An earlier version of this column first appeared on the Huffington Post.
You probably already know that what you do know about your medicine could kill you. You may not know that what you don't know could do so as well. Hold that somber thought -- we'll get back to it.
You, and I, and everyone else has seen those direct-to-patient drug ads that Big Pharma runs on primetime television. Invariably, they feature a person skipping through butterflies and wildflowers, demonstrating the wonders of better living through pharmacotherapy, as an announcer calmly rattles off the ways the drug can destroy your health: It can make your liver explode, and your eyeballs catch fire, and your kidneys fall out, and so on. But you won't mind -- you are too busy skipping through meadows.
Except, of course, that people do mind! In fact, I can't understand those ads at all, since the purpose of advertising is to talk people into things, not out of them. Overwhelmingly, my patients who have seen such drug ads are scared to death of those medicines, and very much disinclined to take them. I don't recall the last time a patient said to me: "I want that medicine I saw on TV that can make my eyeballs catch fire..." Generally, it's quite the opposite; if I recommend that medication, they tell me I must be crazy. As advertising goes, this really is odd.
Before getting to my point, I have a few things to point out to forestall a rush to judgment about my motivations.
I don't like taking medications myself -- not even when I need them. Most of my patients seem to feel that way, and I respect it. I am not on Big Pharma's payroll and have no stake in the use of any drug. What's more, I have worked for nearly a decade and a half in integrative medicine, in a model of my own devising, side by side with naturopathic colleagues, with a focus on natural treatments whenever possible. Even those looking for nasty things to say about me would really be pushing it to call me a pill pusher. I'm the guy patients come to see when they want alternatives to their prescribed drugs.