Saturday, March 27, 2010

Medication Alternatives to Over-The-Counter Drugs

Using medication alternatives instead of over-the-counter drugs will reduce your risk of poor health.  Over-the counter (OTC) medications can be as harmful to your health as prescribed medications.   The interactions  between drugs, drugs and foods, or drugs and conditions that happen with prescribed medications, can also occur with OTC drugs.

Although some OTC medications are necessary to prevent serious events, e.g., a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack or stroke in high-risk people, most are used  to relieve minor health conditions such as allergies, headache, or heartburn.  While these may be uncomfortable or even distressing, they are generally not life-threatening. However, like any other drug, OTC drugs can cause illness and even death, so should be avoided for minor problems whenever possible.

This post will give you information on alternatives to OTC medication.  Future posts will show how to work with your symptoms to recognise the message they are sending you.

The first step in finding a medication alternative is to discover the triggers to your problem. Say you have headaches.  Start to document when they occur and if there is a pattern to the days,  time of day, relationship to meals, certain foods, or stress,  tiredness  from lack of sleep or overexertion, eyestrain, or any other factors.  Patterns of occurrence can help you avoid the headaches and will point to the alternative treatments, you can put in place. For example you may take steps to get more sleep, relieve and manage stress, avoid certain foods, eat more frequently or have your glasses changed.

Treatments such as biofeedback, acupuncture, homeopathy, visualization, traditional Chinese medicine, or energy medicine may also prevent headaches, including migraines, and many other conditions.

When headaches occur, instead of taking a drug you could try lying down in a darkened room with an ice pack on your forehead, sleeping, or eating if the headache is related to hunger.  Heat and cold are also useful for relieving other forms of pain such as back pain.

Heartburn is another common symptom with twenty-five percent of those in western countries experiencimng it once a month, twelve percent every week and five percent every day.  Non-medication remedies for heartburn include eating ginger, but the best thing is to take steps to avoid heartburn.  Maintain a healthy weight, don't eat within two hours of lying down, avoid tobacco and alcohol and foods that can cause heartburn such as coffee, chocolate, fatty or fried foods.

Sinusitis and Nausea
Other common conditions such as sinusitis and nausea can also be prevented or treated with natural remedies.  Using a neti pot or bulb syringe to wash out the nasal passages with saline is an effective way of preventing and treating sinusitis, hay fever and other upper respiratory problems.

Nausea may be treated by avoiding spicy foods, caffeine, or pop, restricting intake to clear fluids like ginger tea, or to small amounts of bland food (for nausea without vomiting).  Taking deep slow breaths can also reduce feelings of nausea.

These are just a few of the conditions that may be treated with alternatives to drugs.  Prevention by identifying triggers to conditions that occur regularly, and taking steps to avoid them, or learning how to deal differently with those you cannot avoid, is important.  But plan for those times when prevention does not work, so that you have the natural alternatives to medication on hand and will not have to turn to OTC drugs for relief.

Images by:  steve harris (headache) and daryltanghe (neti pot)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Prescription Drug Dangers: Nutrient Destruction

The dangers posed when prescriptions dru8gs interact with one another, with over-the-counter medication, with a medical condition or with food were discussed in the previous posts, but a less recognized danger is that many prescription drugs destroy essential nutrients in the body. The effects of nutrient depletion may not be recognized, if at all, for several months or years and may mimic the condition that the drug is prescribed for.

For example, the naturally occurring Coenzyme Q10, (CoQ10) which is responsible for making energy in body cells , is created by the same enzyme that creates cholesterol in the body. So Statins, drugs that lower cholesterol, also lower CoQ10. This substance also prevents the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from being oxidized, and so has a protective effect because oxidized LDL cholesterol tends to clog the arteries and damage them. It is possible that lack of CoQ10 may increase the possibility of a heart attack, the outcome that the Statins are supposed to prevent.

Statins can also cause muscle damage and pain, and these are thought to be due to the effects of lowering CoQ10 levels. A study reported in 2007 in the American Journal of Cardiology showed a 40 percent decrease in muscle pain in patients taking Statins who were also treated with CoQ10. Those taking Statins should consult their doctor or pharmacist in order to determine the correct dosage before taking CoQ10..

CoQ10 is also depleted by Beta Blockers (a medication to help prevent heart attacks) and medications taken by mouth to lower blood sugar (oral hypoglycaemic drugs).

Vitamin B is another nutrient depleted by both prescription and common over-the-counter medications. Vitamin B is actually a complex of 8 different vitamins which are essential for a wide range of body functions including turning food into different nutrients and into energy. Deficiencies in the B vitamins can lead to a number of conditions including a lowered immune system.

