I was recently asked to accompany a patient as they visited their cardiologist for an annual health check. During the visit, I was both dismayed and disappointed by the approach taken by the physician as he discussed the patient’s cholesterol levels — and instead of addressing possible alternatives to medications—provided the patient with a singular solution—take a little pill.

Although you may think your physician has all the answers, you may be surprised to know that physicians receive little to no nutrition training in their education. And many of the conditions that they treat, for example, high blood pressure, and or high cholesterol, may be treated more effectively with diet and lifestyle changes, as opposed to medication.

Even more alarming, was that although the patient’s lab work showed both low testosterone and low thyroid levels, the cardiologist never even acknowledged that these two issues may often times contribute to high cholesterol levels.

Treating hormone imbalances and addressing thyroid issues can often not only reduce cholesterol, but may also bring cholesterol levels back into the normal range, so that patients would not even need other interventions.

Of course, diet and exercise are always beneficial, and  it is important that physicians consider other options for lowering cholesterol without simply telling patients that their issues could be solved by taking a “little pill.”

littlepill The Western Medical System and it’s over reliance on pharmaceuticals and emphasis on surgeries and procedures that may be geared towards avoidance of lawsuits instead of protecting your interests is something that all patients should be aware of.

Professor of Medicine Nortin M. Hadler, MD.  explains it best in his book, The Last Well Person as he says,

"I ask you never to let your guard down or to relinquish your autonomy when you deal with the health-care delivery system…The system must be changed, but the stakes are high and many of the stakeholders are opposed to changes that do not benefit themselves…You will have to demand detailed responses before you acquiesce to any medical procedures and before you believe in any of the advice in the media, including the direct-to-consumer advertising of the pharmaceutical companies. It’s a lonely task, but I wish you the conviction to take it on and to see it through. I wish you well."

There was something about how the cardiologist went about his discussion with the patient that also bothered me.  I wanted to ask him, why are you telling the patient that you can give him   “A Little Pill.” ?

Are you really talking about the size of the tablet you’d be prescribing, or is there something more subtle and alarming about how you’re delivering this message? 

What if the tablet size was large? Would you tell the patient that you could give him a “Big Pill” to solve the problem?

I think it’s demeaning to patients to talk to them in language that you’d use with children such as saying we can treat you with a “Little Pill” but then have no discussion about the fact that what you’re really talking about is prescribing a statin medication that can lower cholesterol, but also has some serious side effects.

Somehow this physician also left out of the discussion these facts about statin medications:

Statin Medication Facts

* Statin medications only reduce mortality from cardiovascular disease by 20-30%

* Perhaps even more importantly, total mortality is impacted by statin drugs minimally:   life expectancy is only increased by a few months, even after years of being on the medications.

* Drug treatments are not effective at reducing atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries in most people. (However, a low fat vegetarian type diet can be not only helpful in reducing the risk of death, but also can reverse the process of atherosclerosis fairly significantly.)

This discussion had me reminded of the lack of informed consent that’s often seen in conscious sedation for example, in our articles on colonoscopy sedation, and the fact that patients are not told about either the actions of the most common sedation medication that is given, nor it’s potential side effects.  And in the case of the conscious sedation type procedures how many nurses simply come into the patient’s room and tell them that they’re going to give them “something to make you comfy”.

The next time you hear your health care provider tell you about a “Little Pill” or that they’re going to give you something to make you “comfy” you may want to start asking questions.

If your physician or health care provider doesn’t provide you with answers that are age appropriate — and give you full disclosure about possible medications and treatments, then it may be time to seek out another provider.

It’s your life, and your body, and you deserve to know the details about any potential treatments as well as non pharmacological approaches that may be safer.  Being an informed patient is not only prudent, but it may also be the way that you can save your own life.