Sometimes prescription drugs are warranted in acute conditions and can save lives. But more often than not, prescription drugs for chronic health conditions can actually deteriorate your health in the long run, and many people are overprescribed drugs that cover up the underlying health issue found in their lifestyle or diet choices.
There are some major downfalls of relying on pills for a chronic condition. Western medicine tends to focus on managing and suppressing individual symptoms one at a time, rather than carefully identifying the root cause underneath and working to improve it in a holistic way. Unfortunately, in many cases, there is also the risk of addiction to prescription drugs; abuse of medications has been increasing steadily in the United States for years. Currently, opioid addictions are more widespread than cocaine overdoses.
Not to mention, the majority of prescription drugs for chronic conditions are associated with nutrient deficiencies and a number of side effects that become another health battle of their own. Soon, patients are stuck in a cycle of prescription after prescription; trying to manage the symptoms caused by the medication that came before it. In fact, the CDC states that 48.9% of people are currently taking at least one prescription and 23.1% of people are taking three or more! (1) The most frequently prescribed therapeutic drugs are antidepressants, painkillers, and antihyperlipidemic agents (such as cholesterol medications).
Top 5 Prescription Drugs to Be Wary Of
You have a higher risk of dying from a preventable adverse drug reaction than you do of dying from cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, breast cancer, or diabetes (2). And that’s cause for concern. While the following list compromises some of the most popularly prescribed medications with the worst side effects and risk, it by no means approaches a comprehensive list of prescriptions to be careful of. The bottom line is to do your research on every prescription your doctor recommends and talk openly with him or her about your concerns with potential side effects and reactions with your body.
1. Proton Pump Inhibitors
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Otherwise known as PPI’s, proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed for acid reflux. You may be familiar with their brand names Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec. However, they have been associated with higher risks of dementia, kidney disease, and heart attacks (3). Furthermore, PPI’s can cause chronic constipation, low magnesium levels, and increase the risk of bone fractures.(3)
If you’ve been prescribed PPI’s for heartburn, talk to your doctor or an integrative healthcare practitioner about finding natural treatments instead. Your focus should be on finding the underlying cause of your acid reflux (either an element of your diet, lifestyle or a side effect of H.pylori bacteria). Often times, the root cause of acid reflux is low stomach acid, not excess acid. Therefore taking PPIs can inadvertently make digestion and overall health worse, as stomach acid is crucial for digestion of protein, absorption of minerals and protecting against pathogens in contaminated food and water.
Prednisone is a multi-tasking steroid often prescribed for autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and ulcerative colitis. It works by suppressing the immune response that causes the body to attack itself, but at the same time it is literally compromising your immune system and making you more susceptible to infections, both mild and serious. Long-term use has been associated with bruising, changes in body fat in certain locations (face, neck, back, and waist), low libido, acne, and complicated menstruation. Potential side effects also include insomnia, mood problems, headaches, dizziness, bloating, and nausea.
Talk to your doctor about alternatives to combat inflammation (such as in rheumatoid arthritis) using natural solutions.
Prescribed for managing high cholesterol levels, statins are among the most common medications taken by adults. As of 2012, over 23% of all American adults over 40 reported taking statin drugs (such as Crestor, Zocor, Lipitor, Livalo, Mevacor, and Pravachol) (4). On a short-term basis, side effects can include headaches, insomnia, muscle aches, nausea, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and rash. But the risks of long-term statin use are even more serious.
Long-term use of statins has been linked to a deficit of coenzyme Q10 and vitamin K2, increase your risk of breast cancer and diabetes and can raise the risk of Parkinson’s disease (5).
If you have been diagnosed with high levels of LDL cholesterol, talk to your doctor about what you can change at home to help manage your levels naturally.
1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 take antidepressants, according to the CDC (6). One in ten! And 60% of those people have been taking antidepressants for more than two years in a row. Unfortunately, their side effects are plentiful; they include weight gain, low libido, nausea, problems sleeping, constipation, irritability, and anxiety. But for adolescents and children taking antidepressants, there’s also a heightened risk of suicide. (7)
It’s crucial to note that antidepressants do work well for some people, but for many people, they simply aren’t an effective treatment. Pay special attention to your body and your wellbeing overall and work with your practitioner to find strategies that help you manage depression. Natural options to consider are exercise, minimizing processed foods and eating a nutrient-dense diet, and natural supplementation such as St. John’s Wort, magnesium and valerian root. Note: do not take yourself off prescription medication without the guidance of your practitioner, and keep in mind that some natural treatments such as St. John’s Wort are contraindicated with SSRI’s.
While most doctors agree with the appropriate prescription of opioid painkillers for acute pain, opioids are not an appropriate solution for chronic conditions. Moreover, because of their highly addictive nature, even people who are prescribed opioids for a brief time (such as for post-operation recovery) can very easily become addicted and begin abusing their prescriptions. For this reason, there is a growing movement to avoid prescribing opioid painkillers altogether to reduce the risk. (Not to mention short-term side effects such as nausea and constipation).
If you’re preparing for a major surgery, talk to your doctor or surgeon about your recovery options and express your concerns about steering clear of potentially addictive substances. Likewise, if you struggle with chronic pain, it’s important to turn to as many natural solutions as possible to avoid dependence on drugs.
How to Find Alternative Treatment
You should never remove yourself from a prescription without speaking to your medical care provider about it. You can work with your family doctor or a naturopathic doctor to determine a plan to safely wean yourself off of a prescription and replace it with a natural and safer alternative that works for your lifestyle and your body.
Remember that there are many ways to keep your body healthy, and the first thing your doctor suggests is not always the best option for you. Holistic Nutritionist, Alina Islam summarizes it perfectly:
“Remember, just because a particular spice, herb or food does not have corporate-backed research worth millions of dollars, it does not mean there is no scientific explanation behind its benefits. It means there is lack of interest in pursuing the research.”