• Question: Why do medications have side effects?

    Asked by killa to Colin, John, Kevin, Shikha, Triona on 7 Nov 2014.
    • Photo: Shikha Sharma

      Shikha Sharma answered on 7 Nov 2014:

      Hi Killa,
      Really good question…. I hope this question will bring in notice of everyone here that how important is to read the labels on medicines 🙂 So the answer to your question is:
      All medicines have their benefits and risks whether it’s a nutritional supplement, over-the-counter drug or they are prescribed from a doctor. As they have biologically active chemical they can interfere with normal body functions. The aim of any medicine is to repair or affect any of the abnormal condition in our body. But in most of the cases the similar target cells are found at different sites in our body and while repairing one of the parts it affects the non-target part. Since the human body is really complex it is difficult to design a medicine which can affect only one target without interfering with other millions of cells or molecules in the body. Scientists are trying to develop more precise therapies for cancer known as target therapy.
      Another problem is that the immune system of every individual behaves differently in response to any medicine. That’s why with the same medicine some people have side effects and some will not. Generally, Food and Drug Administration approves any medicine/drug for marketing after the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks. That’s why it is important to read the labels on medicine because the companies generally mention the side effects on it.


    • Photo: Kevin Motherway

      Kevin Motherway answered on 7 Nov 2014:

      Yup medicines are great but it’s hard to get the right molecule to the right spot. All those adds you see for Ibuprofen “targeting the pain”? Don’t believe a word (skeptical scientist 101 never trust a TV ad). You consume a medicine and its absorbed into your bloodstream and that molecule distributes through you whole body. Some of it gets to the scene of the pain and soothes the guilty overactive neuron, but there’s plenty left of the molecule in your bloodstream just looking for something to interact with. Unfortunately sometimes that molecule can have an undesired effect. Just like some medicines can cause tummy upsets or can cause trouble for organs like your liver that are trying to purify your blood a keep it regulated. So while popping more paracetamol for your headaches might seem like a good idea, your liver is also working overtime to keep your blood as nature intended and if you take more paracetamol than you should your liver can receive serious damage, even fatal damage.

      That’s why your immune system is so amazing in that it develops antibodies which are essentially like signs saying “please kill me” that attach to nasties that enter your blood stream and white blood cell attack but leave healthy tissue alone. If we can learn to make medicines that work like smart bombs that target bad guys rather non-targetted meds that carpet-bomb and kill the entire neighbourhood then side effects should be less.

      But side effects aren’t always a bad thing. Many medicines have been designed to tackle a problem and when patients take them we suddenly find a useful side effect. For example Asparin is a pretty good painkiller for headaches, but it also has the useful side effect of thinning the blood. Many people now take low dose Asparin everyday to reduce the risk of heat attack and stroke.

      Let’s not wish all the side effects away!