By Dr. Mercola
I've long said that the best strategy for achieving health is avoiding a visit to your doctor in the first place. Why? Because in many cases you will simply leave the office with a prescription or two, which will rarely solve your health problem. Most doctor visits result in "solutions" that only suppress your symptoms, often causing other side effects and problems.
Rather than advise patients about the true underlying conditions and real solutions that lead to health, they are left putting toxic Band-Aids on gaping wounds. As shown in the slideshow above, and as I detail in depth below, there are actually many reasons why avoiding your doctor may be in the best interest of your health …
1. Annual Pap Smears
Many physicians still advise women to receive yearly pap smears, but the newest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force specifically recommend against this. The new recommendations call for women to undergo PAP screening only once every three years, beginning at age 21 and ending around age 65.
When testing is more frequent, or started before age 21, there's a chance of detecting human papillomavirus (HPV), and associatedlesions, more frequently. If a physician detects such lesions, they will assume they are "pre-cancerous" and treat them accordingly. However, most HPV infections and associated low grade squamous intra-epithelial lesions clear up on their own without treatment,1 while the treatment itself can lead to cervical incompetence and/or miscarriage in the future. Since most cases of HPV clear up on their own, this is a case where the treatment may do more harm than good.
That said, PAP smears (which screen for cervical cancer typically associated with HPV) are one of the best tools for preventing cervical cancer deaths – but getting one every year is likely unnecessary.
Evidence shows that screening women for cervical cancer more frequently than every three years does not detect more cancer. Women who have not been exposed to HPV are not at risk for cervical cancer. Further, even if you are exposed and the infection does not clear up on its own (which is not common), it can take 10 years before it progresses to cancer. Cervical cancers are very slow growing, which is why less frequent PAP screens are still effective.
Despite the new PAP screen guidelines, most physicians continue to recommend annual PAP screening to their patients, mostly because they (and their patients) are in the habit of doing so. Some physicians also fear their patients will not come in for annual exams and other screening if the PAP is not required every year.
There is also a good deal of evidence that the revised PAP guidelines are part of a plan to rescue Gardasil (HPV) vaccine sales, which are embarrassingly low. The HPV vaccine is a heavily promoted and very expensive vaccine, but it has been a flop, with less than 27 percent of women opting to receive it, and reports of serious adverse effects continuing to pour in.
Only about 1 in 8 women whose breast cancer was identified during a routine mammogram actually had their lives "saved" by the screening, a recent analysis estimated2 – and this does not accurately account for how many women will fall victim to mammogram-induced breast cancer.
Using breast cancer data from The National Cancer Institute and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers calculated a 50-year-old woman's likelihood of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, the odds the cancer would be detected by mammography, and her risk of dying from the cancer over 20 years.
They found that a mammogram has, at best, only a 13 percent probability of saving her life, and that the probability may actually be as low as 3 percent. No matter what analyses they used, including considering women of different ages, the probability of a mammogram saving a life remained below 25 percent. Researchers concluded:
"Most women with screen-detected breast cancer have not had their life saved by screening. They are instead either diagnosed early (with no effect on their mortality) or overdiagnosed."
This bears repeating:
Mammograms often diagnose lesions or tumors that may never threaten a woman's life. They also often result in false positives that lead to over-treatment, i.e. misdiagnosed women often undergo unnecessary mastectomies, lumpectomies, radiation treatments and chemotherapy, which can have a devastating effect on both the quality and length of their lives. Plus, a mammogram uses ionizing radiation, which in and of itself can either induce or contribute to the development of breast cancer.
3. Cold and Flu
Think it's wise to go to a conventional physician for these? Think again. Thanks to routine over-prescription of antibiotics, and the prescription of inappropriate antibiotics, you're likely to walk away after being told to take a drug you don't actually need.
Antibiotics do NOT work against viruses, hence they are useless against colds and flu's. Unfortunately antibiotics are vastly over-prescribed for this purpose. If you have a cold or flu, remember that unless you have a serious secondary bacterial pneumonia, an antibiotic will likely do far more harm than good, because whenever you use an antibiotic, you're increasing your susceptibility to developing infections with resistance to that antibiotic -- and you can become the carrier of this resistant bug, and can spread it to others.
The first thing you want to do when you feel yourself coming down with a cold or flu is to avoid ALL sugars, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods. Sugar is particularly damaging to your immune system -- which needs to be ramped up, not suppressed, in order to combat an emerging infection. This includes fructose from fruit juice, and all types of grains (as they break down into sugar (glucose) in your body).
