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Bobbie Barbrey is the owner of Medicap Pharmacy in North Raleigh, a full-service retail pharmacy, which also offers compounding and nutritional counseling. To better serve his clients, Mr. Barbrey completed the program offered by the International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists and became a Certified Clinic Nutritionist (CCN).

Symptoms: The Body Expressing Itself

By Bobbie Barbrey, RPh, CCN

Each of us is ultimately responsible for our own health. We can go to health care providers, get diagnoses, but in the end we must make sure that we are doing all we can to remain as healthy as possible. With the best of intentions, it is easy to get in our own way.  Many people go to multiple doctors who prescribe medications, sometimes without fully realizing all the other medications they are taking. As the list of medications grow and interact they can cause problems of their own. Sometimes even over-the-counter medications can react negatively with our prescriptions.

Mike Hughes, right, a fourth-year pharmacy student at UNC, learns from Pharmacist Bobbie Barbrey how to use the BioMeridian scanning device to assess the overall health of a client.

I’m a registered pharmacist, a certified clinical nutritionist, and compounder of custom prescriptions. I don’t diagnose or treat illnesses, but instead, I engage with people to identify what changes they can make in their lives that will benefit their overall health.  I listen to their symptoms and try to discover what might be contributing to them.

A long-time patient came to me with a dry, hacking cough and he wanted to know what he could take for it. Since he’s been a customer of mine for years, I was familiar with his medication profile. He takes Lisinopril, in the class of ace inhibitors, commonly used to lower blood pressure. One of this drug’s side effects can be a nagging, dry cough that will not go away. The solution is to change medications if the cough is severe enough.  It doesn’t get better.

The “Symptoms” That Are Side Effects

“Patients often experience side effects from several of the most commonly prescribed medica-tions,” notes Mr. Barbrey. “And these side effects produce symp-toms that can be mistaken for other health problems. Before treating the newly acquired symptom, it is imperative to identify the under-lying cause. And if the symptom is a response to a medication, we will try to determine if the medication is being taken properly or if an alternative medication is available. Following is a sampling of com-monly prescribed medications and their potential side effects.

Drug names: Zestril (lisinopril), Vasotec (enalapril), Altace (ramipril)
Potential side effects: Persistent dry cough or  swelling of the face, lips or throat

Drug names: Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), Protonix (pantoprazole)
Potential side effect: Reduced calcium absorption (bone fractures)

Drug name:
Glucophage (metformin)
Potential side effects: Diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain—very common during the first 7 days

Drug name:
Advil, Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), Indocin (indomethacin)
Potential side effects: Gastrointestinal ulceration, bleeding, diarrhea

Drug names:
Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Claritin (loratadine)
Potential side effects: drowsiness, dry mouth, headache, trouble urinating

Drug names:
Synthroid (levothyroxine), Armour Thyroid (desiccated thyroid extract)
Side effects: hyperthyroidism (fatigue, heat intolerance, sweating, etc)

Drug names:
Lipitor (atorvastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), Zocor (simvastatin)
Potential side effects: muscle pain & tenderness, liver injury

Symptoms are a way for the body to express itself, whether it’s in the form of aches and pains, a cough, or a rash. They are an incredibly sophisticated system of communication. If we listen closely, the body will tell us that something is out of balance so we can address it and move towards a higher level of health.

Symptom Suppression

However, our current health model is more about symptom suppression. As a pharmacist for over 30 years I know that prescription drugs do an amazing job to suppress symptoms. Sometimes we might need to do this, especially in acute care situations. But in chronic disease, they typically just manage the symptoms. The patient must take responsibility to get to the source of the problem. Do I want to take a medication, possibly for the rest of my life, or do I want to get to the root cause of my symptoms and change the pattern?

The body will usually find a way to tell us what is going on.  I get concerned when patients receive a diagnosis and then start living that diagnosis, believing that they are trapped for life in a disease state. “I am a diabetic!” It can be your story but it does not have to be. You always have a choice to participate in improving your health. Will you make that choice?

I had another patient come in and tell me she had had low iron levels “forever.” That was a strong clue. My first thought was that she wasn’t eating the right iron-rich foods, or her digestive system wasn’t breaking down or absorbing those foods properly. In our consult I looked at her lab work and did a Bio Meridian Stress Assessment (MSA) scan.  This is an invaluable tool that helps me identify where inflammation is in the body and then target those areas for support. I discovered that her digestive system was stressed. I had her tested for gluten sensitivity and she was off-the-chart gluten sensitive. She was eating food on a daily basis that inflamed and eroded the small intestinal lining so she couldn’t absorb iron properly. She had a choice: use medication for symptom relief or work to fix the problem. She got off gluten and her iron levels began to rise! She made the choice that changed her life.

Another patient who had just been put on a statin drug to lower his cholesterol complained of extreme fatigue. Fatigue and muscle pain are common side effects of statin drugs because they block the formation of Co-Q10, a substance needed in your cells to produce energy. Supplementing with  CoQ-10 will often increase the patient’s energy level.

GI Issues

I was working with a patient who had quite a few chronic GI issues, including diarrhea. He told me that he used antibiotics for years for a skin condition. Antibiotics cause the bacterial flora to be disrupted, out of balance.  Rather than use something to just stop the diarrhea, we instead focused on the source of the problem. We used Colostrum to help resolve the imbalance, repair and heal the small intestine, and now his health is moving in the right direction. His diarrhea has stopped. We looked at the symptoms the body was communicating to us and came up with a solution. The patient took charge of his own health.

Many people come to Medicap Pharmacy and tell me that they’d rather go the natural route for health care. My advice is always to go for their annual physical and get their labs done. Find out if there’s anything wrong before it gets too difficult to manage. I am very confident at digging deeper; but I’m also respectful of physicians and other health care professionals who are doing their part.

You can make changes to help improve your health and I’m happy to guide you with a plan to move in that direction. That’s what helps to make for a successful interaction when you come to Medicap Pharmacy. I welcome you to come in, whether you are a prescription patient or not, and let’s talk about a plan to improve your health.