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Are You Chained to Your Pillbox?

What to do to curb your need for drugs that treat high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

As she neared 40, Rachel Silber Korn knew that her health was out of control. The mother of two, doula, and childbirth educator from Potomac, Md., weighed 285 pounds, rarely exercised, binged on ice cream -- even though she had been diagnosed with type II diabetes -- and had to take medication to control her diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

At her annual physical, her doctor let her know things did not look good. "My doctor told me I was already dead on paper,” she says.

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After a couple of weeks of crying, Silber Korn decided it was time to make a change. She started slowly, walking during her half-hour lunch break, and cutting down on what she ate and not bingeing on candy bars. The weight started to come off. When she’d lost about 40 pounds, she started going to the gym and ramping up her workouts.

It took her nearly two years, but after 75 pounds of weight loss, Silber Korn was able to get off the medication she was taking to control her high triglycerides and blood pressure. Soon, she hopes that she’ll be able to reduce or eliminate her diabetes medication as well. She still takes a statin to reduce her risk of heart disease.

Millions of Americans are overweight or obese, inactive and eating poorly, and chained to a pillbox full of medications for a constellation of related conditions, particularly high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and osteoarthritis.

If you’re one of them, experts say that the chances are good that you could dramatically cut back on the number of medications you have to take daily, or even transition off them entirely, if you make just a few lifestyle changes.

“Often, a single individual will have all these conditions,” says Jason Wilbur, MD, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. “And I’ve seen a number of these people successfully avoid medications or get off of them by making a lifestyle change. What you have to do might sound really obvious, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, because it requires a real commitment.”

Of course, you'll want to team up with your doctor to do this. Don't take yourself off a medicine without talking it over with your doctor. Your doctor should be one of your biggest fans as you work on this transition.

Hypertension

If you have high blood pressure, you may only have to lose a small amount of weight to see the kind of changes you’ll need in order to reduce or eliminate your medications. 

“There’s clear-cut evidence, and has been for decades, that just losing 5% to 10% of your body weight will often normalize blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension,” says Timothy Harlan, MD, associate chief of general internal medicine and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and a former restaurateur who hosts the “Dr. Gourmet” web site and is the author of Just Tell Me What to Eat!

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