Nowadays, the reality is unavoidable: in the past 30 days alone, 48.7% of adults have taken at least one prescription medication (NHCS, 271). While it’s true that recreational drugs have no place in a fit lifestyle, the fact remains that basically half the population is, or was, taking some sort of therapeutic drug by medical necessity.
Although medication is intended to address whatever condition or ailment someone might be suffering from, it also brings about some inevitable complications: side effects. For each drug, there is something called a therapeutic window (a range in which the benefits outweigh the potential side effects). The upper limit of this range is toxicity, which means that a patient can still be prescribed a medication that causes any range of unintended maladies considered “tolerable” in order to achieve the desired therapeutic effect. Far too few of us are aware of the other things that might be going on inside our bodies as a result of medicinal interaction. A few such frustrating examples of side effects that can disrupt our healthy lifestyle pursuits are weight gain, appetite changes, and a decrease in energy level. These side effects can really affect our motivation levels and discipline when trying to lead a healthy life.
There are many drugs and pathways that can cause side effects, but I’ll use my own experiences as an example. I have been taking the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) for 3 years now. This drug belongs to a class called SSRI’s. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, and they work by doing just that: allowing the chemical serotonin to linger for longer than usual in the brain. Although this is the intended effect, serotonin’s other mechanisms are also going on inside the body, such as mechanisms that deal with hunger signals and our sleep cycle.
Some of these side effects became really frustrating for me, and were counterproductive to my efforts to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Although it was still better than what I would have experienced if I were not on any medication, dealing with these side effects was still draining. I would doze off just sitting on my bed doing homework, which severely cut into the time I had to get everything done, which was already limited on top of fitting in a workout. I wouldn’t always have the energy to perform to the best of my ability, either, and I became critical of myself for it. Inside your body, your natural hormones play a big role in your metabolism. With my medication adding even more chaos to them, it was like throwing a wrench into a fine-tuned and complex machine. While there were definitely other factors involved, I would see little to no change in my weight or body composition, even after months of devoutly following a healthy diet. It got to a point where I believed my medication was a large source of my problems, and (at least to ease my mind) I have recently switched to a new medication, Wellbutrin, which works in a completely different way. It is still too soon to compare, but it provided a promising change.
Although prescription drugs are controlled for a reason (and of course require the discretion of a doctor), it’s important to always be informed about what is going on in our bodies and where our medication fits in. This awareness can not only reduce unwanted side effects, but also ensure that no critical complications come to light. Always talk to your doctor about any additional supplements (including sports supplements) that you are taking. In addition, mention what your daily life is like. A good doctor should be able to take your habits into account when creating your therapy. Talk to other people who have found success in accepting what is medically necessary, and still being able to live a fulfilling life.
And lastly, talk to me! I’m not just here to talk at you, but also as a real human resource. As a pharmacy major and fitness ambassador, these are some of my favorite and most knowledgeable topics. And as always, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay fit, in that order!Sources: National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2014: With Special Feature on Adults Aged 55–64. Hyattsville, MD. 2015.