Can exercise, food help you kick the meds?

AVON, Ind. (WISH) — Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, according to research by the Mayo Clinic and many of those drugs are for problems considered to be avoidable if you change your lifestyle.

“People that are on medication don’t have to be,” says Brooke Huffman a Shelbyville mother and Realtor.

Huffman was in severe pain last fall with pain in her joints, burning feet and tremendous swelling. The pain prevented her from exercising, which led to dramatic weight gain.

“We ran a lot of testing on Brooke and found that she had an intolerance to gluten,” says Angela Henriksen, MD. “When she eliminated that from her diet, all of her symptoms went away, 100 percent.”

By changing her diet, Huffman was able to eliminate the anti-inflammatory medication she was taking as well as reduce the dosage of her thyroid medication twice. She was able to exercise again and lose 50 pounds.

“What I think is really shocking is that we as clinicians don’t understand nutrition as well as we should,” says Henriksen. “So, it’s important to go back and look at what the diet options are and how important it is to get your nutrients through your food and not through supplements.”

Four years ago, one of Henriksen’s patients had frequent skin rashes, severe joint pain and inflammation. She was placed on immune suppressive drugs, which caused her to gain weight and worsened her symptoms. Henriksen worked with the patient to change her diet to include only real whole foods. The patient is now pain and symptom free and takes no prescription medications.

The experience was the catalyst for Henriksen to create a health and wellness blog called Angela M.D. focusing on diet, exercise and healthy living. She also operates a Wellness Clinic out of her office at IU Health West Hospital where patients can sit down with a nurse every two weeks to review a food journal.

“We need to figure out how to use food as medicine and prevent disease before we get into a situation where we’re spending a lot of money on meds that we don’t need to take,” says Henriksen.

Poor diet is a major contributor to the leading causes of chronic disease and death in the United States, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that about 70% of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese.

Nearly one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure according to the FDA, and 11 percent of people in the U.S. are taking drugs to lower lipids, such as cholesterol. Both conditions are considered controllable with diet and exercise. After reviewing 305 randomized controlled trials, researchers found exercise was equally as effective as medication for pre-diabetes and heart disease.

“I’ve gotten rid of the Diet Coke and I also do a lot of fresh foods, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits,” says Huffman. “Medication is expensive, it has side effects and if you can change just a few simple things and feel better, why wouldn’t you try?”

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