Ideally, you must address nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress issues the moment you first feel yourself getting a bug. Getting plenty of high quality sleep will be crucial to your recovery. This is when immune-enhancing strategies will be most effective. In addition, the research is quite clear that the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections. I strongly believe you could avoid colds and influenza entirely by maintaining your vitamin D level in the optimal range.
Many doctors are unaware that a high-fat diet is NOT the cause of heart disease. They are fooled into believing that total cholesterol is an accurate predictor of heart disease. If you visit your physician and you have high cholesterol, you're likely to be told two things:
- Take a statin cholesterol-lowering drug and
- Don't eat saturated fat.
While statin drugs do lower cholesterol very effectively, cholesterol is not the culprit in heart disease. Plus a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims that no study has ever proven that statins improve all-cause mortality3 -- in other words, they don't prolong your life any longer than if you'd not taken them at all. And rather than improving your life, they actually contribute to a deterioration in the quality of your life, destroying muscles and endangering liver, kidney and even heart function. The best ways to optimize your cholesterol levels and your heart health have to do with lifestyle measures, including eating healthy minimally processed fats and avoid highly processed vegetable fats and oils that are loaded with toxic omega-6 fats.
Once again, you're more likely to leave the doctor's office with a prescription for a drug that could be more dangerous than the problem itself. Every year, 230 million prescriptions for antidepressants are filled, making them one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. The psychiatric industry itself is a $330 billion industry—not bad for an enterprise that offers little in the way of cures.
Despite all of these prescriptions, more than one in 20 Americans are depressed.4 Of those depressed Americans, 80 percent say they have some level of functional impairment, and 27 percent say their condition makes it extremely difficult to do everyday tasks like work, activities of daily living, and getting along with others.
The use of antidepressant drugs—medicine's answer for depression—doubled in just one decade, from 13.3 million in 1996 to 27 million in 2005.
If these drugs are so extensively prescribed, then why are so many people feeling so low?
Because they don't work at addressing the cause.
Research has confirmed that antidepressant drugs are no more effective than sugar pills. Some studies have even found that sugar pills may produce BETTER results than antidepressants! Personally, I believe the reason for this astounding finding is that both pills work via the placebo effect, but the sugar pills produce far fewer adverse effects.
Many people forget that antidepressants come with a slew of side effects, some of which are deadly. Approximately 750,000 people attempt suicide each year in the US, and about 30,000 of those succeed. Taking a drug that is unlikely to relieve your symptoms and may actually increase your risk of killing yourself certainly does not seem like a good choice. In addition, since most of the treatment focus is on drugs, many safe and natural treatment options that DO work -- like exercise, the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), vitamin D, and proper nutrition -- are completely ignored.
6. High Blood Pressure
The definition of what constitutes high blood pressure expanded greatly in 2003, so that drug companies could sell drugs loaded with side effects to 45 million extra people. Because the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (rife with drug industry conflicts of interest) decided that what were in actuality relatively low blood pressure readings were a risk for heart disease, millions more over the years, were suddenly labeled abnormal, and in need of "treatment" for a condition that didn't exist in medical literature until that panel met.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a very serious health concern that can lead to heart disease and increase your risk of having a stroke. The good news though is that following a healthy nutrition plan, along with exercising and implementing effective stress reduction techniques will normalize blood pressure in most people.
7. PSA Tests for Prostate Cancer
These tests actually reveal very little, and an irrelevant positive result will likely lead to a biopsy that comes with infection risk. The prostate-specific antigen test (PSA test), analyzes your blood for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a substance produced by your prostate gland. When higher-than-normal levels of PSA are detected, it is believed that cancer is present. However, PSA screening barely has any impact on mortality rates from prostate cancer. As a result, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force will soon recommend that men not get screened for prostate cancer.
Today, many experts agree that PSA testing is unreliable at best and useless at worst for accurately diagnosing prostate cancer. Many also agree that routine PSA blood tests often lead to over-diagnosis of prostate cancer, resulting in unnecessary treatments. Similar to mammograms, the PSA screen has become little more than an up-sell technique. The false positive rate is high, and the bulk of the harm is a result of subsequent unnecessary treatments.
Diet is actually a factor that can greatly impact your prostate health and help prevent enlarged prostate and prostate cancer, but many physicians fail to address this.
