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Monday, February 11, 2013

"Medicines That Kill" (James L. Marcum, MD)

TITLE: Medicines That Kill: The Truth about the Hidden Epidemic
AUTHOR: James L. Marcum, MD
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2013, (192 pages).

This book is a remarkable testimony of a doctor about the dangers of medicine. It is a clarion call to all to remember the wise maxim from Dr William Osler, who has said, "The person who takes medicine must recover twice, once from the disease and once from the medicine." It is a reminder that there is no free lunch with regards to health and medication. What we put into our bodies do have side-effects and the more informed we are, the better it is for our general health. Writing as a physician, Marcum shares the many stories of how many patients have been more hurt and harmed, rather then helped or healed. The crux of the author's conviction is that we need to know medicines are not miracles. They come with side effects. The more aware we are, the better it is for us to learn not to put undue faith in modern pills and medications.

Marcum begins with a disclaimer, that he is not against medication, just against the blind faith many people attached to medicines. He calls it the "hidden epidemic." Whether it is malpractice on the part of physicians, erroneous labeling by the pharmicists, wrong dosage given by nursing staff, incorrect instructions given by the manufacturers, or misguided conclusions done from the research, or problematic test situations in the release of the drug, it is critical to understand the economics, the sciences, the whole process from the lab to the public, as well as the ethics of modern medicines. The beginning of the book is startling. Marcum highlights how some medicines like "Fen-Phen" has contributed to heart valve failures, how heparin solves one problem and creates another, how chemotherapy kills not just bad cells but good ones too, how some drugs are rushed to market, insufficient testing and research, and how many deaths occurred with frequent mentions of the diseases, but little confession of the medications that have contributed to many deaths. Marcum often thought: "Which is worse: the treatment or the disease?" Not only that, the same old patients seem to come back with the same problems again and again despite the prescriptions. Marcum soon learns that being a physician is not just keeping people alive, or making people well. It is also to help patients protect themselves from clever marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, and to remember as far as possible that the natural way is often the best way. Health is a by-product of a love relationship with God, and observing God's ways for mankind.

The first part of the book is so negative about the state of use of medications and prescriptions, that Marcum has to put in a disclaimer, that he is not against the use of medications, but the uncritical and often blind faith in medications. In a chapter called the "Misuse of Medications," Marcum warns against slow poisoning, suicidal use, addictions, and how the misuse of medications has led people to do bad things to themselves and other people. Worse, these abuses are increasingly more common and pervasive, especially with the easy availability of online purchases of drugs. Combined with the lucrative trade and economic windfall, warnings about medications tend to be subdued by authorities and the pharmaceutical industry.

The second part of the book offers not just the redemptive perspective of using medication through practical wisdom and knowledge, it provides guidelines on thinking before consuming medication, on recognizing both the benefits as well as the dangers of the pills, and ultimately to remember that God's plans are still valid for mankind's health and good. First, begin with a relationship with God, seeking wisdom and trust. Second, learn about the medications, what they are, and why we are using it. Third, depend less on medications but on the natural created things God has given, like drinking lots of water, exercise when possible, and rest. Four, exercise is key. Five, rest well. Six, improve one's diet, and finally, be happy through trust and confidence that God knows best. Marcum also provides a chapter to describe the different kinds of medications, on acid-blocking medications, chemotherapy, weight-loss medications, sleep, diabetes, diuretics, cholesterol lowering medicine, blood pressure, antidepressants, and many more. My favourite part of the book is how Marcum describes the Bible as the "greatest health journal ever written." The key idea is that God has given us the best garden of health. The nearer we are to this, the healthier we will be. The farther we are, the less healthy we become. Uncritical trust, abuses, and the erroneous expectations about  medications are very much the latter case. Using the seven days of creation, Marcum proposes a brilliant health plan.
  1. On the First Day, God created the heavens and the earth, and the light, with the Spirit hovering over the surface of the deep. Modern man needs this light, an illuminate mind to recognize that it is not your doctor, but God who knows what is best for us.
  2. On the Second Day, God created expanse of the water and the sky. Drinking lots of water and a healthy dosage of fresh air does wonders to our general health.
  3. On the Third Day, God created plants and vegetables. Here, Marcum argues for consuming more fruits and vegetables. 
  4. On the Day, God created the light. Our bodies are made for rhythms, for day and for night, and we are not to violate this by mixing the time to rest during the night through overwork. Technology can be a bane for health, like keeping man awake longer than necessary, leading to increased stress and lowering body immunity.
  5. On the Fifth Day, God created livestock, and animals for man to take care of. Instead, man has grown to eat these animals! He notices that in places where there is low meat consumption, there is a corresponding lower occurrences of heart disease and cancer.
  6. On the Sixth Day, God created human people, both male and female, for companionship. Marcum says that it suggests harmony and goodwill toward fellow people will bring about health benefits too! God created love. 
  7. On the Seventh Day, God created the Sabbath and rested. Marcum besides talking about the need to rest, also suggests it as a day for us to look out for the needs and interests of other people.
Marcum summarizes the health benefits through the seven laws of health, namely, good nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, air, rest, and sabbath to focus on others.

My Thoughts

As a cardiologist, Marcum writes with passion, preferring to debunk the myths of medicines as the sole avenue of healthcare, toward a holistic health that incorporates God's design for health. As an observer of much medical abuses by many different parties involved, from the pharmaceuticals to medical personnel, from misguided trust in drugs to abuses of medications, from human errors to insufficient research of medicines, Marcum is burdened by the high number of people who died not because of their disease but because of the medications. Not only that, it is common to see deaths as a result of a "disease," but few due to the use or misuse of certain medications, for whatever reason. For Marcum, medicines can be used as a healing product, and equally potent as a poison too. Thus, taking medications is always a risk, and doctors are constantly managing that risk. It is the author's belief that the threat of medications and the misuse of it is larger than what most people have thought. He writes: 
"I believe that medications are the number one cause of death. Do I have statistics? No. Will others back me up? Probably not. Yet in my medical practice I have seen over and over the dangers." (107)

With this conviction, Marcum is on a journey to inform, instruct, and to inspire people to look beyond the pharmaceutical industry for salvation. God's plan is the best. He is not encouraging readers to avoid medications altogether. He is calling for greater education of what the medication is, what it does, how it is prescribed, why we are taking it, and what are the side-effects of taking it. The reason why he writes so strongly and negatively against the uncritical use of medicines is because far too many people have taken for granted the modern availability of medications. There seems to be a medication for nearly every kind of ailment. Such a situation can easily trick people into thinking that it is the medication that heals. More often than not, medication solves one problem and creates another. Prescriptions normally take on a 'lesser-evil' approach, that the recovery from the disease is a greater benefit than the side-effects. Marcum questions what if our presumption like this is wrong, that we are eating a poison over the long run?

More importantly, Marcum is calling for a sustained health level through obedience to God's original design. Modern medicine can do a lot, but its benefits are limited. What happens in the lab is not necessarily the same in the real world. This book is an eye-opener for readers who lack knowledge about how medicines work, and gives a glimpse of what the pharmaceutical industry is about. I enjoy this book. Those of us who desires a more holistic health book must read this book.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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