Preventative medications: which pills are right for me?March 29, 2018 | by Simon Moore
Why would a doctor recommend a medication when you feel completely well?
Some medication and supplements have been proven to prevent disease, including heart attack, stroke and cancer.
If that sounds too good to be true, it is – any medication that has an effect will also have side effects.
Here are five medications that you have likely heard about, or are possibly already taking. Read carefully to find out which of these may help you – and which may be harmful—and why you would want to take them.
A QUICK TAKE ON SOME COMMON MEDICATIONS
Aspirin is a blood thinner that was originally sourced from willow tree bark.
PROS: Aspirin can reduce the risk of heart disease, treat heart attack, and reduce cancer deaths
CONS: Aspirin can cause bleeding that can sometimes be serious (stomach or brain bleeding)
- Vitamin D
Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D helps build strong bones
PROS: Vitamin D can reduce risk of osteoporosis
CONS: Vitamin D can lead to kidney stones in high amounts
- Cholesterol pill (Statin)
These medications lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood
PROS: Your chance of having a heart attack is lower when you take a Statin
CONS: Downsides include cost and side effects such as muscle, liver and kidney problems
- Omega 3
This “good” fatty acid is found in high amounts in oily fish such as salmon
PROS: Surprisingly, despite all the hype, Omega 3 supplements have not been proven to be helpful in reducing heart disease. Eating oily fish a couple of times a week should give you all the Omega 3 you need to get the benefit of this “good” fatty acid.
CONS: Fish liver oils can contain high amounts of Vitamin A and D, which can be harmful – even lethal
- Contraceptive pill
The estrogen and progesterone pill can do much more than prevent pregnancy
PROS: Believe it or not, the contraceptive pill can prevent cancer. Women who take the contraceptive pill have been shown to have lower rates of colon cancer, endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. The contraceptive pill can also be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of other diseases such as acne, excess hair growth and menstrual cramping.
CONS: Estrogen can be harmful, and can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots in the lungs (which can be lethal). Women who have elevated risk factors, including migraine with aura should speak to a physician before taking these medications.
WHICH PILLS SHOULD I TAKE?
Should you take the above medications? The answer is maybe. Let me use an analogy to explain. The question is similar to if you were to ask me, “Should I wear a parachute?”.
For people who are at high risk, such as skydivers, wearing a parachute is vital (in fact, they should probably even wear two!). However, if you DON’T skydive and I told you to wear a parachute all day every day, that would sound ridiculous. In fact, it could even be harmful; you could end up with back pain or injury from the heavy backpack.
In the same way, if you are at high risk of heart disease, preventative medication would definitely be recommended.
So you are probably now wondering, “What is my risk for heart disease and cancer?”. This is where a personalized assessment comes in to play. After taking measurements, reviewing blood tests, and asking some questions, your physician or primary care provider can talk to you about what is right for you.
More importantly, they can tell you about which supplements and pills could actually harm you.
Finally – there is something that is even more effective at reducing your chance of developing cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, obesity and so much more – something even better than a pill.
You guessed it: diet and exercise. The current recommendation is 150 minutes of exercise per week, which is more challenging than remembering to take a medication every day, but has much more benefit. If your doctor says you are fit to exercise then you should start immediately. As well, consider the Mediterranean diet for diabetes and heart disease prevention.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Bottom line – book a health assessment today with your primary care provider to review your risk and what is recommended specifically for you.
NOTE: The content of this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes on the topics of medicine, health and related subjects. The content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, is not intended and should not be construed as the advice of a physician. Please consult a physician for personalized medical advice.