Tom Ballard, ND's blog

Drug Problems Go Beyond Pain Pills
November 27, 2008, 11:56 am
Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , ,

By Tom Ballard, RN, ND

The Seattle PI published a nice article on pain pills (Prescription Pill Deaths Soar, PI 11-14-08). However, prescription drugs problems go far beyond pain medications.

The Journal of the American Medical Association and other leading publications report at least 120,000 deaths per year from ‘appropriately prescribed’ medications. It makes since: Prescription drugs are largely used to treat symptoms not diseases. For instance: High blood pressure may be caused by a magnesium deficiency. Blood pressure pills lower your blood pressure, but ignore the magnesium deficiency that places you at risk of stroke and heart attack.

Rising death rates from prescription drugs are a major health problem, killing three times as many as breast cancer, yet the public is largely unaware of this health crisis.


Legal Drugs Kill More Than Illegal
November 26, 2008, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , ,

By Tom Ballard, RN, ND

While much attention is placed on deaths from illegal drugs, rising death rates from legal drugs are largely ignored. Over 20 years (1979-1998) a total of 214,575 deaths were classified by the Center for Disease Control as drug-induced – but only 21 percent of these were due to illegal drugs.

According to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association and other leading publications, there are at least 120,000 deaths per year from legal medications. And, experts admit, medication deaths are under-reported.

It makes since: Prescription drugs are largely used to treat symptoms not diseases. The consequence of covering up symptoms is that the underlying disease process is ignored. For instance: Your blood pressure may be high because of a magnesium deficiency. The blood pressure pill will lower your blood pressure, but ignores the magnesium deficiency that places you at risk of stroke and heart attack.

Rising death rates from prescription drugs makes it clear; attacking symptoms while ignoring causes is not in our long-term health interests.

Hormone Replacement: Bio-Identical, synthetic, or…? (part 2)
November 25, 2008, 9:47 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Do you need hormone supplementation?


In the “me too!” rush for bio-identical hormones, some doctors and patients are not stopping to ask if they need to be supplementing hormones at all.


In the best of circumstances a patient would undergo reliable laboratory testing to both diagnose hormone deficiencies and monitor dosages. However, this is not always done. Bio-Identical hormones are often prescribed (or self-prescribed) based on symptoms or because the person believes they have an anti-aging effect.


Advocates for hormone supplementation look at studies that show a decline in hormone production as humans’ age. For instance, the statistics show a 2-3 percent decline each year starting in the forth decade. This leads some, like Suzanne Somers, to advocate for making up for this “deficiency” by supplementation. But, is this a deficiency? There are many other explanations, such as that the decline in hormones is a natural process that helps the body cope with the post-reproductive years. For instance, some evidence shows that a decline in testosterone protects men from prostate cancer. Likewise, lower estrogen may protect women form breast and uterine cancer.


It is difficult, I believe, to put much stock in population studies on hormone levels. First of all, the studies are quite small. Secondly, as in most studies of this kind, researchers looked at what they considered “normal” men and women. But, is “normal” the same as “healthy”? Is the person that eats fast-food meat and dairy products which are known to contain synthetic estrogens truly healthy? How reliable are small population studies on people who, for the most part, are undernourished and loaded with synthetic hormones?


No studies have compared truly healthy individuals – those exercising regularly and eating organic, low-processed food – to those eating the standard American diet (SAD). Perhaps declining testosterone levels are more a factor of lifestyle than age.


An additional problem is that most hormone studies are performed on blood. However, doctors disagree on whether blood, urine, or saliva is the best measurement tool. It is important to note also that so little is known about normal ranges of hormones that published ranges are quite wide. To accurately assess hormone levels you would need to be tested at least once a year starting at birth.


Population studies also rarely compare time, day and seasonal variations. Cholesterol levels tend to go up in the winter, cortisone will be low in the evening. Hormones levels are generally cyclic through the month and even through the day. Scientists have only just begun to look at these variables.


Stress and sugary foods exert profound influences not only on cortisone, but on insulin, testosterone and estrogen. These are usually not factored in to population studies. Indeed, how do you find two individuals who have “the same” amount of stress?


