How the Side Effects of Medications Can Make You Feel Old

Leo came to see me because he felt that his current array of doctors—an internist, a cardiologist, a rheumatologist, and a psychiatrist—just weren’t making him well. A lawyer in his mid-50s, Leo had gone for a routine physical and was found to have high cholesterol and mildly elevated blood pressure, two conditions that had led to a veritable cascade of medications.

“My internist put me on Lipitor to lower my cholesterol and hydrochlorothiazide to lower my blood pressure. He sent me to a cardiologist, who wasn’t really happy with the results, so he switched me from hydrochlorothiazide to Inderal.

“Then my muscles started aching even with minimal exercise, so my internist sent me to a rheumatologist, and she put me on Celebrex. That worked for a while, but eventually it seemed to wear off. I had already been having trouble sleeping, and now the pain kept me up at night, so I went back to my internist for some help, and he gave me Ambien.

“Meanwhile, I was trying to lose weight, but none of my diets were working. I couldn’t lose a pound, even though I had given up all my favorite foods. In fact, I was always hungry, and in the past year I’ve gained at least twenty pounds. I’m tired all the time. And between you and me, my sex life is pretty much over.

“The whole thing has gotten me so discouraged that my doctor sent me to a psychiatrist. He put me on Prozac, which might have helped a little. But most of the time, I feel pretty lousy.”

Leo looked at me, trying to seem cheerful, but I could see how disheartened he really was. “Doctor,” he said finally, “I’m only fifty-five! Isn’t that supposed to be the prime of life? Some days, it seems like my life might as well be over.”

Sadly, Leo’s situation is all too common. Many patients who first come to me in their 50s or beyond are on two or more medications, as are an increasing number of younger people. Often, as in Leo’s case, the negative effects of the first medication lead to the prescription of a second drug . . . whose effects incite the need for a third drug . . . causing the prescription of a fourth drug. On and on it goes, with everyone gaining weight, feeling old, and getting more and more discouraged.

Even if you’re only taking one medication, it might be making you feel old and fat. Many common prescription medications create weight gain, brain fog, memory problems, fatigue, joint pain, sleep problems, and other symptoms that we incorrectly associate with the inevitable process of aging, rather than with a very reversible loss of function.

Why Do Doctors Overmedicate?

As a physician, I see it every day—patients like Leo are overmedicated, often with disastrous results. Some problems develop slowly and gradually, such as the Prozac, Lipitor, or many other drugs that led to Leo’s weight gain. Other issues are more dramatic, such as when statins create muscle pains or brain fog—occasionally to such a degree that patients are wrongly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

A great deal of the problem comes from the way we physicians are trained. Medical school teaches us much that is valuable, but it does not teach us to look at underlying causes, or to focus on such basic solutions as diet, supplements, exercise, stress relief, and sleep. Instead, we’re taught to identify symptoms—and then to treat each symptom with its own matching drug.

This is what happened to Leo. Although I saw his problems as all resulting from one main underlying cause—a poor diet causing inflammation—his conventional doctors saw many individual diagnoses: heart disease, arthritis, insomnia, depression. Instead of getting a holistic, integrated view, Leo was treated by several different specialists who didn’t even talk to one another.

Rather, each prescribed the drugs that his or her specialty demanded, as though Leo’s body could be carved up into three separate, independent domains: cardiovascular, rheumatological, and nervous systems.

But Leo didn’t have three independent systems—he had one single body. And whenever he took a medication—no matter what it had been prescribed for—his entire body took the hit. For example, the Lipitor Leo took for his cholesterol caused his muscles to ache. The Celebrex he took to alleviate his muscle aches promoted his weight gain.

Meanwhile, the Lipitor and the Ambien, prescribed to help Leo sleep through the muscle pain, contributed to his depression. . . and the Prozac he took in response caused him to gain more weight. The extra weight created more of the inflammation that was the main underlying issue, and it also raised his blood pressure yet again, further stressing his cardiovascular system.

Each medication ultimately made Leo’s body not better, but worse. And in spite of all these medications, the underlying issue, inflammation, which was caused by his poor diet, was never even addressed.

Alternatives to Meds

Leo was upset when he realized that each of his medications were just treating his symptoms and not addressing the underlying cause of his problem. To make matters worse, each medication had created an additional set of problems. So he was relieved to hear that he could actually stop all his drugs and I could offer him another solution.

Based on his story and his labs, I determined that Leo was suffering from carbohydrate intolerance. His lab results showed high blood sugars (based on his hemoglobin A1C readings), elevated triglycerides, and decreased levels of vitamin D. Consequently, I believed he would benefit from the Revitalize Program.

I also put him on CoQ10, a natural supplement to help with the muscle pains from the statins. After the first two weeks, I encouraged him to go onto the Maintenance Program but to stay on a low-carb diet.

As part of his new way of life, Leo began to walk briskly at least 15 minutes a day, as well as doing the Revitalize workout. He also began to meditate regularly. And in addition to the CoQ10, he took the nutritional supplements I recommended, including a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D, and magnesium.

Within the first two weeks of the Revitalize program, Leo began to feel better. His muscle pains went away, his mood improved, and he was sleeping better. These improvements continued into the Maintenance phase, and after about two months, Leo felt better than he had in a long, long time. No more depression, no more insomnia, no more muscle pains—and his lab results all returned to a healthy level.

The sad thing is that Leo didn’t have to be on any medication in the first place. His spiral into suffering—into feeling old and tired and fat—was drug induced. Instead of multiple drugs, many treating a side effect of the others, all he needed was to change his diet and start to exercise.

As a physician, I am happy to use any means at my disposal to help make my patients well—but the vast majority of the time, food, exercise, and stress relief are truly the best medicine

This is an excerpt from my last book, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat……And How YOU Can Stay Young, Slim and Happy.


For Dr. Frank Lipman, health is more than just the absence of disease: it is a total state of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing. Dr. Lipman is a widely recognized trailblazer and leader in functional and integrative medicine, and he is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, How To Be Well, The New Health Rules, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat, Revive and Total Renewal.

After his initial medical training in his native South Africa, Dr. Lipman spent 18 months working at clinics in the bush. He became familiar with the local traditional healers, called sangomas, which kindled his interest in non-Western healing modalities.

In 1984, Dr. Lipman immigrated to the United States, where he became the chief medical resident at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. While there, he became fascinated by the hospital’s addiction clinic, which used acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat people suffering from heroin and crack addiction. Seeing the way these patients responded so positively to acupuncture made him even more aware of the potential of implementing non- Western medicine to promote holistic wellbeing. As a medical student, he was taught to focus on the disease rather than the patient, and now as a doctor he found himself treating symptoms rather than the root causes of illness. Frustrated by the constraints of his training, and the limitations in helping his patients regain true health, he began a journey of discovery to search for the path to meaningful long-term health and wellness.

He began studying nutrition, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, functional medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga. Dr. Lipman founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in 1992, where he combines the best of Western medicine and cutting edge nutritional science with age-old healing techniques from the East. As his patient chef Seamus Mullen told The New York Times, "If antibiotics are right, he'll try it. If it's an anti-inflammatory diet, he’ll do that. He’s looking at the body as a system rather than looking at isolated things."

In addition to his practice, Dr. Lipman is the creator of Be Well, an expanding lifestyle wellness brand he founded in 2010 to help people create, sustain and lead healthier lives.