Safer Alternatives to Medications - Consumer Justice Foundation

Safer Alternatives to Medications

Written by Faith Anderson on March 20, 2012
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1. Hydrocodone/acetaminophen, such as Vicodin, for pain: Doctors in the U.S. wrote more than 131 million prescriptions for pain medications last year, for everything from sports injuries to dental surgeries. While pain can be debilitating, the medications we take to treat pain can be addictive, and long-term use of ingredients like acetaminophen can severely damage your liver. Rather than relying on a pill that masks your symptoms, try relieving the pain by visiting a professional chiropractor or acupuncturist. “Drugs will never be the answer to solving pain because pills treat only the symptoms and not the underlying cause,” says Sungwon D. Yoo, D.C., M.S.A.O.M., L.Ac, an acupuncturist and chiropractor in New York. “Pain can be caused by an interference in our body’s nervous system, so manipulating the body’s main nervous system channel to the brain – the spine – can help remedy the aches.” According to the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, people with lower back pain who received just four chiropractic treatments in two weeks showed greater improvement in pain and disability than those receiving usual care.

2. Statins, such as Zocor (simvastatin) or Lipitor (atorvastatin): Statins can be dangerous because they prevent your liver from making cholesterol by blocking a critical enzyme. Unfortunately, doctors in the United States write out more than 45 million prescriptions for Lipitor alone each year. Certain foods, like garlic, oats, red wine and olive oil, can help reduce inflammation in the body and have been proven to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) or raise good cholesterol (HDL) naturally. An amino acid called allicin is present in garlic and protects the heart by preventing cholesterol from sticking to artery walls. Studies also show that red wine may raise HDL and thin the blood to prevent artery-blocking clots from forming. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, moderate drinking may reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 40%. Also, Dr. Teitelbaum says, eating a small square of dark chocolate three to four times a week may be 25 times as effective as taking statins for preventing heart disease.

3. Zestril (lisinopril) or Norvasc (amlodipine besylate) for high blood pressure: Statistics show that the number of blood pressure prescriptions filled every year in the U.S. tops 144 million. Prescriptions drugs can play an important role in lowering blood pressure, but that doesn’t mean you have to take them forever. “In my experience, the best approach is to use medications to bring your blood pressure under control initially, and then add natural therapies that can help you wean off your prescription,” said Dr. Teitelbaum. For instance, increasing your potassium (500 mg a day – equals a banana or a cup of tomato juice or coconut water) and magnesium (200 mg a day) are particularly effective at lowering blood pressure in most people. If you have especially high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about also taking 200 mg a day of Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant that can help lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. “Coenzyme Q10 deficiency is especially common in people taking cholesterol-lowering medications, and I have seen it lower blood pressure as much as 30 to 40 points in some severe cases,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.

4. Synthroid (levothyroxine sodium) for hypothyroid: Hypothyroidism most commonly affects women over 50, and more than 70 million prescriptions are written for Synthroid each year. In some cases, low thyroid problems might occur because the thyroid is being attacked by your own immune system, but it can also happen because of mineral deficiencies like iron, iodine or selenium. This means that thyroid glandular supplements may be a good natural treatment option for people with low thyroid. “The thyroid glandular [supplement] supplies the raw materials needed to optimize thyroid function, so taking one or two capsules three times daily between meals could start the process of kicking your thyroid back into gear within a month,” said Dr. Teitelbaum. Keep in mind though, that if you’re at risk of heart disease, taking thyroid supplements could cause heart palpitations or possibly even heart attack.

5. Prilosec (omeprazole) for acid reflux: The number of prescriptions written for Prilosec increased by eight million in 2010, for a total of 53.4 million prescriptions dispensed to patients. “When people take Prilosec, it blocks the protective hydrochloric acid acid (HCL) in their stomach, which can lead to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestines and ultimately to mineral deficiencies by hindering their absorption,” says Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN. “It’s okay to take Prilosec in the short term, but you should try to find the underlying factors causing your indigestion or reflux rather than just covering them up with drugs.” Dr. Lipski recommends trying herbal relief for acid reflux, including slippery-elm lozenges from a health food store, to see if it minimizes symptoms before going on medications. Slippery elm coats the stomach and throat, has antioxidants that help relieve inflammation in your intestines, and increases mucus production to help protect the gastrointestinal tract from excess acid. “Simple lifestyle changes, such as pinpointing food sensitivities so you can steer clear of your trigger foods, eating slowly, and managing stress will make the biggest difference in the long run,” Dr. Lipski says.

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