You'll want to eat as much organic (preferably raw) food as possible, and liberally include fresh herbs and spices, such as ginger. Make sure to limit carbohydrates like sugar/fructose and grains as much as possible to maintain optimal insulin levels, which will help reduce your cancer risk in general. Highly processed or charcoaled meats, pasteurized dairy products, and synthetic trans fats correlate with an increased risk for prostate cancer and should also be avoided.
8. Inappropriate and Unwise Dietary Advice
Most doctors are clueless about what constitutes a healthy diet. As such, they will recommend health catastrophes like artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils in lieu of butter, and fat-free pasteurized dairy products. Most will also neglect to tell you about the foods you could be eating more of to optimize your health, like fermented vegetables, raw dairy products, healthy fats (like saturated and animal-based omega-3s), grass-fed beef and more.
In addition, most are ignorant about the importance of how to cook your food – most foods are best consumed when raw or only lightly cooked, and this includes animal proteins like eggs and meat. A discussion about food quality is essential to health (i.e. getting your meat from a small local farmer instead of a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO)) but you will almost never hear this from your family physician. Wondering how to truly eat healthy? See my nutrition plan for a comprehensive (and free) guide.
9. Prescription Drugs Might Kill You and They Don't Address the Cause of the Problem
A drug prescription is usually a Band-Aid that gets nowhere near the root cause of illness. And many drugs are dangerous. Last year an analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control CDC) revealed that deaths from properly prescribed drugs now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States! And when you add in deaths attributable to other medical care modalities, like hospital admissions and surgery, the modern medical system becomes the leading cause of death and injury in the United States.
Authored in two parts by Gary Null, PhD, Carolyn Dean, MD ND, Martin Feldman, MD, Debora Rasio, MD, and Dorothy Smith, PhD, the comprehensive Death by Medicine article described in excruciating detail how everything from medical errors to adverse drug reactions to unnecessary procedures caused more harm than good. That was in 2003. In 2010, an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, despite efforts to improve patient safety in the past few years, the health care system hasn't changed much at all.5
For one of many examples, the birth control pills Yaz and Yasmin, which have been endorsed by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee, contain a drug called drospirenone that makes women who take it nearly seven times more likely to develop thromboembolism. This is an obstruction of a blood vessel that can lead to deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, stroke, heart attack and death.
Why did the FDA approve this dangerous drug? It turns out that at least four members of the advisory committee have either done work for the drugs' manufacturers or licensees, or received research funding from them. According to the Alliance for Natural Health:
"Each of those four panelists who received money from the pill's manufacturer voted in favor of the pill. Interestingly, the committee's ruling that the drug's benefit outweighs the risks was decided by a four-vote margin. Ironically, while the FDA allowed voting by advisors with business connections to drospirenone, the agency barred ... Sidney M. Wolfe, on the grounds that he ... had advised his readers not to take Yaz based on several years of data."
10. Your Doctor Might Not Even Tell You the Truth
A U.S. telephone survey found that 79 percent of Americans trust their doctor.6 But a recent survey of 1,900 physicians revealed that some are not always open or honest with their patients The results were less than impressive, to put it mildly:
- One-third of physicians did not completely agree with disclosing serious medical errors to patients
- One-fifth did not completely agree that physicians should never tell a patient something untrue
- Amazingly 40% believed that they should hide their financial relationships with drug and device companies to patients
- Ten percent said they had told patients something untrue in the previous year
When making health care decisions, you should certainly get your physicians' advice -- that's what you're paying them for, after all. Hopefully you have chosen a health care provider who has similar philosophies about health as you do, and whose expertise you can trust. But remember that when making health care decisions, you must be your own advocate; it's important to ask questions before opting for tests, procedures or treatments, and it's your decision if you'd rather opt for less medical intervention while choosing a more natural way of healing your body.
Ultimately, the more you take responsibility for your own health -- in the form of nurturing your body to prevent disease -- the less you need to rely on the "disease care" that passes for health care in the United States. If you carefully follow some basic health principles -- simple things like exercising, eating whole foods, sleeping enough, getting sun exposure, reducing stress in your life, and nurturing personal relationships -- you will drastically reduce your need for conventional medical care, which in and of itself will reduce your chances of suffering ill side effects.
But in the event you do need medical care, seek a health care practitioner who will help you move toward complete wellness by helping you discover and understand the hidden causes of your health challenges ... and create a customized and comprehensive -- i.e. holistic -- treatment plan for you.