Next time you reach for a tablet for the quick fix, remember Thalidomide.

I’m a huge fan of the show ‘Call the Midwife’. I love it! One of the storylines has been around little Susan, born with all four limbs effected. She has hands and feet on just little stumps at her shoulders and body. Susan’s mum took Thalidomide for morning sickness, after it was prescribed by an unknowing doctor:  unknowing, because he was not aware of the reports coming in about this drug.

Thalidomide was marketed originally as a sedative and sleep aid, later, its use extended to treatments for the flu, and morning sickness. From 1956, the drug was tested on healthy adults, nursing mothers, patients with mental illness and children. There was no testing in pregnancy. Reports show that there were almost no hangover effects or other side effects.

Taking thalidomide to treat nausea during pregnancy appears to have spread among physicians and pregnant women in West Germany during the first half of 1959. Regional variation in the number of children born with deformities has suggested that the practice was not universal across the country.

Grünenthal continued to sponsor research into the drug through at least 1960. However, no physician in Germany or elsewhere running clinical trials of the drug appears to have observed or drawn a link to birth deformities. The lag time between exposure to thalidomide in the first trimester of pregnancy and the impacts on a child being visible only after birth contributed to the delays in identifying the crisis.

The deformities appeared suddenly and had diverse physical manifestations, so, physicians generally ruled out genetic causes. Instead, German paediatricians initially suspected an environmental factor was to blame, perhaps nuclear radiation or an unreported chemical spill.

On November 15, one paediatrician connected the dots and warned that Thalidomide may be causing the deformities. The drug was removed from sale on November 26, 1961. Unfortunately just one tablet could cause the damage.

Yes. Just one.

I don’t want to say that there are drugs on the market now with such catastrophic side effects, but many drugs in use today do have significant risks of side effect. Unfortunately many of these are accepted as being ‘par for the course’. And, of course, there are conditions today like Autism which may still have the question of cause pending. Is it vaccines? Is it a chemical? Is it diet? Is it a deficiency? Is it just bad luck?

I guess it is a question of what risk each of us is willing to accept. A common side effect of taking medication for blood pressure is fatigue, drowsiness and lack of energy. For men, erectile dysfunction may be a concern. Widely accepted symptoms are cough, diarrhoea or constipation, dizziness or light-headedness, nervousness, headache, nausea and vomiting, skin rash and weight loss or gain without trying.

What if we treated the cause rather than the symptom? For morning sickness, I advise on dietary measures, optimisation of iron and other mineral levels, and most importantly endorse prepregnancy or preconception care to minimise the risk of symptoms like morning sickness.

For blood pressure, let’s look at the causes and influencers: weight issues, stress, kidney disease, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, sleep apnoea, hormone imbalances, smoking, excess salt intake, alcohol, dietary choices. The way I see it is we need to eat better, get active, address stress, quit our ‘bad’ habits and find peace.

This is not a mainstream vs natural medicine story, because I think we all know that both mainstream and natural medicines can save lives, but this is about making the right choices. Maybe this is about taking the hard vs the easy road, because it is easy to swallow a pill. It’s also easy to swallow a supplement. If you aren’t going to do the other things though is it worth it?

Lots of people die every year directly due to medications and there are thousands of hospitalisations – check out pharmadeathclock.com for some frightening statistics.

Do you ask about the side effects when you are first handed a script? Do you ask the pharmacist for the full list of the drug information or do you rely on the insert in the box when there is one? I wonder if you would make the same choices if you had access to all the data. Similarly do you ask your natural therapist about contraindications and other information for the supplement they are prescribing?

Are you mindful of where your supplements and medications are made? Are quality ingredients used? Is it manufactured in an AAA quality facility? Is it too cheap or too expensive? Artificially coloured, flavoured or contain unnecessary excipients? What is the real difference between the original product and the generic brand? The generic is significantly cheaper. Why?…

Are you taking a therapeutic dose? Are you taking at the right time? Some medicines and supplements have definite requirements in relation to before or after food for them to be effective. Most of all: do you really need it? Has it been prescribed for the right reason?

What could you do to enhance your whole experience and improve your life? Make it worth your time, your money and your effort. Get the best out of you.

So, back to my opening sentence: Next time you reach for a tablet for the quick fix, remember Thalidomide.

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