According to the most recent IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics report, total healthcare system spending on medicines in the United States in 2011 reached $320,000,000,000. That’s correct—$320 billion.

When the most recent population census of the United States was taken in 2010, 308 million people called the United States home.

With some simple math, you can see that our drug expenditures in America work out to be a little over $1,000 per year per person. That’s for every man, woman, and child walking around in the U.S. This a lot of money and a lot of drugs!

What are we getting for all of this? Are we significantly improving our lives or is the money spent on medications a complete waste?

As a pharmacist, I can’t help but wonder about these questions myself. I also can’t help but wonder if my services are helping or hurting the bigger picture in our society. Does all this money spent on medication really make that much of a difference?

Living Longer, But Not Necessarily Better

To answer this, I searched long and far for information on life expectancy and quality of life in individuals in the United States. What I found was pretty interesting to say the least. We’re definitely living longer in the U.S., due to all of the technological advances in medicine in our country, but we’re not necessarily living better. This was highlighted in the excerpt below:

Life expectancy at the turn of the 20th century in the United States was 49.24 years. Americans now live an average of 77.2 years, and those who are now 65 years old can expect to live an additional 18.1 years … The rise in life expectancy over the past century has been linear, with no indication of an imminent decline in the rate of increase. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect the average life span in the United States to reach or exceed 100 years in the 21st century. However, because the average age at chronic disease onset has not risen to the same extent as life expectancy, a typical American currently aged 75 years can look forward to only 4 more years of active health followed by greater than 7 years of disability. If the age of chronic disease onset does not increase commensurate to the added years of life still to come, a growing number of centenarians will spend the last 2 decades of their lives living with the serious and debilitating consequences of chronic disease.
— Dwyer J., ACNJ, Feb 2006:83:4155-4205

That doesn't sound like fun at all to me. The thought of living longer merely to exist in a constant state of sickness and misery makes me want to turn back the clock a bit to the earlier days of the 20th century. At least then we could die in a state of relatively good health, albeit at a much younger age.

Good Health Comes in Colorful Packages

There is good news in all of this. You have far more control over your long-term health than you might think. It all comes down to the choices you make along the way.

I know this because I’ve seen both sides of the story. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a pharmacist. I’ve been practicing pharmacy for over thirteen years now. In this time, I’ve seen thousands of patients come through my care, all trying to make their way back to ‘healthy,’ whatever ‘healthy’ is considered in our country. And they all have one thing in common—the more medications they’re on, the sicker and more miserable they are, without fail. I wish I could say differently, but, unfortunately, I can’t.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been times where the medications I’ve dispensed have literally saved lives. I work in a hospital, a breeding ground for medical crises as they happen in real time. Life-saving medication is part of my job. The team of doctors, nurses, and myself would be hard pressed to stop a life-threatening stroke without powerful clot-busting drugs. Thank goodness for them!

But aside from these rare occasions it rings true that the more medications a person is on the more problems they have, and the worse they feel. True health starts with what’s on the end of your fork, knife, and spoon, not what’s staring you down at the end of your prescription vial. I’ve seen this side of things too. I’ve had the privilege of learning how optimal nutrition transforms lives of the chronically ill. Food can literally be life changing if properly implemented into someone’s diet/lifestyle.

I was fortunate enough to learn about this role of diet and health during the last six years of my career. I wish I would’ve known about it earlier in my career. I would’ve been telling people all about the incredible healing properties of nature’s rainbow skittles—fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains—if I had.

A whole foods, plant-based diet can work wonders for those facing serious, chronic medical conditions. After reading The China Study in 2009, I couldn’t get enough of these powerful, new medical tools in my medicine chest—Plants! They can work wonders.

Since 2009, I’ve helped many people reverse chronic, debilitating diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, lupus, prostate cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. And the best part—there are no side effects or costly follow up doctor’s office visits to succumb to. It’s just about getting back to the basics. Eat plants, not drugs. Get off the sofa and move your body. Pharmacist’s orders!

So take it from me—the druggist—if you want to get healthy and avoid two decades of “debilitating consequences of chronic disease” like the AJCN article stated above then try eating your medicine instead of standing in line at the pharmacy to receive your medicine. Your body, and those closest to you, will thank you for many years to come.

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