Drugs that deplete one or more B vitamins include Aspirin, antacids, antibiotics, gout medication, and oral contraceptives, to name just a few.

Made mainly in the liver, glutathione one of the most important chemicals produced by the body. It is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, and detoxifies many toxins. Glutathione is also essential to the functioning of the lungs, and the immune, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Glutamine deficiency is involved in many conditions including certain cancers, HIV/AIDS, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol ) is a common drug that depletes glutathione in the body. While it may not be harmful for most people at normal doses, it should be avoided by those with HIV/AIDS and other diseases in which glutathione-deficiency is present.

The best way to prevent any adverse effects from drug interactions or nutrient depletion is not to take any drugs. Stay tuned for ways to avoid drugs, or at least minimize the number you take.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prescription Drug Dangers: Drug Interactions

Prescription drug dangers are not generally recognized by patients and sometimes not even by physicians.  Everyone taking a prescription drug is at risk, but the risk rises with the number of prescribed and over-the-counter medications, supplements or herbal remedies taken. Often the adverse-effects of prescription drugs are far worse than the condition they were initially prescribed for.

Drug-Drug Interactions 
For those taking more than one drug, there is always the possibility of drug- drug interaction, when the combination of substances either increases or decreases the effect of one or both of them. For example, Aspirin thins the blood as well as decreasing pain, so those on blood thinners are at risk of a bleed if they also take aspirin. Antibiotics may make birth control pills less effective, so those using them should take extra precautions against pregnancy for the remainder of their cycle, These are just two examples of a myriad of drugs and supplements that can interact. Occasionally patients who see more than one doctor may be prescribed the same drug twice, but under a different trade name, so unwittingly receive double the dose.

To protect yourself against interaction you should always use the same pharmacist to dispense your drugs, or in times when this is not possible, give the new pharmacist a list of all the drugs overt-the-counter medications, and supplements that you are taking. Also, before buying over-the-counter medications or supplements check with the pharmacist that they are compatible with your prescribed and other over-the-counter medications.

Make a list of all your medications and supplements, keep it updated, and carry it with you at all times. Don't assume you will always remember what you are taking. In any case, you may sometime be admitted to emergency, and be semi-conscious or unconscious and unable to communicate.

Drug Condition Interactions 
Drugs can also interact with other health conditions you may have. For example, the drug pseudoephedrine found in nasal decongestants can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels, the beta-blocker class of drugs can worsen asthma, and several drugs can increase blood sugar in those with diabetes. So remember to also tell your pharmacist about all your health conditions and ask if they may be worsened by the substance you are about to buy. You can also check the package insert and ask the pharmacist for a patient handout on the drug.

Drug-Food Interactions 
Drugs and foods may also interact to produce unwanted and some times dangerous effects. One of the most commonly recognised foods that can increase the effects of certain drugs is grapefruit juice. Alcohol can also have serious unwanted effects either by increasing the effects of drugs that act on the brain such as antidepressants, sedatives, or stimulants, or by affecting the organs that metabolize the drug. For example, both alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol, Paracetamol) are metabolized by the liver, and when taken on the same day can cause the liver to fail. Similarly other pain-relievers such as Ibuprofen (Advil) or Aspirin taken with alcohol are more likely to cause stomach bleed.

Prevent Drug Interactions 
Get to know your pharmacist and use them as a resource. After you have talked to them a few times(and shown them your list) they will start to remember you, and may be more likely to recognise that a prescribed medication does not fit with your current medications. The pharmacist is often easier to access than the doctor, so they can also be the first line of help if you experience new symptoms after you have started a new medication, supplement, or herbal remedy. They can quickly find out if this medication or combination of substances could cause these symptoms, and in some cases may even phone the doctor for you to suggest a medication change.                                                                                        Always ask the doctor about non-drug options to deal with any condition they wish to prescribe medication for, and find out what the prescribed drugs are supposed to achieve. Will they actually cure the condition, stop adverse effects such as raised blood sugar in Type-1 diabetes or grand mal seizures in epilepsy, or will they just mask the symptoms or prevent something that is preventable in other ways. The questions you will ask will differ if you are receiving the medication for a condition or symptom you already have versus a medication to prevent a condition from occurring. This latter situation will be covered in a later post.

Whenever possible opt for non-drug options. If the physician does not have many suggestions for these, research them yourself, or find a holistic doctor or alternative practitioner who may be familiar with treating the condition with non-drug treatments. Take action to protect yourself from the prescription drug dangers of drug interactions.
Photocredit  D Sharon Pruit

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are You Addicted to Drugs?

