Our current healthcare system has sometimes been criticized for addressing the symptoms of various diseases as opposed to treating the root cause. A lot of what is prescribed is band-aid fixes meaning they are numbing the symptoms but not actually creating a cure. If true cures actually came from pharmaceutical companies, why does the US continue to have the highest rates of illness in the world and utilize 48% of the world's prescription drugs? It goes to make you think this system is actually sick care vs healthcare, leading individuals to be stuck in the system for years. We spoke all about this with Meg Kilcup, a conventional pharmacist turned integrative practitioner, a mother of 3, and a seeker of root cause medicine. Meg worked in the pharmacy field for 10 years until she started to notice the corruption in the industry. What she noticed was a lack of safety and complete disregard of caring for why a patient is truly sick only to be overprescribed medication that eventually leads to side effects, leading to lifelong customers and poor health outcomes. While Meg still believes that western medicine has a time and a place, she now spends her days as an integrative practitioner empowering people to get to the root cause of their symptoms and helping individuals to create sustainable health with good nutrition, nature, and lifestyle practices. She firmly believes that we can heal our bodies holistically and that prescription medication should take a back seat. Meg shares with us the most shocking thing she has learned about the pharmaceutical industry, gives us her thoughts on the misconceptions around pharmaceuticals including why the overuse of antibiotics is predisposing us to major issues in the near future, and shares why eating real food can be the greatest health prescription of all.
How did your life lead you into pharmacy?
I wanted to help people with their health, and I was especially good at chemistry and happened to dislike the ‘blood and guts’ side of medicine, so my 18-year-old self decided to pursue a career in Pharmacy. After being in Pharmacy school and getting my doctorate, I became very passionate about the fact that many Americans are over-medicated – and it’s making them sicker, not better! So, I quickly pursued a residency in Patient Safety and spent a decade in that area of health care focusing on various components – like reducing the use of antibiotics, getting patients off of their medications, and reducing adverse drug events.
What are your thoughts on using pharmaceuticals to heal? Is there an actual place for them?
I think that there is a time and a place for pharmaceuticals, but I do not believe they should be the first action people take. The problem with resorting to pharmaceuticals is that this generally means that the root cause is simply being masked/redirected. Rather than actually healing and addressing the root cause (or root causes) of the issue, a pharmaceutical tends to something like block a receptor or re-route a natural occurring biochemical mechanism in the body. The problem with that, is that it can generate a cascade effect! By blocking a receptor or changing a chemical pathway in the body, this often leads to another downstream effect and then another downstream effect – it’s like a ripple that keeps going and making new waves.
These “side effects” (which are expected) can impact so much of our health - ranging from leaky gut to mood imbalances to increased risk of cancer and so much more. So, on top of perhaps not even addressing the root issue at hand, one may also be generating NEW symptoms… and even put on more drugs to manage the side effects! It can be a vicious cycle. This is why some people start with a couple medicines and then end up on ten. The body is not designed to have so many chemical pathways hijacked, rerouted, blocked, etc. The body is designed to heal – we just have to work with it to do so!
I do think that pharmaceuticals have a role at times. Of course, for acute situations, they can be absolutely lifesaving. Or perhaps somebody is critically ill or needs a small period of medications to get them to the point where their lifestyle adjustments and targeted supplementation/etc. is doing its job. There are certain clinical scenarios where medications make sense, and this of course is a case-by-case scenario! This is why integrative medicine is wonderful. Once can use western medicine if absolutely necessary but otherwise use lifestyle adjustments and root cause targeted supplementation as their medicine! Sometimes and often lifestyle adjustments are all that are needed! There is so much healing available through real food, sleep, movement, community…
What are some misconceptions when it comes to prescription medications?
I think people often presume first of all that prescription medications are THE ANSWER. This is because how we as a health care system and society are wired to think. It’s often boiled down to: 1. Diagnosis, and then 2. Medications. Oftentimes the diagnosis is just giving a name to what is going on, but it’s not going into the WHY (or many reasons WHY) a symptom or symptoms are occurring. Then, people end up not actually healing but rather relying on the medication as the primary answer, when actually they could have (most of the times) healed with lifestyle adjustments and getting to that root cause!
Another misconception I think people have is that they think that just because something is a prescription medicine, is that it is safe. Just because something has an FDA stamp of approval on it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for you. Often, too, what can happen is that side effects may not be discovered during clinical trials, but rather be discovered after a large proportion of the population has used a certain drug. Sometimes years down the road, drugs are pulled off the market or dangerous side effects are announced, all after the drug has been marketed as safe. Sometimes it just takes time for the effects to be experienced in the population and for the data to arise.
How do you feel about antibiotics being misused immensely? What are the aftereffects of this?
Antibiotics are a great resource to have on hand – absolutely lifesaving in certain situations. But unfortunately, they have been chronically overused and prescribed for sicknesses that do not need antibiotics at all! Not only are they utilized all the time for viruses, but also, they are used for bacterial infections in which antibiotics are not needed. Many infections self-resolve and do not require antibiotics for the body to rid of the bacteria (shout out to our immune systems!).
