Ever since we were children, we’ve been told to take pills when we feel bad—for headaches, insomnia, indigestion, aches and pains, even mild depression, to name a few common complaints. TV ads reinforce this message, with experts telling us what pills to take to stop our pain.
We’re so used to reaching for pharmaceuticals for fast relief that we don’t stop to ask three obvious questions:
- What is really causing the discomfort?
- Are these drugs really working?
- Are the side effects worse than the original symptoms?
We’re encouraged to mask our symptoms, and the medical and pharmaceutical industries are more than happy to indulge us. The catch is, a headache is not caused by aspirin deficiency, so even five types of aspirin are not going to cure it!
In fact, many common drugs we take to relieve our symptoms—both over-the-counter and prescription medications—often make the symptoms worse. You can end up sicker than if you never took them!
Below are some beliefs and facts about common drug store medications you may turn to regularly whenever you feel out of sorts, and some alternatives that may be better and cost less.
“Meds” That May Be Making You Sick
Belief: The wonder cure for indigestion.
Fact: Antacids harm your digestive system.
Antacid therapy—particularly the proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid—actually increase the risks of various gastrointestinal cancers. Use of these meds can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies and intestinal infections, along with other side effects. They prevent your body from performing its normal digestive process.
Safer alternatives: Eliminate the foods from your diet that may be causing the problem. Learn how to prepare hydrochloric acid in the right dosage. Try digestive enzymes, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, and peppermint oil. Switch to a high-fiber diet, and help yourself to 6-8 glasses of water a day.
2. Aspirins and Other Headache Pills
Belief: Aspirins stop headaches, so take as many as you want; no side effects!
Fact: Headache meds can actually cause headaches.
The medicines most people use to treat chronic tension headaches actually make them worse, including aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol). In one study, 200 headache sufferers improved after they stopped taking the headache medications they were using.
Safer alternatives: Relaxing your neck, face, and scalp muscles (using self-massage, breathing, and other simple procedures) usually brings immediate relief. Chiropractic care, physical therapy (correcting your posture and stretching your cervical muscles, for example), and massage therapy can help, as do exercise workouts and stress-management techniques. Look on the labels of your other “meds” and see if “headache” is listed as a possible side effect.
3. Sleeping Pills
Belief: Sleeping pills just help you sleep.
Fact: Sleeping pills actually deprive you of sleep.
Most people don’t realize that these popular meds disrupt healthy sleep cycles. We need our sleep to feel rested, happy, and ready to face the day, and sleeping pills can end up depriving us of that. Don’t kid yourself: sleeping pills are powerful drugs that interfere with normal brain function, and they are also highly addictive. They can cause depression, and can produce a 25 percent increase in early mortality and all causes of cancer.
Safer alternatives: Avoid substances that throw off your sleeping patterns, including alcohol, caffeine, and recreational drugs such as marijuana. Instead, take 3 mg of melatonin or other natural sleep aids like magnesium, 5-HTP, L-theanine, or valerian. These supplements are very safe and effective. Daily exercise and progressive relaxation techniques are also great remedies for sleeplessness.
Related: 8 Things Healthy People Do
Belief: Antidepressants are fairly safe and well worth the trouble.
Fact: Look out! Antidepressants make you fat!
SSRI-type antidepressants (for example, Prozac and Zolof) alter an area of the brain that regulates both serotonin levels and the utilization of glucose, causing an increase in obesity. In one study, some patients gained 40-60 pounds in a short period of time, and once that process begins, it usually doesn’t end. This makes you feel even more depressed, and threatens your health in many ways.
Safer alternatives: St. John’s Wort extract (SJWE) standardized to contain 3-5 percent hyperforin has proven to be more effective than antidepressants for mild to moderate depression, 900 mg/day to 1,800 mg/day, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Also explore cognitive therapy and a technique called “learned optimism,” both of which have shown great results too.
Related: The Power of Positive Thinking
5. Osteoarthritis Pills
Belief: Popping pills for arthritis is just part of growing older.
Fact: Osteoarthritis drugs lead to joint destruction.
Meds for the aches and pains of osteoarthritis, including NSAIDS and COX-2 inhibitors, actually make the condition worse than if the patient took nothing at all. Both types of drugs speed up osteoarthritis and joint destruction by interfering with cartilage repair.
Safer alternatives: Glucosamine sulfate, taken as a supplement, stimulates the body’s natural production of glycosaminoglycans, the structural components of cartilage. It is also more effective for pain relief than conventional osteoarthritis meds.
Related: Health Benefits of Tai Chi
Before you reach for that quick-fix drug, ask yourself these questions: What is the real cause of my discomfort, and will this pill help address it? Has this drug really worked for me in the past, in all aspects, and with long-term benefits? Have I really thought about what the side effects were for me in the past? What do clinical studies say?
If you don’t like the answers, you will be happy to know that there are often safe alternatives to prescription medications, ones that actually cure the underlying condition. In short, you can enjoy symptom relief without the dangerous side effects, and improve your health for good.
Michael T. Murray ND is a naturopathic physician regarded as one of the world’s top authorities on natural medicine. An educator, lecturer, researcher, and health food industry consultant, he is the author of more than 30 books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria, Third Edition, 2012) and his newest, The Complete Book of Juicing, Revised and Updated: Your Delicious Guide to Youthful Vitality (Clarkson Potter, 2014).
Featured photo by faungg’s photo