Muscle pain, dizziness, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, coughing, hair loss, fluid retention, liver problems -- these are just a few of the side effects associated with some of the most popular prescription drugs of 2010. These prescriptions include medication for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, low thyroid function, and diabetes. (1)
What's troubling to me is that side effects can happen when taking just one of the drugs. What happens when you're on multiple drugs? Some combinations we already know are dangerous. For example, taking warfarin (a blood thinner) and simvastatin (a cholesterol drug) can increase the risks of bleeding problems. (2) Yet there are many combinations that haven't been studied and when you're on three or four medications; there's 100 percent drug interaction, and you have your own personal experiment.
I know that prescription medications can help many people turn their health around, and I don't want to suggest that prescription drugs are all bad. But they are powerful enough to change our physiology and for this reason should not be taken lightly. The good news is that in many cases, the drugs that are prescribed today are for health problems that could have been avoided.
Prescription Drugs Affect Your Whole Body
Let's face it. We all want a magic bullet to take our health problems away. But the expectation that a medication is going to simply fix one problem while leaving everything else in the body alone is not the reality. Drugs don't act in a vacuum -- they act system-wide -- which is why we have side effects. For example, the blood pressure drugs known as ACE inhibitors not only relax blood vessels to decrease pressure but constrict pupils, stimulate digestive secretions, and constrict the bronchi in the lungs (which can cause a cough).
And when we take prescriptions every day for years, the body has to constantly work to recalibrate in response. Though it may be lowering blood pressure or cholesterol, for example, these "helpful" changes can be perceived in the body as stress and lead to further health problems down the line, possibly leading to even more medication.
Can We Avoid Prescription Drugs?
Preventing the need for prescription drugs is a multifaceted approach that isn't as easy as popping a pill -- and it doesn't work for every health problem out there. There are certainly situations where prescription drugs are necessary. However, the health benefits that come with trying to avoid prescription drugs when possible are great.
Here are some ideas about how to keep your body healthy so that you can minimize or avoid prescription drugs altogether:
Seek quality nutrition. I'm appalled that our medical students learn more about pharmacology than nutrition in medical school these days, because in my mind the food we eat is our most powerful drug. Long-term diets high in refined sugars, trans fats, and other common preservatives can turn on inflammatory cytokines that can affect our genes and cause disease. Focusing your meals and snacks on nutrient-dense foods, especially plants (fruits, vegetables, and legumes) can give your cells and DNA the needed vitamins and minerals to carry out daily functions while also preventing disease. Research is showing us that our food supply over the years has become less and less nutrient-dense. It's difficult to get all the nutrients we need from food unless we eat all organic. It's very difficult to eat everything organically, which is why taking a high quality multivitamin is a great idea.
Exercise. Establishing a regular exercise routine is one of the single most important things you can do for your health. Exercise not only prevents disease, but it can help your body get rid of toxins, strengthen your heart, relieve stress, and much more. Find an exercise you enjoy doing and make it a habit.
Shift to a positive outlook on life. Studies show that when we feel more positive about our lives, our health often improves. If you think about the thoughts inside your head as tiny seeds that will grow the more attention you give them, it makes sense that positive thoughts lead to positive changes body-wide.
Reduce stress. Stress is a necessary part of life, but any way that you can lessen your stress burden will help your health. We know that stress is connected to thyroid imbalances, memory function, hormonal imbalance, and the immune system to name a few. For more on this topic, read my blog on hitting the pause button.
Take Prescriptions Seriously
Prescription drugs are certainly not something to take lightly. They can save lives, but long-term use of certain combinations can put added stress on the body.
If your practitioner recommends a prescription drug, do your research. Find out what changes you could make in your life to avoid the medication. Talk it over with your doctor and set a time period in which you will try to make changes to your health naturally. The benefits of a natural approach can not only save you money but can contribute to lasting health.
For more information on multivitamins and what to look for, see our article "5 Multivitamin Myths."
1. DeNoon, DJ. 2011. The 10 Most Prescribed Drugs. WebMD. URL: http://www.webmd.com/news/20110420/the-10-most-prescribed-drugs.
2. Kotz, D. 2008. Five Dangerous Drug Combinations You need to Avoid. US News & World Report. URL: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2008/12/23/5-dangerous-drug-combinations-you-need-to-avoid.
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