When it comes to doctors, we each hold slightly different expectations, experiences and opinions. However, everyone wants a good doctor. But just like mechanics or carpenters, how do you know if they are doing a good job if you yourself are not an expert? After all, it's not like there is a league table.
If you suspect your doctor is providing you with substandard treatment but can't quite pinpoint where the problem lies, then this list is for you. Here are the dozen most common red flags that will tell you if your doctor is blundering with your health. Ready? Let's begin with the first six.
1. He* says that supplements are useless
All generalisations are untrue. Accordingly, there is a very big difference between your doctor advising you not to take a specific supplement based on your symptoms (or lack thereof), on his clinical experience or on your test results. But to proclaim that all supplements are unnecessary demonstrates a tragic lack of understanding of the human body.
Not every one will need supplements and it's true that a lot of supplements are a waste of money. However, good quality supplements can make a huge difference when used by the right person at the right time. Each of our 74 trillion cells is made up of a bounty of factors, which include proteins, vitamins and minerals. These levels can be affected by diet, digestive absorption and stress. Dietary levels of minerals have fallen by up to 80 percent since 1941 as a result of under-ripe picking, excessive pesticide use and a lack of soil rotation methods.
Unless we grow our own, most of us will need additional help to achieve optimal health. To suggest that supplementation cannot provide a benefit is to imply that food is only necessary for the calories it provides. So the next time your doctor talks down supplements, challenge him to live on sugar and water alone. You'll have a new doctor in a matter of weeks.
2. He advises you to 'just ignore it'
There is a lot going in the body and, more often than not, you can find imbalances simply by ordering the right test. However, is there any benefit in intervening to raised liver enzymes when the individual concerned is drinking too much, sleeping too little and living on junk food? Of course not. In these cases, lifestyle change and a retest represents a sensible solution. Equally, I often choose not to immediately intervene in cases of adrenal imbalance when sleeping patterns are chaotic and the individual is abusing caffeine.
However, there is a big difference between this approach and simply ignoring a symptom, otherwise known as the have-you-tried-ibuprofen approach or the lets-see-how-you-are-in-six-months method. One approach uses a tactical wait to determine the impact of lifestyle change, the other is akin to crossing your fingers. Rome is burning, and your doctor is asking you to pray for rain.
3. He prescribes antacids without checking your acid levels
British doctors write over 3 million prescriptions for omeprazole every year. This drug, also known as Prilosec, is a proton pump inhibitor. This means it stops your stomach from producing acid. While this does take away the pain short-term, the public are often unaware that the cause of heartburn is not high levels of stomach acid, but low levels.
This idea is initially paradoxical, but practitioners familiar with dealing with heartburn know that over 99% of heartburn sufferers actually have low acid levels. Those who appear immune from heartburn will always test as normal/high. How can this be? Simple. The stomach has developed it's own protection from the acid, the gastric mucosa. This layer of mucus lines the inside of the stomach to stop the acid from burning straight through our flesh. The only caveat? It is only produced in response to acid. If you produce very little acid, you also produce minimal mucus. The consequence is that you have gaps in the mucus protection, meaning that the smallest rise in stomach acid will be sufficient to cause pain and irritation. Antacid medicine takes away what little acid remains. The pain is gone, but so too is your ability to absorb protein and minerals, your control of intestinal bacteria, and the one thing that would trigger the release of bile and activate your digestive enzymes. Big stuff. This is why patients taking omeprazole for sustained periods almost always end up with new problems and even more drugs.
This is not new information and, as my article on stomach acid explains, forward-thinking physicians have reported such findings since the 70s. If your doctor still reaches for the antacids, he is 40 years behind. Don't take your laptop to a typewriter repairman.
4. He prescribes antibiotics without probiotics
Speaking out outdated medicine, we look at the barbaric medical practices of Victorian with disdain, deriding the use of leeches and induced bleeding as medieval. But history will look back upon the 'antibiotic era' with similar disbelief. Now no-one disputes that antibiotics, from penicillin to fluoroquinolones, have had an incredibly positive impact on emergency medicine and are responsible for saving lives. However, their abuse by doctors has compromised those of millions of others.
Antibiotics developed in the last century do not descriminate against 'good' or 'bad' bacterial species. And they do not effect fungi, a microbe that co-exist in the intestines. The result is that dysbiosis ("candida") is more common than ever, triggering symptoms such as digestive disturbances, brain fog, fatigue and itching. Opportunistic bacteria may also become overgrown, something easily measured in stool tests.
Despite the long-standing connection between antibiotic use and the onset of chronic illness, doctors continue to prescribe these drugs in their millions. Studies show that antibiotic prescriptions for viruses remain the norm, not the exception (note: these drugs are totally ineffective against viruses). This is simply inexcusable in the modern world and antibiotic abuse remains one of the most likely threats to your health.
5. He tells you you have IBS
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is the intestinal equivalent of the boogieman. It grabs you at random and there's nothing you can do about it. Luckily, the boogieman is not real. And neither is IBS.
All that a diagnosis of 'IBS' means is that there is inflammation or irritation somewhere between the mouth and the anus. It's the exact equivalent of going to the doctor, telling him you have a headaches and being diagnosed with Headache Syndrome. It has no medical significance and the only information you can draw from it is that your doctor either knows nothing about the digestive tract or is too lazy to investigate.
If you have been fobbed off with a diagnosis of IBS, I sincerely recommend you find a practitioner who can help determine if you have issues with stomach acid, require digestive enzymes, are under-secreting bile, suffering from dysbiosis or whether food reactions are causing problems. Most of these issues are so simple to treat, if only practitioners bother screening for them.
6. He prescribes statins to women
The issue of statins has always been plagued in controversy, as there entire benefit profile ends and starts with lowering cholesterol and their side-effect profile remains extensive (with headaches, muscle pain and brain fog among the most common problems). With the 'cholesterol/heart disease theory' now firmly outed as flawed, statins are likely to be abandoned in future years. However, like many drugs debunked in previous decades, it may take a generation to take full effect.
However, leaving aside the question of whether cholesterol is an important factor in heart disease, it was previously understandable that some doctors may prescribe statins. They are definitely effective in reducing cholesterol and some studies on men do show an increase in lifespan so, although other studies show the exact opposite and the drugs cause more side-effects than most, there was at least a scattering of scientific studies to back up the choice to prescribe.
Not so in women. Whereas the studies supporting the use of statins in men remain mixed at best, any positive results in women are simply not there. No matter how many times a drug company has tried to achieve it, not a single study has ever shown statins to extend lifespan in a female. Not by a single day. On the other hand, it is well-publicised that this class of drugs can double a woman's chance of breast cancer once she has been on them for 10 years. Unintended outcomes aren't exactly unusual when interfering with the normal production of hormones, but encouraging any woman to do so without the slightest foundation of scientific support is plain stupid.
Next week: In part 2 of the discussion, I cover the other six regular signals that show whether your doctor has a firm grip on things or whether he is blundering with your health.
*for the purposes of more fluid writing, we will be using the male pronoun throughout the article. However, shoddy medicine is also available from female doctors.