In my coaching practice, I help people to achieve their best health by leveraging their unique lifestyle habits and choices. I once had a client who started our very first session making sure that I knew her preferences. “Now look,” she began, “I don’t want to take any medication! I just don’t like the idea of using unnatural chemicals.” Many of her family members had high blood pressure and had suffered strokes and kidney failure because of it. She resolved that this would not be her fate and asked for my help.
In the past, she was prescribed three different hypertension medications, all of which she had stopped taking. She said, “I prefer to treat my blood pressure naturally", so I was pretty surprised when she named six different supplements that she was taking. They had dramatic names like, “Power Boost”, “Serenity Now” and “Zen Complete.” It occurred to me that she really didn’t have an issue with taking pills. After all, she was taking six pills—count them, six! But I also sensed that she religiously believed in these supplements.
I asked her to gather them all up and review the labels; the ingredients read like any multivitamin: 100% or more of the daily-recommended amounts of vitamins A, C and D, with many other nutrients, like zinc and biotin. There were others, but no special plant extracts that laid claim to special healing properties, just the standard vitamins. What’s worse is that she had no idea that all the bottles contained about the same things.
In total, she was taking somewhere close to 600% of the daily-recommended amounts of many of the vitamins. The more the merrier, right? Wrong! Too much of anything can be bad, and in this case it could be very bad! A condition, known as hypervitaminosis (vitamin poisoning from excessive supplement intake), can lead to serious system shutdown.
I asked her if she thought her ‘natural’ strategy was actually working. She said, “a little, I think.” Her blood pressure was still about 150/80 (normal is 120/80). It obviously wasn’t working, and she was still at high risk for stroke and kidney damage.
She blurted out, “I know what you’re trying to do!” “What?” I innocently responded. “The real reason I don’t take prescriptions is because I can’t afford them right now,” she proclaimed. But it turned out that she was spending close to $65 each month on supplements. The generic blood pressure medication she stopped taking wouldn’t cost more than $10 a month. And what’s more, it actually helped her blood pressure. She finally acquiesced. “It’s just that I’ve never had to take medication before, and I feel like such a failure because it’s like I’ve given up. I’m not a quitter!”
There was the answer. It wasn’t the pill; it was what she thought about the pill. In her mind, her self-affirmation and resolve to beat the odds of her family medical history were riding on not taking a prescription medication. But why? This was an entirely made-up belief; but she really believed in it. There’s no rule that says if you take medication, you’re not a whole person. And the thought that medications, which are highly regulated by the FDA, somehow contain more ‘chemicals’ is folklore at best. Everything at its basic level is a chemical—your body is a gigantic, well-orchestrated sea of chemicals!
Now, don’t get me wrong; no medication is perfect. But if you need one or two to fight against deadly conditions, and its benefits outweigh its risks, so be it! You are no less of a man/woman, no less intelligent or courageous because you require medication—especially if you were dealt a genetic predisposition. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be as healthy as you can be.
African Americans can hardly afford to take any strategy for optimal health off the table, given the enormous disparities in health. Uninformed crusades and reluctance to take lifesaving or disease-preventing medications are now recognized as a self-imposed risk factor for African Americans and plays an important role in health disparities. As you adopt a new way of thinking about your body, also get rid of old baseless ideas that are barriers to your best health. Remember: Healthy is the new black!
Dave Montgomery, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified physician and EBONY's Special Contributing Health Editor. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter:@DMontgomeryMD. Send your health questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.