Suzy Cohen, R.Ph is the author of The 24-Hour Pharmacist: Advice, Options, and Amazing Cures from America’s Most Trusted Pharmacist, Diabetes Without Drugs, and Drug Muggers. She has been invited to The Dr. Oz Show six times. In the pharmaceutical industry, this is rather unheard of, but Dr. Oz happens to like Suzy Cohen. She has also appeared on The View, Good Morning America Health Show, The Doctors, over 300 radio shows, and many morning shows (Dallas, Denver, Cleveland, Baltimore, etc.). Her syndicated column, Dear Pharmacist, prints to 20+ million per week. Know the Cause is her syndicated medical minute television show, and her social media following continues to grow with 28,000+ and 5,000 respectively on Facebook and Twitter.
Originally from New York, Suzy Cohen lived in Florida for 35 years. In 2010, she and her family moved to Boulder, Colorado.
A Hometown Hero, pharmacist Suzy Cohen has done what few others do: move outside the traditional parameters of her profession. She has enlightened Americans about the side effects of drugs and encouraged many to consider further testing for nutritional deficiencies. Suzy Cohen is a forward thinker. In this interview, she illuminates the vision behind her work: Helping others.
Why did you become a pharmacist?
I originally wanted to become a medical researcher and work in the Research Triangle for a drug company, but then I decided I’d rather interact with people and help them directly. The idea of being a pharmacist, available to consumers face-to-face, sounded more enticing than test tubes and agar plates! Little did I know that some of the medications dispensed from my pharmacy would cause more harm than good… not all of them, but some. The desire to make others feel better was very strong. When I was 19, I thought medications were the best way to do that.
What are you doing differently than other pharmacists?
All of us [pharmacists] know about medications – their pros and cons, so we are all drug information specialists. The difference for me is that I am more passionate about Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet than chain pharmacies [are]. I am also a long-time practitioner of Functional Medicine; this educational track considers the whole human being as a system. Sometimes I hear from my readers that their conventional practitioner is all about the next best drug. They tend to layer [one drug] to fix one symptom, and then another to fix a different symptom. And another… it’s termed “polypharmacy” and it makes me sad that some people visit seven specialists for seven problems when all those symptoms were due to one underlying issue (for example, a particular food sensitivity, or an infectious organism).
A Functional Medicine doctor is specially trained to connect the dots; that’s why I study with them and belong to their organization. I watch people chase their tails for years. This medication merry-go-round can cause catastrophic consequences, not only from side effects but also from drug interactions and “diseases” caused by the “drug mugger” effect. If you evaluate a person as a single living system, like I do, then you may find that their symptoms are often connected. Quite frequently the myriad of mixed symptoms are often caused by pro-inflammatory chemicals that your cells “spit out” due to one problem. More specifically, you could see seven awful symptoms, driven by one underlying cause.
My goal is to reduce medication use, and while many of my peers concur, some do not. They really cannot see beyond medication, and while I realize there is some value, it’s not the be-all, end-all. There’s a risk-to-benefit ratio with meds. But again, some pharmacists only see the value in medication and get very upset when their patients are not adherent, and they phone them at home to get them to come back for refills. Many of them get disappointed (or cross-eyed) when the customer tells them they bought such-and-such from the health food store. It’s a shame because (in my opinion) many medications are derived from natural plant extracts. My question is “What was wrong with God’s pharmacy? Why did we go mess up some of Nature’s best ‘drugs’ in a laboratory?!”
How is pharmacy changing?
We [the U.S.] are among a handful of countries that permit television advertising for drugs, so the mentality among consumers is that they need the latest, best drug. I think it’s sad that the doctors are losing control over what they want to prescribe because their patients are asking for whatever they saw on TV while watching Idol.
Pharmacists are still very understaffed and overworked. As the Boomers age, there is more pressure on the pharmacist working for retailers to crank out those prescriptions. Pharmacists are timed, and then ranked with a percentile in some companies.
I recall the pressure when I worked for a chain pharmacy and I didn’t meet the high percentile expected of me for getting prescriptions out the door on one particular day… in other words I didn’t work quite fast enough! So I got a call from my regional manager, to get back up to speed; she was upset with my ranking.
I told her that on that particular day, I worked more slowly because I had a patient arrive that could not breathe well. She was having a severe asthma attack; she had gone without her inhalers because she didn’t have money to buy them on time, and I had to call an ambulance because she was about to pass out in our drive-thru. The patient could hardly speak. I went on to explain to the regional manager that I had told the woman to pull around and come inside our waiting room. That is why I dropped from my consistent ranking of 99 to 100 percent [down] to 90 percent because I took this extra time, leaving the pharmacy counter to go out and sit with the woman in the waiting room, help her with the inhaler that I gave her, and basically just soothe and reassure her until the paramedics came.
My regional manager’s response was cold and alarming to me: “You should have been filling prescriptions, you backed us up for an hour.” This kind of thinking was incongruent with my idea of helping others. And for the record, I was a very accurate, efficient pharmacist. My “slip-up” is a matter of perception. Do you think the frightened asthmatic woman thought I slipped up? My low percentile of 90% was also an exception. The point is, pharmacy is changing because it is very profit-oriented. In the old days before I was born, the pharmacists had time to counsel people, and to help them avoid drug interactions. Today, the warnings are fine print on a sheet of paper – there is no time to talk to people. There are over 100,000 deaths in America due to misuse of medications – not abuse, not interactions, just to misusing medication. I fully believe it’s because the pharmacist is not given the time to talk to
patients or enough staff to handle phone calls and data entry. It’s just fill fill fill. Then go home.
What major changes are you seeing in the pharmaceutical industry?