So far, the majority of studies on hormones do not take into consideration time of day, seasonal variations, the level of stress, diet, or the health of the test subject. Therefore, conclusion made on the basis of these studies should be made judiciously. This is especially true of hormones, since their influence is so widespread throughout the body. Yes, estrogen may reduce skin dryness, but also increase cancer risk. The man taking testosterone may feel renewed vigor (which is perhaps psychological) but not be aware of a slow growing prostate cancer. Jumping from “hormones declines with age” to prescribing hormones is not a thoughtful approach to medicine. Continue reading

Hormone Replacement: Bio-Identical, synthetic, or…? (part1)

Tom Ballard, RN, ND

Bio-Identical hormones have become popular through celebrity endorsements, books, news reports and websites, yet few are aware of their dangers. Generally we are presented the message: as we age our hormone levels decline, so supplementation will help us become more youthful, energetic and fit. Oh, and we’ll also lose weight. If only health was that simple.


The term bio-identical hormone refers to the supplementation of hormones, usually estrogen or testosterone, that are biochemically identical to those produced in your body. They are usually compounded by small pharmacies, often mixing specific combinations as prescribed by a doctor for a specific patient. Advocates claim they are preferable to hormone preparations such as Premarin, which is produced from horse urine and is not identical to human hormones.


Bio-identical hormones hit the spotlight with the celebrity endorsement of actress Suzanne Somers. Numerous books and articles have been published on the supposed virtues of bio-identical hormones over so-called “synthetic” hormones. In addition to estrogen and testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH) is also sold as a bio-identical hormone.


One reason for the popularity of estrogen, testosterone and human growth hormone is that they often have immediate effects. The person often feels better, so wants to continue. This makes it difficult to convince patients that the long-term negatives may outweigh the short-term positive feelings. Continue reading

Changing the Ecology of Health Care: Green Medicine (pt 2)

Economic Failure to Thrive

You’re the same person that knows that consumerism – buying stuff as a type of therapy – is bad for the environment. At the same time you live in a country that consumes more “health care” – that is, drugs and devices – than any country in the world, even other industrialized countries where people are healthier and live longer. Americans line up for White Castle medicine as if on a shopping spree, in spite of statistics showing that cities with the highest medical utilization have the poorest health outcomes. (Dartmouth Report)

Retail therapy, whether it’s for clothes or drugs, provides a short-term high that is not only bad for you, but crippling for the economy. It is a medical model that, barely 130 years old (aspirin was synthesized in 1880) drains money from more fertile fields such as education and infrastructure. Economically, whether talking Medicare, Medicaid or general healthcare access, the current medical model, costing three trillion dollars a year, has been pronounced unsustainable.

Additional White Castle Costs: pollution

Besides its astronomical costs and general ineffectiveness, the medical-industrial-complex is one of the most polluting industries; manufacturing chemicals, packaging waste, discarded pills down the sink and into the water table. White Castle medicine is another reason the pond became a toxic blight.

Green Medicine

Medicine that is supported by scientific principles and works sustainably with the environment is Green Medicine. It follows the principles of ecological balance rather than corporate chemistry. Green Medicine, also known as naturopathic or holistic medicine, is the amalgamation of thousands of years of native healing traditions. It fuses scientific knowledge, employing the best of folk medicine, nutrition, biochemistry, organic farming, and other disciplines that are part of the greater web of scientific understanding. This whole-science web supports health, of you and the pond. Continue reading

Changing the Ecology of Health Care: Green Medicine (pt 1)
November 11, 2008, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , ,

by Tom Ballard, RN, ND

Have you measured your medical carbon footprint?

“Carbon footprint” may be new to you or maybe you’ve been walking in ecological shoes for years. Al Gore or Rachael Carson might have turned you on to the complexity and vulnerability of the planet. Whether new to it or an old “nature buff”, you think of yourself as having “Gone green.” But, what about your medical carbon footprint?

Many of us have health issues that need as much attention as the environment, yet we’re not applying the same standards of care. It’s often off our radar to think about how our health care choices impact the world. We may spend more time with our recycling than in choosing a doctor. But, our bodies are an ecological system just like any river, wetland, or pond we’ve worked to save. Continue reading

A Cautionary Tale of American Medicine
November 1, 2008, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , , , ,

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose there’s something wrong with our current medical system. No, not just that the insurance system is unfair and that doctors sometimes make mistakes. Let’s push ourselves to think there is something more fundamentally wrong. For instance, what if we dwelled on the idea that drugs and surgery should not be the first treatments considered, but the last. I know, it’s like saying that the system is upside down, but bear with me.

Now read a story that you’re probably already familiar with, but with a completely different conclusion, one that turns the medicine, and a boys life, upside down. Continue reading