We’ve grown accustomed to taking pills when we feel bad–for headaches, insomnia, mild depression, indigestion, and the aches and pains of aging, to name a few common complaints. We’re so used to automatically reaching into our medicine cabinets for quick relief that we don’t stop to ask an obvious question: What’s causing the discomfort?
We Americans want to mask our symptoms, and the pharmaceutical companies and conventional doctors are more than happy to oblige. The problem is, a headache isn’t caused by aspirin deficiency, so aspirin isn’t going to cure it! Even worse, many common drugs we take to relieve our symptoms–both over-the-counter and prescription medications–often make the symptoms worse and can make you sicker than if you never took them.
Here are five drugs you may take regularly without a second thought–and what you may not know about their harmful effect on your health.
Sleeping pills deprive you of sleep. Most people don’t realize that sleeping pills disrupt healthy sleep cycles–the “repair” mechanisms that help us feel rested, happy, and ready to face the day. Powerful drugs that interfere with normal brain function, most sleeping pills are highly addictive, cause depression, and have been shown to produce a 25 percent increase in early mortality and all causes of cancer.
Safer alternatives: Eliminate substances that disrupt sleep patterns, including alcohol, caffeine, and recreational drugs such as marijuana. Try taking 3 mg of melatonin or other natural sleep aids like magnesium, 5-HTP, L-theanine, or valerian. All have been shown to be highly effective–and safe. Exercise and progressive relaxation techniques are also great insomnia remedies.
Headache drugs cause headaches. The medicines most people use to treat chronic tension headaches actually make headaches worse. These include aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol). In one study, 200 patients suffering from headaches improved after they stopped taking the medications they were taking for the headache!
Safer alternatives: Relaxation of the neck, face, and scalp muscles usually brings immediate relief. Chiropractic care, physical therapy (correcting one’s posture and stretching of the cervical muscles, for example), and massage can help, as do exercise and stress-management techniques. Find out which other medications you may be taking list headaches as a side effect.
Osteoarthritis drugs lead to joint destruction. Drugs for the aches and pains of osteoarthritis, including NSAIDS and COX-2 inhibitors, have been shown to make the condition worse than if the patient took nothing at all. Both classes of drugs accelerate osteoarthritis and joint destruction by inhibiting cartilage repair.
Safer alternatives: Glucosamine sulfate is a supplement that stimulates the manufacture of glycosaminoglycans, the structural components of cartilage, and is also more effective for pain relief than the conventional osteoarthritis drugs.
Antacids harm your digestive system. Antacid therapy–particularly the proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid–increase the risk of various gastrointestinal cancers, and can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies and intestinal infections, among other side effects. They prevent your body from performing its normal digestive process.
Safer alternatives: Eliminate causative foods from your diet. Learn about how to take hydrochloric acid in the right dosage, and try digestive enzymes, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, and peppermint oil. Eat a high-fiber diet, and drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
Antidepressants make you obese. SSRI-type antidepressants (Prozac and Zoloft, for example) induce weight gain because they alter an area of the brain that regulates both serotonin levels and the utilization of glucose. People report gaining 40-60 pounds in a short time, and once weight gain begins, it usually doesn’t stop. This makes you feel even worse, and threatens your health in other ways as well.
Safer alternatives: St. John’s Wort extract (SJWE) standardized to contain 3-5 percent hyperforin has been shown to be more effective than antidepressants for mild to moderate depression, 900 mg/day to 1,800 mg/day depending on the severity of your depression. Look into cognitive therapy and a technique called “learned optimism,” which have shown great results too.
Bottom line: Before you reach for a drug that merely relieves the symptoms of your ailment, find out about its side effects and search for alternative, natural therapies that actually address the cause of your discomfort. There are often safe alternatives to prescription medications that actually cure the underlying condition. You can get symptom relief without the dangerous side effects.
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 his newest with coauthor Joseph Pizzorno ND, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria, Third Edition, 2012). Learn more at www.drmurray.com.