Cutting Drug Costs, Part 3: Artichokes save the day

If I had to pick the two most effective, all-purpose health interventions, I’d say: start walking and eat three artichokes each day.

Drugs, all drugs, are a game of rolling the dice against the devil. Each therapeutic benefit comes with a price – cost and side effects. Most of the time, we get away with either nothing or a rash, dizziness a mild headache. But all physicians have stories of patients whose guts turned into the Mar-a-Lago of drug-induced bugaboos after a short course of antibiotics. Or the current 78.5-billion-dollar nightmare of our “first-do-no-harm” profession: the epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse.  

The best way to reduce drug costs is to minimize the need for them. Let’s see if you can’t drop a drug or two with these two maneuvers.

First, walking.

No doubt, life has improved since we had to chase and club our dinner on the head. But now, according to a 2015 National Health Interview Survey, only half of Americans do the recommended weekly 150 minutes of moderate activity (walking or its equivalent) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. 

And how does this bit of exercise help? Regular exercise can lower your systolic blood pressure by 8 points. Blood pressure medications can’t do much better; each drug lowers it by 6-13 points.

What about glucose? While one in 10 Americans suffers from diabetes, one in three has prediabetes. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, of patients who started aerobic and resistance training for 140 minutes per week, 41 percent reduced their medications. Just picture yourself “walking” away from this diabetic predicament.

In addition to regulating glucose and blood pressure, regular exercise has sustained benefits in reducing pain and restoring function for people with (name your joints) arthritis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and depression. It raises the good cholesterol, helps insomnia ... frankly, like roasted nuts, I can’t think of anything bad to say. It’s an addiction we’re all entitled to.

Second, fiber. (Did you know that one artichoke contains 10 grams of fiber? I didn’t.)

Fiber is the nondigestible part of a plant, a natural laxative. It can lower systolic blood pressure by 10 points, the bad cholesterol by 10-20 percent (similar to statins at low doses). It gives a feeling of satiety without the calories, a must-do-first in every diet plan. Just think of fiber as the ghostwriter behind every politician’s “I-promise-you” speech.

The biggest problem?  Even though we’ve been chanting the fiber mantra since the 1970s (for gut health), most of us don’t eat enough of it. The average American eats 16 grams of fiber per day, while the recommended amount is 20-35 grams. For diabetics, the more the better.

So unless you eat three artichokes daily (I don’t), you need to read nutrition facts label to make sure you’re getting enough fiber. And take your dog for long walks. Don’t have one? Do what I do and borrow your neighbor’s Shih Tzu mix. Just looking at that happy little marshmallow lowers my blood pressure.

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Volume 8, Issue 24, Posted 10:10 AM, 12.13.2016