Acupuncture and Poly-pharmacy

 24th April 2015


Poly-pharmacy is the use of four or more medications by a patient- generally adults over the age of 65 years. Poly-pharmacy is most common in older patients, affecting about 40% of older adults living in their own homes. Although poly-pharmacy can be appropriate it is more often inappropriate. Concerns about poly-pharmacy include increased adverse drug reactions, drug interactions, prescribing cascade and higher costs. Poly-pharmacy is often associated with a decreased quality of life, decreased mobility and cognition.
I increasingly see patients who are being treated with large amounts of medications, often over 10 different medications in a day. One lady I saw has been prescribed over 25 different medications and was taking over 100 pills a day! This last example if obviously extreme but the fact is that too many people are taking too many drugs often which they don’t need. In the BMJ a GP has been quoted as saying poly-pharmacy is a necessary evil…. or is it an unnecessary evil? Dr Phil Whittaker writing in the New Statesmen  in 2014 stated that “recent research has shown that one can safely stop approx 2/3 of the drugs that are given to poly-pharmacy patients”.
One of the major problems of taking many medications is that whilst these tablets might seem a good idea when viewed in isolation (this is how clinical drug trials are carried out), we don’t know the effect of the interaction which may cause havoc with the patients physical and mental health.
How can acupuncture help?
Well, sometimes a patient may decide after discussing with their doctor, to come off some of their medication and feel no effects. However, many patients find that their pain levels increase, energy levels decrease or mood drops. Acupuncture can help people slowly and safely come off those medications  that are either unnecessary or are doing more harm than good without the flare ups of low mood and pain.
My acupuncture treatments are individualised and tailored for each person. This is of fundamental importance as we are all different and different people react differently to the same medications. I have seen many examples of this in my years of treating. Patients find after taking much less medication that for the first time in years they have less pain, are less confused and practically always have much more energy.
As we get older our systems, i.e. bodies and minds become more delicate and less able to tolerate medication yet it is precisely at this time that people of this age are being prescribed more medication. In this case, there are alternatives.
I am an experienced acupuncturist who has extensive experience helping patients who are safely reducing their medication, but would never advise patients to come off medication without firstly consulting their doctor. The patient would always be referred back to their medical doctor for a review of medication to allow them to make an informed decision.