In this episode, pharmacist Mary Lee Snodgrass talks about how and why the trend of overmedication has become so prevalent in America. As a second generation pharmacist, Mary Lee has a first hand account of how prescriptions have doubled and tripled over the last few decades.
After arthritis spread through her body, her sisters (who were also pharmacists and getting into nutrition and alternative methods) suggested that the deeper issue could be caused by a leaky gut. She ignored their diagnosis for a while but when Mary Lee started to examine her diet she couldn’t help but realize that this actually could be the issue. She switched up the food she was eating, began taking supplements and probiotics, and overtime she was off her medications and the arthritis was gone. This is when her journey with natural wellness began.
The Overmedication of America
Since then she has studied the two-fold problem of how doctors prescribe medications for every condition and illness (the drug cascade) and patients who do not want to take responsibility for their health.
Being on both sides of traditional and natural medicine, Mary Lee gives us great insight on the problems prescriptions cause by adding to and triggering additional medical issues. From her presentation “The History of Pharmacy According to Bag Size” to her explanation of how symptoms we experience are actually affected by deeper problems that need to be fixed, we’re uncovering the roots of our health issues.
We do have choices, but it’s going to take both the doctors and the patients taking responsibility and not just one side or the other.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
More From Wellness Mama
- 219: Why Everything We Know About Probiotics Is Wrong & How to Stop Leaky Gut With Microbiologist Kiran Krishnan
Get Mary Lee’s informational PDF!
To help you discover your own health answers, Mary Lee has offered a free PDF download which shows the cascade effect that can occur from taking just one medication. To get this along with other past bonuses, click her to join the Wellness Mama Content Library of free ebooks and resources.
Katie: Mary Lee, thank you for being here. Welcome. I’m so excited that we’re going to
chat today. To start, can you talk to us about your personal story, and how you
got into the natural side of health as well as the traditional side, in being a
pharmacist, and how you tie those together?
Mary Lee: Sure, Katie. First of all, I’m so excited to be here. I’m honored, and I’m flattered,
and I’m nervous, but I’m ready to do this. I’m a rookie, but this is going to be fun.
Yes, I have a story, everybody seems to have a story when they get into this
world of alternative medicine, or holistic, integrative, whatever you want to call it.
Back when I was 42 years old, I had a hip replacement because of arthritis,
which is pretty young to have a hip replacement. At the time, I thought, “Well,
arthritis is in my family. This is just my genes, this is what’s going to happen.” As
you know, arthritis is progressive. It progressed in my other hip, my knees, my
hands, and I remember thinking at the time, “Gosh, I’m going to be crippled at
60” but yet, I went on with traditional medicine and stayed on my antiinflammatories. Finally, one day, my sisters, they are pharmacists also, and they
had just recently opened a pharmacy and they were getting into wellness and
nutrition and alternative thoughts, and they said, “Mary Lee, maybe you have
what’s called a leaky gut.” I remember hearing those words and I thought, “Are
they crazy? Leaky gut?” And I said, “I can’t have a leaky gut, I don’t eat fast food.
I’m pretty healthy, I’m thin, I just have arthritis.”
I just kind of let it go, thinking they were a little bit off, but I started thinking about
it, I thought, “You know what? Maybe I don’t eat so healthy. I eat a lot of
Triscuits.” I ate a lot of whole wheat bread, because it was whole wheat, even
though I didn’t eat fast food, and that I was thin, I had thought, “Well, it can’t be
my food” but then it dawned on me that maybe I need to change my food. Maybe
those Triscuits aren’t so good for me. Back then, I probably kind of went gluten
free, not know that’s what I was doing. I dropped the Triscuits, I dropped the
bread, and instead I added back vegetables, because I wasn’t eating vegetables.