They are putting more responsibilities on pharmacists. Now one can do vaccinations and shots, and limited prescribing. While this is heralded as a “win” for pharmacists, I think it takes us away from counseling patients on proper and safe use of medications. We should be considered a safety net for people, but instead we are just busied up more, in the name of profits and perhaps convenience. People do like one-stop shopping so I do see that part of it, but this change in the industry is not welcomed by most pharmacists, just some.
Are Americans using more supplements now compared to five years ago?
They are grossly dissatisfied with their health and the major expense of seeing various physicians. We are so diversified, and there are specialists for everything. You have to see a podiatrist for your foot pain, an endocrinologist for the blood sugar, a GI doc for your heartburn, a gynecologist for your pap smear, and so on. Dietary supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry because people want fast relief, and they want it to be cost-effective. When they read about the remarkable benefits of glucosamine for arthritis, they want that. When they hear how good fish oils are for triglycerides and cholesterol, they want that. And friends tell friends. Word of mouth is the best testimonial the supplement industry has.
Do you think that Americans are more well-educated now than they were in the past about the side effects of drugs?
No, they think they have all these terrible, sometimes fatal or progressive diseases. They get smacked with a label such as dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia or something else, and then they just submit to all sorts of drugs and treatments. Worse than that, they emotionally submit and prepare and share their terrible new diagnosis. I think that there are many Americans walking around that are HEALTHIER THAN THEY THINK! I suspect that they are deficient in various nutrients and this causes them to look like they have a specific disease. It floors people when I tell them that a deficiency of B12 (methylcobalamin) can look a little bit like Alzheimer’s! It totally can! And that a deficiency of magnesium can cause depression, even suicidal ideation. Yes, it can. And how a deficiency of zinc can be tied to hearing loss or prostate enlargement. Yes, that’s possible.
What if all these deficiencies were fixed? Would you really have that disease you think you have? And what if I told you that hundreds of medications are capable of stealing the life out of you, slowly – and that if you restore what these medications are mugging from you, you might not have terrible side effects, which in my opinion, get diagnosed as a disease! I saw this with my own mother. Her well-meaning, uninformed doctor told her she had diabetes and put her on two different glucose-controlling medications, Actos and Glucophage. She was already on two blood pressure medications, as well as atorvastatin (Lipitor). I said to her, “Mom, your statin cholesterol drug is mugging nutrients from you, and causing your blood glucose to go up – you really don’t have diabetes, you have statin-induced hyperglycemia. This is NOT diabetes.” It took her a few months to agree to my recommendations. You see, she is older, and was frightened by her doctor who told her she would die of a heart attack without her statin.
She went off her medications and onto some supplements and her doctor approved of these changes. Today, she takes no medication at all, she has perfect blood sugar, she does not have diabetes, he confirmed that, and her blood pressure is great. (As an aside, I wrote a book on diabetes, entitled Diabetes Without Drugs, which is sold worldwide and used in classrooms worldwide to teach physicians. Through the A4M group, doctors have to read part of my diabetes book before they can become board-certified. Later on, years later, we would see headlines emerge on how statins cause blood sugar elevations but I knew this ten years ago, and so did all my readers who get my free newsletter (available at www.DearPharmacist.com)
Your best-seller, Drug Muggers, helped begin a change in the awareness of those taking medications and your column has helped millions of readers. What advice do you give to these same people now compared with five years ago?
If you need medication, keep it to a minimum, only use a few of them. Some people take ten or more drugs per day. This is just crazy in my opinion.
Get more than one opinion, in fact, get two or three. You can’t just accept one practitioner’s opinion. I saw that with my husband once. He was having cardiac palpitations, and the doctor said he should have a pacemaker installed. I asked what the diagnosis was. He answered, “I don’t know, but I know I can normalize his heart rhythm with a pacemaker.” (Bear in mind I’m a ferocious little five-foot-three-inch pit bull when it comes to the medical care of my loved ones.) You cannot tell me (even as a bonafide cardiologist) that you are going to burn the only working node in my husband’s heart, termed “ablation,” and then put him on an artificial pacemaker without telling me why, and proving to me that he is not short of magnesium, potassium, taurine or carnitine. This doctor did not have a clue about nutritional testing; he did not even know the labs to use.
We declined his offer to install a pacemaker and instead, tested, only to find some key nutritional deficits. Then we restored those nutrients, got a second opinion, and all appears to be well. So when someone tells you they have to cut you open, take out an organ, burn you, or poison you with some toxic chemical, I want you to think twice about that. You might have a more comfortable, sensible option. You usually do.
I see this all the time with women who have a hysterectomy done. For some of them, it is definitely needed but for many, a natural aromatase inhibitor or some calcium D-glucarate could help. Or maybe some short-term use of iodine. Options, options, all of those are safer and less painful for a woman than to have her reproductive organs yanked, not to mention the long-term problems associated with synthetic hormones needed AFTER the surgery. It’s worth a shot. I do not think my ideas work for everyone, but they do work for some people and again, options are important. Consider them all, don’t just quickly submit to painful surgeries or procedures without looking at all of your options. The subject of women’s health is covered more thoroughly in The 24-Hour Pharmacist, and also in my ebook, Breast Cancer Protection.
Is there now more integration between the prescribing of medications and the prescribing of supplements?
No. Pharmacists don’t know about supplements – it’s not in their training courses. I teach some of them online though. As for physicians, they are coming around; some of them take holistic course trainings on their own, but they are in a woeful minority, and they have to do these trainings on their own dime. Those that do educate themselves about holistic medicine are wonderful because they have more options in their toolkit to help their patients. You can find doctors who think holistically at these organizations by putting in your zip code: www.functionalmedicine.org, www.acam.org, and www.aanp.org.
Find Suzy Cohen, R.Ph online at www.dearpharmacist.com.
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