For the past ten years, I’ve specialized in using nutritional therapies to treat the “medical misfits.” These are the patients who have been to numerous doctors, tried dozens of drugs, even alternative therapies, and still don’t feel well. These patients can be rather complicated, but very rewarding. The majority of my patients are taking inappropriate medications that cause nutritional deficiencies, numerous side effects and poor health.
The public assumes that, since the Food and Drug Administration scrutinizes prescription drugs, they must be safe. This isn’t necessarily true. Three million Americans are admitted to hospitals each year due to adverse drug reactions. Over a lifetime, the average American has a 26 percent chance of being hospitalized from drug injury. Over 113,000 Americans die each year from the negative effects of prescription drugs. Only cancer, heart disease, and accidents claim more lives each year.
Americans now spend over 200 billion dollars a year on prescription drugs, and this spending continues to increase by an average of 12 percent a year. We now take an average of 10.4 prescriptions per person per year. And, with drug companies spending over 200 billion dollars a year to promote their wares, this number is likely to increase. Drug therapy may be causing your patients to become “medical misfits.”
A case in point involves sleep drugs, especially the inappropriate use of benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, etc.). Each year, Americans consume over 5 billion sleeping pills. Sadly, over 15,000 people die each year from these same pills. Benzodiazepines or tranquilizers are often used to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, and muscle tension. Benzodiazepines belong to a group of drugs called central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These drugs are associated with numerous side effects, including confusion, fatigue, insomnia, tremors, tinnitus, depression, memory loss, and tics. Addiction may occur within two weeks of beginning the medication.
Unlike other sleep drugs, benzodiazepines don’t promote deep restorative sleep. They, along with other drugs, including NSAID’s, beta-blockers (Toprol, Tenormin, Inderal, etc.), Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s, such as Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, etc.), and calcium channel blockers (Cardizem, Procardia, Verapamil, etc.) actually decrease the natural sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
Benzodiazepines produce their effects by modulating gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA receptors. To counter anxiety, I recommend my patients take the amino acid L-theanine, which increases GABA levels. L-theanine boosts the brain waves associated with meditation. It can be very calming and doesn’t have the side effects associated with benzodiazepines.
The sleeping drugs, Ambien and Lunesta, promote deep sleep and are often used by those with fibromyalgia. However, the common side effects associated with these drugs are similar to the symptoms of fibromyalgia, including fatigue, achy muscles, headache, poor sleep, memory loss (fibro fog), and anxiety. For those with fibromyalgia, restoring deep restorative sleep is the most important step in helping them feel better. Studies show that individuals with fibromyalgia are deficient in the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin helps reduce pain, brain fog, irritable bowel symptoms, anxiety, depression, and promotes deep restorative sleep. It also boosts melatonin levels by 200 percent.
For these reasons, I recommend my fibromyalgia patients take the amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP). 5HTP, along with synergistic B vitamins and minerals, produces serotonin.
The newest sleep drug, Rozerem, works by increasing the uptake of melatonin. Common side effects include headache, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, lethargy, nausea, insomnia, and increased colds. Wouldn’t it be better to try taking melatonin first? Absolutely.
I encourage my patients with insomnia to take 3-6mg of sublingual melatonin at bedtime. I recommend 3-6mg timed-release melatonin for individuals who easily fall asleep, yet wake up throughout the night.
For patients who can’t sleep due to anxiety and or depression, or who suffer with fibromyalgia, boosting serotonin levels with 5HTP often yields better results than taking melatonin alone. I recommend taking up to 300mg of 5HTP at bedtime on an empty stomach. Melatonin may also be added if needed.
The next time you encounter a “medical misfit,” take time to investigate their prescription drugs. You may find, as I do, that less is best.
Dr. Murphree is a board certified nutritional specialist and chiropractic physician who has been in private practice since 1990. He is the founder and past clinic director for a large integrated medical practice located on the campus of Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of five books for patients and doctors.
In 2002, Dr. Murphree sold his medical practice and now maintains a busy solo practice specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, mood disorders, and other chronic illnesses.
He can be reached toll free 1-888-884-9577 or at 1-205-879-2383; by email at
; or visit www.TreatingandBeating.com.
1. Journal of American Medical Association, September 14, 1994
2. Public Citizen Congress Watch, 2002 Drug Industry Profits: hefty Pharmaceutical Company Margins Dwarf other Industries, June 2003.
3. Drs. Peter M. Brooks and Richard O. Day, New England Journal of Medicine 1991:324(24):1716-25.
4. Juneja LR, Chu D-C, Okubo T, et al. L-Theanine a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends Food Sci Tech. 1999; 10:199-204.
5. Monthly Prescribing Guide November 2004.
6. Functional Assessment Resource Manual, Great Smokies Diagnostic, 1999.
7. Zhdanova, IV, Wurtman RJ, Linch, HJ et al. Sleep inducing effects of low doses of melatonin ingested in the evening. Clinical Pharmacological Therapeutics 1995;57:552-558.
8. Moldofsky H. Fibromyalgia, sleep disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome. CIBA Symposium 173, 1993, pp 262-279.
9. Russell I, Vipraio G, Lopez Y et al. Serum serotonin in FMS and rheumatoid arthritis and healthy normal controls. Arthritis and Rheumatism 1993, 36(9):S223.
10.Birdsall T., 5-Hydroxytryptophhan: A Clically Effective Serotonin Precursor. Altern Med Rev 1998;3(4):271-280.