Follow by Email

Thursday, January 17, 2013

47: Side Effexor to Be Expected

As I woke up on the first day of the New Year, I thought of my dear friend who was turning 60 that day. Because I was out of town, I decided to give her a call. But when I turned on my phone, I promptly received a text informing me that she was in the hospital.

She has been weaning off Effexor, an antidepressant. On December 31, five days after her final dose, the “brain zaps” she had been experiencing were getting worse, and the fear and anxiety were terrible. She went to the hospital; they gave her a low dose of Effexor and sent her home. That evening she experienced diarrhea, cold sweats, and strange feelings. She came to on her kitchen floor and realized she’d passed out. A neighbour, an RN, came over and checked her blood pressure. It was 88/49. In the middle of the night, my friend began passing blood from her intestines. In the morning she was taken back to the hospital where they admitted her for a couple days to do some tests.

This friend has been on and off antidepressants for years. In 2005 she was experiencing heart palpitations. Her doctor told her it was anxiety. He put her on Effexor, and she’s been on it ever since. In September, she began to experience strange flashes of light and colour inside her head. Convinced that it was a side effect of the drug, she became determined to get off the meds. With a new doctor’s supervision, she reduced the dosage slowly, titrating from 150 mg down to 37.5 over a period of several months. As soon as her final dose wore off, everything started to go haywire.

When I talked to her on her cell phone, she was feeling terrible and couldn’t discern what was withdrawal and what was her nasty chest cold.

“Well, I can see the headache and emotional stuff being from the withdrawal, but surely not passing blood?” I postulated.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but maybe it is.”

Well, that’s exactly what I found out, after I promised to do some reading online: blood in the stool is just one of the 85 known withdrawal symptoms. The most common ones are brain zaps (electric shock-like sensations), dizziness, sweating, nausea, insomnia, tremor, confusion, nightmares, and vertigo.

Incidentally, if the title of this article made no sense to you, read it like this: “Side Effects Are to Be Expected.” Pharmacists will tell you that Effexor is very difficult to get off; side effects are to be expected should you ever try. And what about possible side effects while you’re on the drug? I counted no less than 185 symptoms, which can even include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. Great! Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Here are a few quotes from “recovering addicts”: “I experienced a full week of rapid/skipped heart beats and extremely high blood pressure. I went to the ER and was admitted overnight … found that it is a symptom of the Effexor. … I have also experienced the joint pain, weird dreams, and headaches that others have posted about. I am not going back on the drug, no matter what. I am now taking bio-identical hormones, which have pretty much wiped out the depression. I just need to live thru the side effects of weaning off Effexor.”

“I have been off it totally for one month now. The flu symptoms have gone but I am left now with a dodgy stomach which gives me agony, swelling up, constipation, etc. … I cry a lot, get tired very quick. Not able to exercise yet as I am still very weak. I have awful thoughts when alone. Emptiness creeps over me a lot and I just have to stand it. I am hoping that the body will eventually settle down and that there is no permanent damage.”

Some doctors are even prescribing this drug for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, “as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.” With what I’ve learned of Effexor in my reading, I think such prescribing is horribly irresponsible. The cure is definitely worse than the kill. Yes, it provides symptomatic relief, for various things, and so “win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence.”

If you need help getting off a medication like this, check out this site:

As for my dear friend, I couldn’t bring myself to wish her a happy birthday. But I do wish for her, as well as all of my readers, a happy and healthy New Year.

Go to Nancy's Life Lessons blog:
(You may have to copy and paste this into your browser.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

46: Stop the Pop

There is a class of beverage that has been with us for enough decades that most people seem not to question whether it belongs in our lives. I’m talking about soda pop. These soft drinks have a long history, going back to Paris in the 1600s when street vendors carried on their backs tanks of lemon and water sweetened with honey, dispensing cupfuls to thirsty passersby. A lot has changed since then, and the changes have not all been good.

It was in the 1830s that the concept of soda fountains began to take hold in American pharmacies. Carbonated water had caught on as a “health drink,” and druggists began adding medicinal herbs and fruit extracts to the previously unflavoured mineral water. In the 1890s, a pharmacist developed a special flavour by adding sugar, vanilla, rare oils, pepsin, and cola nuts. If you're really sharp, you may guess that this was the first version of Pepsi Cola.

Sugar then reigned supreme in soft drinks all the way to the 1970s. At this time, a cheaper, sweeter solution, manufactured from corn, burst upon the industry. Several articles ago, I made a comment about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), saying that it had turned the health of a generation upside down. My statement demands some clarification.

I first had cause to seriously zero in on the subject of HFCS several months ago, when my sister Pauline, who has lived in England for many years, sent me a link to a documentary that was produced over there. It is a series totalling about three hours, called “The Men Who Made Us Fat.”

We’re hearing all the time in Canada and the US about the obesity epidemic. It’s a serious problem, and experts are vague about the exact cause and what to do about it. But the British documentary had plenty to say about HFCS and its link to obesity—and a host of other related health problems.

Back to the soft drink industry: when they recognized that this corn syrup was sweeter and cheaper than sugar, and that it didn’t compromise their brand-name flavours, it caught hold like an old wooden house on fire. Cheaper was great, and sweeter should have meant that they could use even less of it than of sugar, resulting in cheaper yet. But they found that the sweeter they made it, the more of it people drank, so it was well worth their while to use even more of the HFCS than they had of sugar.

Up until that point in time, the national (US) average had reached about 365 servings of pop per year per person. Since then, consumption has increased to 600 cans. I find this hard to fathom. When there are people like me who average zero cans per year, it means theoretically there are those who are tossing back 1200 servings annually.

I had a conversation recently with a dear friend in his mid-thirties, who has some problems with hypoglycemia.

“Do you eat a lot of sugar?” I asked him.

“Not really,” came the answer, “but I drink two cans of pop a day, so, I don’t know, would you consider that a lot of sugar?”

Bingo, I thought, there it is, the North American average. Most people are more like him than like me, and it pains me deeply that multitudes are unwittingly sabotaging their health. I am especially grieved at watching children guzzling the stuff down, even at an age when they’ve barely learned to walk.

Dietary habits are established young, and they run deep. The pop habit is, I believe, truly an addiction in many cases. Society may look down its nose at alcoholics, yet it is blasé about a super-sized soft drink. But ironically, a devastation is slowly taking place in the body of the chronic pop drinker that is almost identical to that in the alcoholic. It’s called non-alcoholic liver disease, and it leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Soda pop made from sugar was bad enough—we’re beginning to understand that large amounts of sugar help to fuel our diabetes epidemic. But the use of high-fructose corn syrup is much more destructive to our bodies. It will take at least another article to explain a little more about its effects. While I’m working on that, why don’t you stop and assess how much pop you’re drinking, bearing in mind that even a little bit does you absolutely no good with its nutritively void calories? Could you consider just walking away from the stuff for the rest of your life? Just say no? Boycott this wealthy, unhealthy industry? Or are you too addicted?