s fairly common to get a prescription for an antibiotic. You addressed this, I thought, very well in your book, The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs, but for the sake of this interview, what are the important things that a person should do after completing a course of antibiotics?
RP: It is very important to understand that the population of “friendly” bacteria in a healthy gastrointestinal tract are of critical importance to not only digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also to your entire immune system. And so when people take antibiotics, and the antibiotic kills off the majority of the population of friendly bacteria, along with the pathological bacteria we’re trying to kill off, that really upsets the normal balance of friendly bacteria. The antidote is that after finishing a round of antibiotics, people should take what we call probiotics, which contain the friendly bacteria—usually some form of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidus (or bifidus). Many products will contain combinations of both of these and we recommend that people take high potency probiotics of 10-15 billion cfu (colony forming units) twice daily for two weeks following their last dose of an antibiotic. This will repopulate the GI tract. In a healthy colon or gastrointestinal environment, individuals should have about 85% to 90% friendly bacteria and only about 5%, 10% or 15 % of the “bad” ones, which are normally there but not in great enough quantities to cause any problems.
Numerous studies and clinical observations demonstrate that many people develop significant health problems from an imbalance of the bacterial flora in the GI tract following the use of antibiotics. You can have diarrhea or constipation. Gas and bloating. More seriously, the toxins from those organisms can get absorbed into your system and you can end up with arthritis, or depression or migraine headaches—problems that seem distant from the GI tract. Many times people don’t realize that these problems are related to what we call “dysbiosis,” which is an imbalance of the bacterial population in the intestines.
LE: You’re right. I bet most folks aren’t aware of that. It sounds as though an antibiotic prescription should be packaged with a probiotic.
RP: You know, that’s absolutely right. It’s really a shame that nobody really does that. I think that would be a huge break-through if we could get people taking probiotics after they’ve finished antibiotics—it would make a big difference.
Many people are very susceptible to side effects from antibiotics. For example, some women get vaginal yeast infections right away when they start taking antibiotics. Women like this will benefit from taking probiotics along with the antibiotics, although the probiotics should be taken as far away from the dose of the antibiotics as possible so that they’re not in the stomach at the same time. There are some good studies that show that taking probiotics while taking antibiotics significantly reduces diarrhea, which frequently occurs when infants are on antibiotics.
LE: Where does one find probiotics? At health food store?
RP: Generally they’ve been in health food stores, but we’re trying to get more and more pharmacies to carry them also because they’re a perfect companion product for pharmacies to be offering to patients when they’re taking their antibiotics.
LE: Yes. It seems so, and if you could buy them at the same time it would make life a lot easier.
RP: We try to educate pharmacists to make that recommendation to people when they’re picking up their antibiotics.
LE: You touched on stress as one of the factors that we’re subject to along with depletion of the nutrients in the soil. How can we live with our stress and what might we do to supplement the nutrient depletion that’s caused by this?
RP: Stress does deplete nutrients in the system. For example, vitamin C can be depleted very quickly when people are under higher levels of stress, so they should consider taking increased levels of the antioxidant nutrients. [They may also consider taking] some of the B vitamins to counteract the effects of stress and to boost their immune system and adrenal functions so that they can better cope with the stress.
LE: Okay. So B and C are the two to take.
RP: All the B vitamins, vitamin C and the antioxidant nutrients, which would be vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, CoQ10 and things like that.
LE: We’re often eating on the run. What are some of things we could grab and consume quickly that aren’t as harmful as a fast food burger?
RP: Health food stores have some snack foods that are health-oriented, so you can buy things like bean burritos and things like these made with organic beans and whole wheat wraps, rather than white flour processed products. You have to get into buying whole grain bread and get away from the harmful fats. One of biggest things is “partially hydrogenated fats and oils”—just a killer substance, so people need to read labels and stay away from those types of things.
LE: My brother calls those fats “blood sludge.”
RP: That is an apt description.
LE: This seems to be a marketing opportunity—fast food health restaurants with healthy foods.
RP: You know, I’ve often thought that healthy fast food outlets would be a wonderful thing to get started, but it’s not my job in life to devote my time to do that, but I think if someone came up with healthy fast foods to go that they would be well-received.
LE: Yes. Because sometimes you just grab something and you feel guilty about it, but you look around and there’s nothing convenient you can see that’s good.
RP: That’s right. Airports have so many little fast food places, I would think that a health-oriented spot in some of the bigger airports would be very successful also.
LE: Good idea. They don’t have to be large, do they? Little cubby-holes dispensing bean burritos, whole foods, vegetarian dishes and such . Anyone listening? Well let’s move away from designing healthy fast food outlets and back to your newest health education venture. I understand you are moving away from private practice, and into the arena of cyber space. Is this correct?
RP: Yes, that’s right. I’m now Director of Nutrition and Anti-aging Research for www.Intramedicine.com. We’re all pretty excited about this. This site will be a global resource for integrative medicine, delivering research, health education and information to universities, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and HMOs—and the general public. A site for everyone who is interested in the latest findings on how to optimize, protect and improve health. Users can expect a very inter-active database. Our research will drive the data, and the data will be updated in real time. You’ll find the latest research findings, break-through testing and technologies, continuing education and professional and consumer information. LE: You’ll be partnering again with your long-time colleague, Jim Lavalle, R. Ph. C.C.N. because Jim is the Chief Clinical Officer for Intramedicine.com? RP: That’s right, Jim is on board. We’ve been working together on integrative medicine for quite some time now through our workshops, lectures, seminars and books. This emerging field of medicine melds the best of conventional medicine and natural medicine. We know that this evolutionary step in the field of medical care is a win-win for the consumer because the integration will deliver improved outcomes. LE: So Intramedicine combines the knowledge and practices from traditional, holistic, Eastern and other alternative medicines for an improved treatment plan for diseases and medical conditions? RP: Correct! Envision a new treatment that is the least invasive, least expensive, least damaging and most likely to activate an internal healing response. LE: It seems to me that this is a tremendous undertaking, with a huge volume of information to gather and disseminate. How will you meet this rather daunting challenge? RP: Our info will come from many sources. Fortunately, we have a tremendous advisory board, very solid, which will help us filter and interpret a huge amount of information and deliver good information to the end user. Also, our technology is very advanced, which means we’ll provide a unique, high intensity type of information very quickly. LE: One of your Intramedicine alliances is with CVS, which has 4400 drugstore outlets? RP: Yes. We’ll be working with CVS to help them better serve their customers. We’ll be providing, building and delivering natural medicine information. Integrative medicine is a medical development whose time has come. Many of us already use a combination of traditional and holistic health care for ourselves. Now traditional drug manufacturers, drugstores and pharmacies will be moving in this direction, too. That’s a promising development. I’m encouraged. LE: And so are we all. Thank you.
Ross Pelton, R.Ph., C.C.N. is a leading educator in the field of health and nutrition. Prior to joining Intramedicine, Mr. Pelton served as Director of Education for Natural Health Resources, Inc. Mr. Pelton has authored several books and writes a monthly column on clinical nutrition for American Druggist magazine. American Druggist recently named Mr. Pelton as one of the "50 Most Influential Druggists."
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