I ate a lot of raw vegetables, because I missed the crunch of the Triscuits. I
limited my fruits, not that I was eating that many but I really focused on
At that point I noticed my bloating went away. I started feeling better energetically
and then I thought, “I wonder if I can get off my anti-inflammatories” because I’d
been on them for years. I did some supplements. I got on a probiotic, I got on
some fish oil, I got on a natural anti-inflammatory and I got on some natural
digestive enzymes, all this with the help of my sisters, thinking, “Oh, I’ll try. We’ll
see what happens.” Well, low and behold, over time my arthritis is gone! I no
longer have it anywhere, or where it’s symptomatic. That’s when I realized there’s
something to this. I love sharing that story with people, because I lived it, I ate
like they used to, I changed my ways, used some supplements and now I feel
great. I feel great.
Katie: Yeah, I think you’re so right that all of us have a story like that that brought us
and I haven’t heard from that many people who just logically decided one day
that they were going to start living healthier and that they were going to choose
this way. There’s usually, unfortunately, a painful catalyst for this, and you see
this everyday as a pharmacist and working with people. You and I have talked
about this in person before and I can’t wait to talk about it here, kind of, this 2-fold
problem that you see everyday in the industry both with people not being willing
to take responsibility for their health and wanting an easy answer and also with
doctors, for a variety of reasons, just prescribing things for every condition and
illness. I’m always the first to say I love doctors, I know most doctors get into
medicine because they truly want to help people and I also know how busy most
of them are these days. I don’t want to come across that I’m badmouthing
doctors, but there is a definite problem and I’d love to hear you talk about that
and why you think it’s become a problem, especially more recently.
Mary Lee: Sure, and I am so happy I’ve been practicing this long, almost 33 years, because
I have seen the changes. I grew up in a pharmacy. My dad was a pharmacist, he
had his own drug store. I was 1 of 7 children and we were put to work in the
pharmacy at an early age and I actually have 2 sisters that are pharmacists, as I
said earlier, so I’ve been in these trenches of a pharmacy for, really, 40 years,
and I’ve seen so many changes, most of them not good. It’s hard to hone it all in
but I can probably tell you the changes in a history lesson, and I give this
presentation to groups and I call this history lesson, “The History of Pharmacy
According to Bag Size.” Let me begin.
Back in 1983, when I first started practicing pharmacy, the bags were little. Let
me show you this Katie, you maybe can help everybody see. These were small,
little bags, smaller than a popcorn bag, and we would put a medication in it, send
it to the patient and send them out the door. Well that went on for years,
eventually the bags got a little bigger, and we put a few more, a couple more
meds in there, give it to the patient, send them out the door. About 15 years ago,
the bags got a flat bottom, so that you could open them up and they were a lot
wider, and we filled it up with prescription medications, gave it to the patient, and
sent it out the door. About 10 years ago, the bags got even bigger, we called
them “big flat bottom bags” and they were double of the previous one. Once
again, we filled it up with medications, gave it to the patient, sent it out the door.
Well, about 7 or 8 years ago, we started putting prescriptions in grocery bags,
our bags were no longer big enough. Here we are, loading up the grocery bags
with prescriptions, give it to the patient, send them out the door.
Well, guess what Katie? About 3 years go, now we’re dispensing patients’
medications in boxes. You can see how big this box is. This is not full of Tylenol
or mouthwash or lotions, this is full of prescription medications for 1 patient, that
they might receive in that 1 month. Let me just tell you might be in this box that
we typically see, 3-4 blood pressure medicines, 2 cholesterol medicines, they
might have a couple diabetic medicines, along with insulin and their diabetic
supplies, which would be the syringes, the needles and the strip and lancets.
They’re probably on a muscle relaxer. They’re probably on 1 or 2 different pain
medications, plus an anti-inflammatory. They’re going to be on a couple
medications for constipation, of course. They’re on 1 or 2 anti-depressants.
They’re probably on a sleeping medication for insomnia, definitely an anti-anxiety
medication. They typically at least have a prescription for vitamin D. They’re on
an anti-psychotic, at least 1, maybe 2. A couple inhalers because all these folks
have asthma. They get multiple creams, because they have either eczema or
psoriasis, and, let’s not forget the acid blockers, they’ll be on 1 or 2 acid blockers.