The issue with overusing antibiotics has many layers. The first layer is that it facilitates the creation + spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. These superbugs develop mechanisms to outsmart the features of the antibiotics that would otherwise kill the bacteria. An example is MRSA, but there are many! The more we use antibiotics, the more these resistant bacteria are going to develop (that’s just what they do!), and this means that we will be able to have antibiotics that actually work less and less. These resistant superbugs in some cases are outsmarting every single powerhouse antibiotic available, and there are no new antibiotic classes in the pipeline (and there hasn’t been for a long time!).
In fact, if we stay on the same trajectory with our overuse of antibiotics, we are expected to see 10 million people die annually from drug-resistant superbugs. This is one person dying every three seconds from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The unfortunate thing is that we are creating this problem ourselves with our chronic overprescription and overuse of these drugs.
The CDC estimates about 47 million antibiotic courses are prescribed for infections that don’t need antibiotics, like for colds and the flu, in U.S. doctors’ offices and emergency departments each year. That’s about 30% of all antibiotics prescribed in clinical settings. Additionally, we know that up to 50% of antibiotics are completely inappropriate or are the wrong drug or dose. We have a lot of opportunities for improvement!
Like I said there are many layers to the undue harm we are inflicting with overuse of antibiotics. Another layer is the fact that when we use antibiotics, they greatly impact the microbiome of our gut. When you *need* antibiotics, this is a risk that must be taken to get the benefit of the drug (for example when people have a serious infection or are septic, etc.). However, when we use them for illnesses, we don’t need antibiotics for, we are neither gaining the perceived benefit in those scenarios *and* we are unfortunately wiping out the microbiome of our gut, which impacts so many critical areas of our health.
Antibiotics don’t only wipe out the “bad bacteria”, but they also wipe out our good, commensal bacteria that we need in our gut! Our commensal bacteria are critical for a healthy gut, for our gut-brain axis, for our immune system, hormones and so much more! Studies even show that when we take antibiotics, that host gene cell expression is impacted – such as immune gene cell expression and even mitochondria of immune cells. The majority of our immune system resides in our gut; thus, we need a symbiotic environment of bacteria. It’s kind of ironic that when we use antibiotics, we also dampen our immune system for a bit (via impacting the gut bacteria) – so make sure to only use antibiotics when absolutely needed.
What is the most shocking thing you have learned working in the pharmaceutical industry?
The most shocking thing to me is how deeply our healthcare system is built around the idea that pharmaceuticals are the answer. I could talk about many components of the actual pharmaceutical industry that are shocking (and how financial bias impacts if drugs come to the market), but to me personally, I find it shocking that as a system and as humanity that we place so much trust in these companies, in which many of them have long track records of fraud and misrepresentation of data.
While I do think western medicine has a place in society and can absolutely be lifesaving, I also had a front row seat to the health care system for a decade in my role in patient safety. Many giant pharmaceutical companies have a history of lying and a history of putting profit over safety, yet still it’s almost as if people disregard this truth. That is simply what is most shocking to me. I do think pharmaceuticals are a tool that should be used as a last resort or of course for acute situations, but unfortunately, pharmaceuticals can act as band-aids, only to silence a symptom rather than facilitate true healing.
As a former Pharmacist turned integrative practitioner, what made you make this pivotal change in your career?
It was a bit of a journey for me, but also consisted of a few defining moments. The first issue that got me to thinking was getting the constant flow of emails in my inbox with the ongoing Drug Recalls from the FDA. Constantly getting reminded that what was once deemed as “safe” now has a list of safety issues or even black box warnings. It got my wheels turning. Drugs get approved as “safe and effective” based on the clinical trials the drug companies run. But once the drugs hit the population – THAT is when the real test is. We don’t even have good systems for monitoring side effects or even death from prescription drugs, yet still, these issues arise. Whether it’s stomach cancer from acid reducers (which are one of the most popular drugs used) or the fact that some antidepressants come with black box warnings that they can cause suicidal thoughts.
There are many, many examples, and the fact of the matter is that none of this is shocking. This is because pharmaceutical drugs interfere with the natural biochemical pathways in our bodies. When these pathways are disrupted or when a receptor is blocked, etc. – that sets off a cascade of other reactions (what we call “side effects”), which I believe are expected effects! Then what happens is people experience these side effects (which are just the ripple effects of the mechanism of action of the drug), and end up on *more* drugs, causing even more side effects. It becomes a vicious cycle, and patients can end up on so many medications and their body systems are hijacked, rather than healing.
