serious side effects

  1. The peanut butter cups of bad meds

    For drug makers, it must have been a "you got your peanut butter in my chocolate" moment -- but instead of "two great tastes that taste great together," you're about to get two bad meds that are even worse together.

    The "peanut butter" in this case is the daily aspirin millions of heart patients are told to take -- and taken by millions of others in the mistaken belief it can prevent those heart problems from happening in the first place.

    The "chocolate" is omeprazole, aka Prilosec -- part of a badly overused class of heartburn meds called proton pump inhibitors.

    Now, I don't have a problem with someone eating a little fresh-ground peanut butter, or even an occasional snack of dark chocolate.

    But I have a big problem with people taking daily aspirin or proton pump inhibitors on a long-term basis -- because both of these drugs come with huge health risks and minimal... to no... benefits.

    Daily aspirin use isn't nearly as beneficial as years and years of relentless marketing would have you believe. What's more, it comes with a host of serious side effects such as bleeding problems, including ulcers, and even bleeding in the brain.

    One of the milder but more immediate side effects, however, is heartburn -- and that's why the new peanut butter cup of pills mixes 325 mg of aspirin with the PPI omeprazole.

    It's supposed to prevent that heartburn and make it easier for people to take the daily aspirin. And to that extent, you could say it "works" -- because PPIs are great at hiding the symptoms of heartburn and other stomach acid problems.

    But PPIs also bring stomach acid to dangerously low levels.

    In fact, the levels are so low that when you stop taking the drugs, the stomach tries to overcompensate and produces more acid than ever. Most people think it's their acid problem coming back with a vengeance.

    In reality, this "acid rebound," as it's called, is caused by the drug itself -- and a reason many people can't stop taking a PPI once they start.

    PPIs can also block the absorption of key nutrients, leaving you seriously deficient in calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and other essentials and putting you at risk for everything from bone breaks to death.

    Pain, heartburn, and even cardiovascular health all have better and more natural answers. Work with your doctor to find them.

  2. Deadly faith

    I'm always puzzled by the millions of people who take dangerous meds that barely work in the first place -- but now I'm starting to see why: They have no idea what they're in for.

    A new survey finds that 40 percent of Americans believe the FDA only gives the OK to "extremely effective" meds -- and 25 percent believe FDA-approved drugs don't have serious side effects.

    Even the FDA will tell you that's not the case.

    Drugs don't have to be safe to win approval: Meds that win passage often have severe and terrifying side effects, up to and including death itself. And they don't even have to be especially effective, either: Some meds work for less than half of the people who take them... yet get approved anyway.

    Just look at all the studies on everything from painkillers to antidepressants in which the drugs barely beat placebos.

    So the real secret to drug approval isn't in safety or even effectiveness -- it's in passing the FDA's nebulous and industry-friendly "risk vs. benefits" calculation.

    Sounds like some delicate balancing act, right?

    In reality, it's about as delicate as a hippo playing seesaw with a mouse. I don't think I need to tell you which one of those animals represents "risk" -- and in many cases, meds win approval before all those risks are even known.

    The survey also finds that warning labels might help people reconsider meds... sort of.

    In one case, when given a choice between two fictional heartburn meds, patients reflexively chose the one they believed to be newer. But when given a warning that new drugs might carry more serious risks that aren't yet known, the majority switched to the older one.

    In another, participants choosing between two cholesterol meds reconsidered when told one contained a warning that said "It is not known whether it will help patients feel better or live longer."

    But out in the real world, patients rarely compare meds they way they do spaghetti sauce. In most cases, the doctor prescribes and the patient complies -- and that's why millions of people take drugs they barely understand for conditions they might not even have... like cholesterol and heartburn.

    You should always read the warnings, of course -- but before you even get a prescription bottle in your hand, you need to ask your doctor a series of questions.

    Keep reading for more.

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