You Need to Know About NNT

Are you familiar with the acronym NNT?  NNT stands for number needed to treat and is something that every person should ask his or her doctor for if prescribed medication or advised about surgery.  According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, this statistic is a quantitative measurement of “the number of people that need to take a drug or undergo a surgery or any medical procedure before one person is helped.”  Unfortunately, the NNT for a variety of prescriptions and surgeries is much higher than one.  For instance, Levitin states that the NNT for statins is 300.  Yes, you read that correctly (Levitin).

Besides the NNT, Levitin suggests that the general public also ask their primary care physicians about the side effects of the medications they are considering ingesting, as well as the statistics concerning the quantity of patients who experience side effects from the medications.  Levitin acknowledges that the side effects of statins can include suffering in the gastrointestinal system, joints, and muscles.  Additionally, five percent of patients who ingest statins will experience these pains.  According to Levitin, “300 people take the drug, right? One person’s helped, five percent of those 300 have side effects, that’s 15 people. You’re 15 times more likely to be harmed by the drug than you are to be helped by the drug.” (Levitin).

As a result, the next time you visit your primary care physician keep the above questions in mind if he or she suggests a certain medication or surgery.  In addition to keeping these questions in mind, I’d like to add one of my own:

How may I first attempt to combat this health issue through nutrition?

It is compelling to me that, unlike the majority of medications, whole foods do not carry with them a host of side effects.  Rather, it appears to me as though whole foods offer what I like to call side benefits.  This is because in addition to addressing certain health problems (i.e., wild blueberries lower cholesterol), whole foods boast an expansive array of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that will not only restore health in the afflicted area, but will also benefit the body and the mind in unexpected ways.

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,


P.S.  If you like what you are reading, please consider forwarding this blog post to a friend and encourage them to follow me at:

Works Cited

Levitin, D. (2015, September). Daniel Levitin: How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed [Video File]. Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “You Need to Know About NNT

  1. El

    It seems to me if you asked a doctor about a nutritional solution first, sadly she or he would look at you strangely.
    Bring it on in 2016 Katie! Thank you for continuing to disclose to us things that we aren’t aware of. Happy New Year!

  2. Paige

    I agree that food is an essential way to combat health issues as opposed to medications that are abundant with harmful side effects. With so many holistic health methods today, I find prescription drugs harmful. I have never heard of NNT, thank you for this information.

  3. This is both shocking…and not. I find it terribly upsetting that the medical community focuses so much on “quick” treatments (prescriptions) than more holistic answers to problems. Of course serious medication is needed for serious issues. However, how many times are prescriptions given when, as you said, things may be successfully treated by lifestyle changes, particularly nutrition? Yes, change is hard. But living with the side effects of medications (that may not be working!) is also hard.

    There is a quote from Dean Ornish I think you’ll really like:

    “I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on cholesterol lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.”
    ―Dean Ornish

    Lead the charge for change Katie! We’re with you!

  4. This is rather ugly but not surprising. It’s becoming increasingly clear in the bio med community that the idea of a universal treatment for a condition or disease simply doesn’t pan out in reality, for the simple reason that human biology is really, really complicated. Still, the pharmaceutical industry is trying to make money above all else (as the recent case of Martin Shkreli showed to a disgusting extreme), and so medicine has become another case of “buyer beware”– well, actually, it always has been. My blanket suggestion for medical treatments is to read into the science behind the treatment before going into anything. Still, refusing medical treatment outright is a very bad idea as well, as the anti-vaxxer movement has proven via their contribution to the current resurgence of measles. Also, I must note that these examples are extreme, but the message is the same: think before you make any decision regarding your health. And I agree with Katie that there’s no harm in eating healthy (but it’s best to stay informed in that regard, too)!

  5. Pingback: In the Name of Health…17 Food Intentions to Set in the New Year – Katie Chiffer: Nutrition Advocate, Food Blogger, & Health Enthusiast

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