All that to say, I spent a career in the healthcare system, focusing on patient safety. I dedicated a decade in the PNW region focusing on reducing adverse drug events, reducing use of opioids, and reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics. I knew I was making a positive impact, but at a certain point, I felt as though I had hit a wall. It takes 17 years for a significant change to take place in the healthcare system. Yes, 17 YEARS! I had a lot of dreams and passion, and the system I was working in felt as though we were moving at a turtle pace. While it’s full of well-intentions and many wonderful people, the system is failing us. It’s not making people well or empowering people to *create* their health with lifestyle!
So, after about ten years, I wanted to take my experience and knowledge into a different arena of health – helping people to understand true health! I wanted to help people learn how to actually heal by understanding the root cause of their symptoms and being empowered on HOW to heal via targeted supplements (if needed) and especially lifestyle! Food, movement, stress reduction, community and so forth. Our bodies are truly designed to heal. Our bodies desire the fundamentals of real food, movement, meaningful relationships, rest, sunshine, time outside – and when we give our bodies what they need - they really are incredible and absolutely can heal!
How can we make the transition into the holistic world of health?
I think that people often overthink holistic health. Sometimes when people think of holistic health, their mind might go to the laundry list of natural supplements on the market or the various natural healing devices and resources on the market. While natural supplements and healing tools can be incredibly important and can be used in a targeted fashion, I think holistic health is truly just about getting back to the basics! What I think most people have success with is simply focusing on their whole health – mind, body, spirit! Our whole health absolutely matters. Focusing on eating real foods, minimizing toxins, moving our bodies, grounding, getting in that sunshine – THIS is truly where it’s at for the biggest changes we will see when it comes to health. Nervous system healing and health is also critical in a world that is putting most of us in a state of “fight or flight”.
I think natural supplements and targeted minerals, vitamins, etc. can also make a big difference, but they do not stand alone (they must come alongside those critical lifestyle changes)! For example, having a toxic lifestyle and tossing in some magnesium and a sauna sesh once a week likely won’t have much of an impact. First, we have to and GET to change our lifestyle to one of healing, vitality and choosing LIFE! As we do that, we can use holistic supplements as needed to fill in the gaps and to help bring our body back into balance – back into that place of healing and vitality that it craves.
What do you suggest to your followers to find the root cause of their health issues?
Getting to the root cause is so important and takes dedication and a touch of patience! For some people, they may not even need to see a root-cause-focused practitioner. Some people may simply be able to make lifestyle adjustments (specifically in what they are eating, how they are sleeping, moving their body, etc.) and experience their symptoms resolve naturally over time! Some though may need to have specific lab testing and may need to work with a practitioner or provider who is on board with getting to the root cause (or causes) or symptoms and has an approach that they agree with regarding healing. Even lab testing can take some time if the provider isn’t offering the correct tests to run.
My biggest piece of advice is to take time to find the right provider if you think lab testing should be part of your journey. I think many people do need targeted supplementation (even if for a short bit), and I don’t recommend just piling on the natural supplements without testing. Test don’t guess. But you need to work with a provider who is going to not only run the correct tests, but also focuses on true healing – even beyond the lab work! YES - targeted labs and supplements are great. But there is so much more to health!
What are your top alternatives we can use today in place of traditional medications?
Real food – superfood, organic plants from the earth and quality animal meat products such as grass-fed, grass-finished beef or wild caught salmon. Real food can be truly so incredibly healing! People can 100% reverse their “chronic” disease simply with the food that they choose to eat! Choose to NOURISH! Real food supplements can be very helpful too– ranging from collagen to turmeric to even quality beef liver. These, too, can be targeted!
Movement + strength training. Sunshine. Infrared therapy saunas. Red light therapy. Movement. Community. Grounding. Breathwork.
These are the underutilized and often FREE medicines! Or at a minimum are cost-neutral. :)
Also, minimizing toxins (environmental, in food, etc.) and alcohol. Can be life changing for many!
Creation offers us so many healing modalities. We just need to opt into them! I think if people used their lifestyle to heal, that very few people would actually need pharmaceuticals. Of course, targeted natural/integrative supplements can be very beneficial, even if just for a season.
What are your non-negotiables when it comes to your own personal health and the health of your family?
Love this question! Non-negotiables around here are to nourish well but leave room for grace. We don’t sweat the small stuff, but we really focus on real food and enjoying it! I have three young boys, so I want them to love and have a taste for real, nourishing food, and I also want them to understand food freedom and that we get the choice to make healthy choices!
Another non-negotiable is plenty of time outside moving our bodies, adventuring, hiking, biking, and doing other activities we love. This is incredible for our whole health! In our home, we also always make sure to use filtered water and we filter the air in our home. There are many toxins lurking in the air and tap water, so those are two non-negotiables for us.
Our family also prioritizes community and relationships. I don’t think most people understand how incredibly important community is! We are meant to live in meaningful communities – to share life together. To share meals together. To be there for each other amidst it all.
We prioritize God, family, community, real food, adventure, learning, movement, sunshine, and rest! That’s an Rx for a good, healthy life, in my opinion. ;)