This box right here is not out of the ordinary to see, this is something we see
Back to 1983, here I am, going through the motions, filling my bag, give it to the
patient, send them out the door. Filling my bag, give them to the patient, send
them out the door. Year after year I did this, I was on basically autopilot, and
unfortunately, it’s awful to say, I was one of those pharmacists, I was not very
engaged with my patients. I was more focused on getting the medication correct
and getting them out the door. You know what they look like, they keep their head
down and they’re focusing on what’s in front of them. Occasionally they’ll get up,
raise their head, and wave hello, tell you goodbye, tell you thank you. That’s what
I did for 25 years, until I got to the grocery bag, and that’s when, I’m filling up my
grocery bag and I thought, “Oh my goodness what are we doing? What are doing
here?” I paused, and I looked out the lobby and I saw all these patients waiting
on their prescriptions and I really looked at them for the first time, and I realized,
“You know what? We’re not getting better, we’re getting more medicines. Why is
that? Why? There’s something wrong here.”
I started studying. I started reading and researching. I went to seminars, and this
is what I found. I found out 3 things. First of all, our food has changed. The food
that we eat today is not the food that we ate in the past. We have food that is
genetically modified. We have food that has pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
attached to it. We have food that we’re eating now that’s full of sugar, it’s
processed, it’s fast food. We’re not eating like our ancestors ate, which was good,
healthy meat. They ate vegetables all year long. They ate fruit in season. They
ate nuts and seeds, and they ate some grains, and we’re so far removed from
that. That was the first thing I discovered.
The second thing was, stress! Stress, chronic stress, everybody has it. We’re in a
wonderful world that is very modernized and we’ve had so many changes,
especially in technology, and we’re constantly on. The light bulb is constantly on
in our lives, and we’re just overstimulated. The effects of stress affects our body
in so many unhealthy ways. First of all, it slows down digestion, or affects it in a
negative way. It disrupts our sleep. We have no libido. We have trouble with
reproduction. The #1 thing about stress is that it creates a chronic state of
inflammation, and as you know, inflammation is the source of chronic disease.
Those are the things we learned, #1 and #2, the third one I discovered is
medications. Let’s talk a bit about medications. Sure, they serve a purpose, and
they’re important. However, guess what, they may be robbing our bodies of
important nutrients, vitamins, minerals, even hormones, so think about that.
These nutrients depletions may be causing a side effect or even worse another
medical condition, which precipitates another prescription for the most part. What
we need to remember, and I had to be reminded of this too, these prescriptions
are chemicals, and though they may treat one condition, they may create another
one. They are actually artificially manipulating your body’s chemistry. We call this
robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Back in pharmacy school when, from 1980-83, we learned of course all about the
medications but we had to learn about side effects too, and every drug has a side
effect, and I never questioned by we had a side effect, nobody questioned it. We
just had to learn them, and recite them, and know them. That’s was a problem
back then as it is now. We’re not asking why. We’re treating symptoms and not
asking why. Why do we have high blood pressure? Why do we have diabetes?
Why do we have depression? Irritable bowel? Why do we have autism, asthma?
What we need to do is start asking the question why. Because these medications
can be depleting your body of nutrients, this can also affect the way you break
down, digest, and absorb your food, which only, as you can see, would add insult
to the injury. These nutrient depletions can even affect the way we eliminate toxic
compounds that we encounter every day. This can happen quickly or it can take
years down the road before we see the effects of these nutrient depletions.
Here’s a typical scenario, you go to your doctor with a complaint or symptom, and
he’s going to examine you, draw labs, and he might say, “Katie you have high
blood pressure. I want you to go take this medication.” He gives you a
prescription, you go to your pharmacy and you get it filled. You start taking that
medication, well that medication more than likely is going to start robbing your
body of these nutrients, vitamins, minerals or hormones, over time and what’s
going to happen, you’re going to develop a side effect or another complaint. So
you go to your doctor, and now you’ve got a new issue, and he’ll do the same
thing again, and he’ll say, “Katie, here, we need to add this to your regimen.”