If you live in a developed country, you probably are addicted to drugs - prescription drugs. The average number of prescription drugs prescribed annually has almost doubled over the past ten years in the UK, US and Canada, with the elderly being responsible for much of this rise. For example, in 2007 the average Briton over 60 received 42.4 prescription items annually compared to 22.3 in 1997. The rise in North America has been similar. The use of non-prescription over-the-counter drugs will add to these numbers.

So when I suggest that you are addicted to drugs, it's not a physical addiction I am referring to, but a psychological addiction to using a pill as a response to a problem. If you have a headache, can't stay awake and alert or can't sleep, take a pill. There is a pill for everything that ails us, and if there is not one yet, there will be soon as the pharmaceutical industry strives to meet our every need.

So what is the problem with using prescription and over-the-counter drugs? There are a number of problems, not the least of which is that the leading cause of death in the US is properly prescribed medications. Death can result from unwanted effects of medication (also known as side-effects), or from an interaction between two or more medications.

Why do these happen so frequently that they kill more people than cancer or heart disease? It's because new drugs are not generally tested on large numbers of people – a few thousand at most, and sometimes less than a thousand – and are not monitored after release. National Drug Agencies rely on patients or doctors voluntarily reporting an adverse reactions to the drug. Except in very obvious cases like Thalidomide, it takes many years to gather enough information to discover harmful effects. Sometimes these are discovered only when a further study is carried out.

For example, the Women's Health Initiative tested the effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy, diet modification, and calcium and vitamin D supplements on heart disease, fractures, and breast and colorectal cancer. Contrary to their expectations, post-menopausal estrogen and progestin therapy were shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. As a result of these findings, the study was stopped in July 2002; the following year breast cancer in the US dropped by 7.2 percent!

If you must take prescription drugs, you can protect yourself somewhat by asking your physician to prescribe a drug that has been on the market for five years or longer. This will have allowed enough people to have taken it to identify the more serious side-effects. But first you should ask 'What other options besides drugs  are there to deal with this problem?' Often there are things you can do that do not involve medication. For example, if your cholesterol level is high you can make dietary changes.

Whenever possible you should do all you can to break your addiction to relying on drugs to solve your problems. There will be some conditions that require you to take a prescription drug, but there are many where changing your behaviour may actually get rid of a problem. Drugs generally just mask the symptoms, leaving the problem itself untouched. More on this in the next post. 

Photo credit: Rodrigo Senna

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Importance Of Keeping Commitments

Less than three weeks ago, many people made New Year's  Resolutions - commitments to themselves to achieve one or more goals this year.  How are you doing with yours?  Are you still working on them or have you already given up?

We make commitments all the time, often without giving them much thought.  People ask us to  do something for them, go somewhere with them, adhere to a standard, or keep a secret. We say 'Yes' then don't stick to the thing we agreed to.  Maybe we forgot, or it seemed like too much work, something better came along,or we thought it was not important.

It is always important to keep commitments, not only because if we don't others stop trusting us, but also because we lose trust in ourselves.

Without trust in ourselves we lose confidence that we will be able to set goals and meet them, or face disaster and come out the other side 'bloody but unbowed.'  The courage to face major challenges in life comes from knowledge that we can be trusted, and so can trust ourselves.  With each commitment we keep or renegotiate, our trust grows.

How to do this?.  First by considering any agreement before agreeing to it.  Find out what's involved and whether you are willing and able to do it. Don't say 'yes' unthinkingly.  You can also say 'no', or 'I won't do that, but I will do this.'

If  you make a commitment and later find you cannot keep it, renegotiate as soon as possible with the person you made the promise to. 

Start your practice by committing to small things first, then once you are keeping all these small committments, agree to larger ones.   Over time you will notice your awareness, self-confidence and self-trust growing, and others will likely respond to you differently as well.

If you have already given up on your New Year's Resolutions you can look carefully at what went wrong.  What held you back from working on your resolutions?  Were the goals wrong, or was the plan ineffective?

Then renegotiate with yourself. What will you do, or what won't you do now?  How will you handle these new committments to enhance your chance of keeping them? 

How will you handle it when you fall down on your promise to yourself?  Will you just give up, or will you realise that you are human and make mistakes.  Personal change can be difficult, and you may 'fail' several  times before you get it right.  Each time you try again with the intention to succeed, you are building muscle for the future.

If you have a story about your New Year's Resolutions, I would be happy to learn about it - just leave a comment.