By Bob Condor

Here’s one of the biggest reasons that the majority of Americans seek out what used to be called alternative medicine, even paying out of pocket for treatments when necessary: Taking medications can cause side effects and conditions that are frequently enough worse (or close to it) than the original illness.

Examples: One rheumatoid arthritis drug warns that a small percentage of patients develop leukemia from the medication. Another RA drug significantly raises the risk of serious infections, hospital stays and even death is not treated soon enough.


Another hang-up is those medications can leave patients and doctors confused about whether a new symptom (irregular heartbeat, fatigue, vision problems, blood pressure swings, you name it) is from the illness or the drugs.

This illness-or-the-medication quandary intensifies the longer you take it. You might solve one problem and create another. Pardon my sports metaphor, but it’s sort of like you are scheduled for a 15-round heavyweight fight but you face a new, fresh opponent every round or two. Forget the knockout, you just want to make it through the 15 rounds.

This week’s medical news—which, come to think of it, happens most weeks—confirmed this whole business of putting yourself at risk for side effects and serious conditions while taking a pharmaceutical product to treat your diagnosed illness. Researchers at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center reported that taking an osteoporosis drug such as the highly popular Fosamax to increase bone density as we age might lead to bones that don’t completely heal when fractured. The physician-researchers said even a “routine stress fracture” can be problematic to heal in some patients and lead to a more serious fracture.

The serious fracture in an older individual can too often be the

beginning of an end-of-life cycle, as many adult children know about a parent who, say, broke a hip and languished physically and mentally in recovery. Even the hardiest of elders will likely suffer mild to moderate depression while laid up with a serious fracture. And the physical fallout is rife with spiral-downward potential.

A stat for you: Nearly one-third of older folks fall each each, half of them more than once. Stress fractures are not far from those mishaps.

While this newly published research is not likely to be winner with pharmaceutical companies, it does suggest that doctors can monitor any patients on Fosamax (and other medications with alendronate) to determine if those denser bones might in fact be weaker. For instance, simple blood testing can reveal low bone cell turnover. In that case, the doc can prescribe “a holiday” from the drug to allow the bones to get back to normal turnover, which, in similar way to how we build muscles or rejuvenate skin, requires some cells to die off and new cells to emerge.

Future DHB entries will explore other medications from which a holiday might be just what the natural health practitioner orders.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.