Health & Medicine

What's in a Pill?

This week I was in bed still recovering from the flu for the fourth time in a period of six months. Terribly unwell and under house arrest, I watched many informative movies. One of them was Food, Inc. which really opened my eyes as to what we eat and where it is coming from.(Image: TIMES)

Already wary of what we eat, there was one more lesson to learn, about what we swallow?

When I take any medicine, I never think twice, I just gulp it down with water or orange juice having true faith in God that my fever will go down or pain would subside et al.

I remember last time when I visited my doc for sore throat; she walked gingerly towards me with her stethoscope wearing a laudable yet forced smile of the troubled kinds, I could not help asking her what was wrong. She had a bad back and was in a very bad shape I must say, but still on call. A sigh of relief blew a breeze of comfort into my existence as I felt very well right there learning how not to take sickness to our hearts and minds.

Anyway, this time when I got flu for the fourth time and then a bad cough I had to visit her again. Her secretary was coughing in the background when she was taking my history. He seemed to have bad cough too and sounded much worse than I did. This time again, I couldn’t help asking what was wrong when she told me her secretary is allergic to something and that this has been going on for years and the whole staff was now used to his cough. Funny part was, she said, if there is no coughing, they know that Jon is not around. Wow! How could someone cough all their life? Oh Well! Another case of human being’s capability to adapt to whatever their circumstances are in.

Allergies are the worst nightmares if the causative agent cannot be found for them. They basically are diseases of unknown origin. The treatment is always symptomatic as there is no cure for allergies. The auto-immune disorders that can kill people are only the far stretched extension of such diseases of mysterious nature.

I also read an article lying on bed that sex/love on a regular basis can boost one’s immunity. It read something like : “Why should you love or have regular sex” I smiled when I read it because I then imagined how the people having no love life or undergoing voluntary or involuntary abstinence can die early of a weaker immune system.

The article went to the extent of citing some research that showed a particular antibody increases in blood if one has regular sex and thus keeping a person healthier than the lesser mortals. Oh Well! Again a sigh!! But this time with a sad hopeless sigh into the space as if I lost the meaning of it all gradually.

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My stomach starts growling, and there was a suspected colitis in reserve that night. Why suspected? Another story that is: the doc advised me to get this broad spectrum antibiotic that would kill possibly the whole generation of multitudes of species of good and the bad ones sitting in my guts or swimming in my blood.

Amusing to me was the ten pages of information about the drug capsules that I received in a small vial. As I started reading, it started getting clearer that there were more side effects than positive effects. Only two lines were written about when was it to be used to treat what but after that there were pages of mild, moderate and severe side effects. At the end of page tenth I had made up my mind that if I had to gulp it down, I better be prepared for the worst.

Nowhere was there any mention of its beneficial effects, so I looked it up on the internet and read some very wise research papers on the medicine itself where they had shown basically that the drug even when administered with the same dosage until the final day of supposed usage, could not kill all of the bacteria and the multi drug resistant bacteria persisted, first giving colitis as a severe side effect to the patient and then in the following periods of weeks or months depending on their population came back with worst symptoms of the same disease, except that this time the broad spectrum drug wouldn’t work.

The same drug was used for many other diseases and only the dosage varied. The thing that amused me was that what if after taking only one dose of the drug a person is cured of a certain disease, now has drug resistant bacteria still in the gut and can get some other infection soon in time or if not now when they get exposed to some other bacteria of the class, a stronger dosage would not help them.

It is very simple. Our intestine harbors bacteria which are mostly beneficial but one can’t control what bacteria to have in gut, except that one can take probiotic supplements. Now still, there can be all kinds of them.

Depending on the body’s immune system or infection from outside, a certain species can reside, multiply more than others and start creating havoc in the body. When they are killed by high dose of any antibiotic, some of them still survive and over the period of time grow in their population because they are selected by the strongest antibiotics and they are robust to survive any condition.

That is when one gets side effects right then or a stronger infection in following months. Same is true with other medicine.

The compounds that we take have so many side effects. This broad spectrum antibiotic listed anything from nausea to Alzheimer’s disease and symptoms mild diarrhea to severe death. It sent chills down my spine to read the disclaimer of this kind. However I took a dose of it and soon got colitis. So I stopped it only hoping that I do not get third infection or high fever.

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What can be done about what we eat when we are healthy and what we consume when we are sick? One sure thing is to be aware, read the labels and know what is it and where is it coming from. I am not saying to go crazy over every other detail but awareness is a must.

Can flu be treated with simple home remedies of taking adequate rest, fluids, warm water, steam inhalation, etc? Can we resolve to put ourselves in isolation so that we don’t spread it?

Can we take the full responsibility of not starting an antibiotic unless we absolutely need it, which is in case of high fever that wouldn’t subside with regular fever reducers? Can we take the responsibility of taking the complete dose of the antibiotic to stop Multi drug resistant bacteria from developing and evolving and then setting them loose in our environment?

Do we know how much of these compounds we regularly are consuming in our water and food unintentionally because the waste from the factories that produce them and the waste that we produce both as healthy and sick individuals ultimately travel to the water bodies and to the soil that we grow our crops on?

We have a right to information to know what it is. We can have some control over what we consume and what we shouldn’t. If we go on evolving in our treatments or technology, the pathogens and problems evolve with us, they sometimes evolve better than us leading to the ultimate disaster. We have seen this even with computers, the better software always welcomes stronger viruses and malware. Should we stop evolving then?

Not really! But being mindful of everything is one step and not welcoming what we do not essentially need in our world, not encouraging things just to show off or feel tech savvy or greater species is another.

No matter how much evolved we become, nature’s majesty can’t be vanquished. We see examples of that everyday in the form of natural disasters and calamities that dwarf us whenever we feel good about our evolution.

What we need is a harmonious aware existence with all that surrounds us.

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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh - the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and "drishtikone".

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