You’re going to go to the pharmacy, get the prescription filled again, repeat it all
over. As my husband says, “Wash, rinse, repeat.”
Does this sound familiar? Yeah! In pharmacy we call this a drug cascade or polypharmacy. In the past, when I first started practicing, actually for several years
once I started practicing, if a patient had maybe was on 3 medications, that was
a red flag to us. We were like, “How can we manage these 3 medications for this
patient?” We were upset, but now fast forward, we have patients on 10, 12, 15,
20, 25 medicines, and it’s accepted as the norm! That’s not right. Most of the changes I have seen in pharmacy have not been good.
Katie: That’s what I love about your perspective too, because you’ve seen these in,
what really, in perspective, is a short amount of time. We always think, you know,
this has been a long, like centuries in the making where our bodies have
changed, but really it’s the last few decades when it’s been so drastic, and I feel
like you have a great balance because you’re not saying “You should never take
medication” or that there’s never a time and a place, because there absolutely is.
America’s excellent at trauma care and acute things, but you’re saying, this is a
cascade and if we don’t start waking up, it’s only going to get worse. If all of this
has happened in only a few decades, can you imagine what the next few
decades are going to look like?
I feel like there’s a struggle on both sides, and you can probably speak to this
better than I could, doctors are so busy because of all these health problems.
They don’t have hours and hours to spend with a patient to try to even convince
them that there’s another side to health, even if they wanted to, because they
have to see all these patients every day and meet probably insurance quotas and
patient quotas and everything else to manage their side. On the flip-side, we
have patients who don’t want to do the hard work. They don’t want to change
their diet or go to sleep earlier or reduce stress, they want to be fixed right now.
What are you seeing on those 2 sides, because you see both doctors and
patients, you’re kind of bridging that gap?
Mary Lee: Right, and so something I tell my patients, to help them understand this, I do
consultations as you know, and usually when I start a consultation I start with the
tree story, and this is how it goes. You’re this tall tree, broad trunked, strong, and
your leaves are green, and dense, and thick. For whatever reason, over time,
your leaves start turning brown and falling off, so you think, “I’ve got something
wrong with me. I need to go to the doctor.” You go to your doctor, well, your
doctor is tired, overworked, stressed. He has a lobby full of patients. He does not
have a lot of time with you, unfortunately. You say, “Well doctor, doctor. My leaves
are turning brown! My leaves are falling off! What should I do?” He’s going to
stand back and examine your tree leaves. He’s going to focus up there in the tree
leaves, and he’ll draw some labs, but in the end, probably what he will do, is say,
“Here, take this prescription to the pharmacy. This will paint your leaves green,
and here’s another one. Take this one to the pharmacy also, this will glue your
leaves back on.” What I want him to do, and what I do, is like, I want to look down
in the tree roots, the soil, the water. This is what’s nourishing your tree, the
leaves are the symptoms, the causes are down in the roots, and the soil, and the
That’s what we’re missing, is we’re not getting down to asking why. Getting down
to the tree roots, and so some of the biggest root causes, and we have so many
of them, but obviously we have cigarette and alcohol, that’s just kind of
understood, but guess what? Did you know that we have environmental toxins
that we are exposed to every day, and these can be affecting our tree leaves.
Poor sleep is another big tree root. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not going to be
healthy. Sleep is a time that our body repairs, and we must have that time to do
that. Stress, as I said earlier, is huge. It’s not going to go away. What has to
change is our response to it. We must manage our stress to be healthy.
Another tree root, big, fat tree root, that affects our tree leaves is food choices.
