By Andrew Golin,
Prescription medications accounted for almost 14% ($29 billions) of Canada’s annual health care costs in 2013; the second costliest component in health care1. The Canadian Health Measures Survey was launched in 2007 and has collected valuable data on prescription drugs. From 2007 to 2011, 40.5% of the population aged 6 to 79 used prescription drugs within 2 days of being surveyed1. Drugs are clearly a common component of maintaining one’s health, suppressing chronic issues, restoring the body’s normal status quo, and often enhancing the body’s physical performance. Performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) is a general term containing categories of substances that enhance human activity. Several specific classes of drugs that fall under PED’s include anabolic drugs, stimulants, and nootropics, where muscle growth, focus, and cognitive control is often enhanced respectively. Though drugs are commonly used worldwide, I feel it is fair to assume that most drug-takers do not fully understand the drug mechanisms that drive their effects.
Drugs can be roughly defined as any substance that alters the functioning of physiological systems. They can be synthetically created or derived from natural sources such as plants, animals and minerals. A common misconception is that drugs from natural origins are always safe. Natural products are not always safe. Many powerful drugs are naturally synthesized and can be potentially very toxic. For example, Streptozocin, one of many naturally produced drugs, is often used in chemotherapy and can cause serious adverse effects2.
Paul Ehrlich, the father of pharmacology hypothesized that drugs have no effect unless they are bound by a receptor. A century later, this theory still applies to the mechanisms of action of most medication currently offered today. Receptors can be any molecule in the body that binds to the drug, though most receptors are proteins. Receptors are the communicators of one’s cell and therefore the body. They receive, transmit, enhance, and dampen signals by undergoing structural changes, or by altering the structures of recipient receptors or target molecules. In addition, certain molecules may preferably bind to receptors with certain configurations and therefore only cause certain effects when receptors are structured in a particular manner. While this theory explains the majority of mechanisms, there are exceptions such as antacids, which neutralize a portion of the acid in the stomach, and therefore does not require a receptor but purely acts by a chemical mechanism.
Despite the fact that receptors are known to play a clearly large role in drugs’ operations, people do not always express the same amount or type of receptors. Due to one’s unique set of chromosomes that make up their entire set of genetic material, slight variations of proteins are synthesized. This allows diversity in the amount and type of possible receptors present, influencing people to have varying and differing responses to drugs.
Amongst the many classes of therapeutic agents available, statins, also called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, are a commonly used class of medication that helps lower cholesterol levels3. Cholesterol is synthesized in the mevalonate pathway. Mevalonate is a precursor molecule that is necessary for the biosynthesis of cholesterol. A molecule called HMG-CoA, is transformed into mevalonate by a protein called HMG-CoA reductase3. Statins inhibit the HMG-CoA reductase protein, therefore inhibiting the conversion of HMG-CoA into mevalonate, reducing the amount of mevalonate molecules available for cholesterol synthesis3.
Whether decreasing cholesterol levels, decreasing blood pressure or the vast list of other positive effects that are a result of drugs, medicines are critically important to many around the world. It is important to appreciate just how far pharmaceutical sciences have taken us, and it is exciting to look forward to the many currently devastating diseases that may one day be resolved.
- Rotermann, Michelle et al. Prescription Medication Use By Canadians Aged 6 To 79. 1st ed., Statistics Canada, 2014, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/access_acces/alternative_alternatif.action?l=eng&loc=14032-eng.pdf.
- Moertel, Charles G. et al. “Streptozocin–Doxorubicin, Streptozocin–Fluorouracil, Or Chlorozotocin In The Treatment Of Advanced Islet-Cell Carcinoma”. New England Journal Of Medicine, vol 326, no. 8, 1992, pp. 519-523. New England Journal Of Medicine (NEJM/MMS), doi:10.1056/nejm199202203260804.
- Brown, Andrew J. “CHOLESTEROL, STATINS AND CANCER”. Clinical And Experimental Pharmacology And Physiology, vol 34, no. 3, 2007, pp. 135-141. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1440-1681.2007.04565.x.
- Dimmitt, Simon B. et al. “Common Statin Side Effects Explain Poor Compliance”. British Journal Of Clinical Pharmacology, vol 80, no. 1, 2015, pp. 170-171. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/bcp.12594
- Sinzinger, Helmut et al. “Muscular Side Effects Of Statins”. Journal Of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, vol 40, no. 2, 2002, pp. 163-171. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/00005344-200208000-00001.
- Crane, Frederick L. “Biochemical Functions Of Coenzyme Q10”. Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition, vol 20, no. 6, 2001, pp. 591-598. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/07315724.2001.10719063.
- Obesity, Fitness, & Wellness Week: Three Dangerous Side Effects of Taking Beta Blockers. NewsRx.com, 08/04/2012. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.