Katie, you should see some of the patients I work with, what they’re eating and
drinking. I have a woman that drinks 2-3 liters of Diet Coke a day. I have
encountered another patient that drank a gallon of sweet tea a day. Another
patient, I was just talking to her kind of randomly, and I said, “Well, what do you
eat?” She said to me, “Well, I open a drawer,” a drawer, not a refrigerator, but a
drawer, which is going to be full of boxed food. I said to her, I said, “Listen to what
you just said to me. You open a drawer to get your food.” I don’t think she even
realized it. Food choices we have, we have processed food, too much sugar, fast
food, these sugary drinks that we’re all drinking. Hippocrates, who is the father of
modern medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
Another root cause is nutrient depletions. We said medications deplete nutrients,
but so do food. You can be overweight and nutrient depleted. You can be skinny,
and still be nutrient depleted. We have to have food to support the health of our
body, real food.
Spiritual health, that’s another root cause. Call it meditation, call it praying, I just
call it time to be still. You’ve got to gather yourself every day, and a lot of times in
my hormonal consults, I have a little tea cup, and I say to my girls, “Listen, you
need to be still, fill up your pot, so you can serve tea to others.” Because it’s
really, it’s all about giving back to others, and we can’t constantly give when we’re
empty, and we fill ourselves up by slowing down and being still.
Inflammation, as I said, the source of chronic disease. What causes inflammation
is gut dysfunction. What that means is what we’re eating either going to nourish
us, as it should, as it used to, or that will inflame us, and that inflammation over
time will give us a chronic disease state, blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol,
depression, anxiety, insomnia, it goes on and on. Another big root cause,
hormonal imbalances. Whether it’s thyroid, it might be adrenal health, or it could
be your sex hormones, your progesterone, estrogen, testosterone. Those are
important for preventive health.
Gut issues, this is the biggest one. It is our food. It is our food that’s hurting us.
The gut is the mother of your body. 70% of your immune system is made in the
gut. We have trillions of bacteria, and I know you have spoken to that many times
and address it on your website, this is how we stay healthy. Healthy gut, healthy
life. There’s a gut-brain connection as well as a brain-gut connection, so think
about what you’re eating. If you’re eating the foods I mentioned, sugary foods,
and processed foods, and fast foods, and food that is not nutritious, what do you
think that’s doing to your gut? Auto-immune disease stems from the gut. Many
medications affect the gut, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, birth control pills, just
to name a few. Something else you probably know, your listeners may not, but
when you see children or adults with skin conditions such as eczema or
psoriasis, guess where that stems from? The gut! Where are we treating it?
We’re treating it topically. You’ve got to change the food you’re eating and heal
the gut to heal the skin.As you can see, a lot of root causes out there Katie.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely and I echo what you say about the gut being such a source. I
feel like a lot of people now know, with antibiotics for instance, that that can affect
your gut bacteria and a lot of, even people who aren’t even into the natural health
side, will take probiotics when they’re on an antibiotic just to help with digestion,
but it really does go so much deeper. We had that with our third son, he was born
via c-section, so his gut bacteria was not as optimal as we would have preferred
but it was, you know, it saved his life and my life and I’m very grateful that we had
that option, but he had eczema when he was younger, and he also had a diary
allergy and all these other issues that were showing up on his skin. We didn’t do
anything topically other than moisturize his skin during that process, but then we
focused on really healing his gut and we went on a very specific diet that was
anti-inflammatory, very high in nutrients, and his eczema is totally gone, his dairy
allergy is totally gone, and he’s thriving today.
I think, it can seem so overwhelming, especially like, all the problems that we just
talked about that it’s truly an uphill battle most of the time, but it’s also
encouraging because there still are solutions and it’s not just that this is the way
that it has to be and that the next 4 decades are going to look like the last 4
decades. We do have choices, but like you said, it’s going to take both the
doctors and the patients taking responsibility and not just one side or the other. I
love all the analogies that you’ve used.
Mary Lee: Thank you.
Katie: With the tree and the story of the bags, we’ll make sure to put a picture of the
bags in the show notes because I have been sitting here watching this and, like,
it’s amazing to see it visually represented in front of me. You’ll be back again on
the next episode and we’re going to deep dive more into the hormone side, and I
can’t wait for that, so we’ll join you again on the next one. Thank you so much for
being here this time, and we’ll talk again soon.
Thanks for listening!
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