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Can Natural Alternatives Eliminate The Negative Effects Of Prescription Drugs?

Last Updated on June 13, 2023 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

People take prescription drugs to relieve the effects that injury, disease, surgery, and other ailments can have on the body and mind. However, many of these pharmaceuticals often cause negative side effects that can be worse than the original condition they were meant to treat. Others are highly addictive, adding the risk of pharmaceutical dependency to the already long list of side effects.

Can natural alternatives to prescription drugs be the answer?

Risks of Prescription Drugs

adverse drug reactionsThe rise of the prescription drug crisis in the United States has many people questioning whether the advantages of prescription drugs outweigh the disadvantages. Prescription drugs, including opioids, were developed to provide us relief from pain — whether after surgery or associated with an illness or condition — and assist us in managing the effects of conditions on our bodies. However, the lists of side effects seem to be ever-growing, and when you consider the addictive properties of certain drugs it can seem as if the negatives outweigh the positive aspects.

Adverse drug reactions from prescription medications are the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States and Europe, only surpassed by heart disease and cancer.1

Another problem with the rising use of pharmaceuticals is that they are being diverted to non-medical use. According to a review of the subject published in the Addiction Journal, law enforcement is not able to curtail this trend. However, curtailing the number of prescriptions that get written would provide a much more effective measure to bring this problem under control.2

Prescription Drug Side Effects

Modern medicine has largely evolved as a drug-based craft.

For instance, when arsenic was commonly used as a remedy in the early 1800s, there was considerable debate as to whether it was the arsenic that was causing lesions, or whether the lesions were part of the “cure.” Most arsenic-based medicines were discontinued after the introduction of antibiotics. However, in the 1970s, an arsenic-based medicine provided dramatic remission of a particular type of leukemia.3

Mercury is another drug that was commonly used to treat afflictions such as syphilis for centuries, until 1943 when penicillin was discovered. More recent clinical research has determined mercury to be neurotoxic to humans, and associated with renal, developmental, and neurological disorders.4

Drugs and adverse effects go hand in hand, in virtually all cases. One must carefully inform oneself if there are better, safer options, rather than simply taking a drug as the first choice in treatment.

The Role of the FDA in Protecting Public Health

prescription drugs fda warningsThe FDA has tried to keep track of adverse reactions to medicines and therapies in their public safety role. For at least the last 200 years, the mainstream medical community has continued to try and understand the causal relationship between drugs and their side effects and their direct effects on health. The task of protecting public health from drug adverse effects has become gargantuan, and some would say it may be a lost cause due to vast and growing complexities within the drug industry itself. There have been a number of influences on the drug industry that have protected patented medicines (despite controversy) over drug-free alternatives. Science is an evolving thing. The more something is studied, the more we can know, even if our knowledge is not yet perfect.

It is always safest to inform oneself, listen to FDA warnings, and always consider all options before deciding on medication alone. There may be a safer, drug-free strategy or set of strategies, that one can put into place.

Handwashing is a visible example of a drug-free strategy for improving human health. This practice alone has produced a dramatic reduction in the spread of infections that once were only treatable with poisonous drugs.5

Virtually every drug is subject to developing tolerance, meaning that it no longer works as it once did. A review of the medical literature has revealed some of the additional most prevalent drug side effects.6-8

The most common drug side effects include:
  • Developed tolerance, dependence
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Skin reactions, including dermatitis
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue, drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite, anorexia
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Blood disorders, hemorrhage
  • Heart injury
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Vision impairments
  • Loss of hair (alopecia)

This list is certainly not comprehensive. In fact, as new drugs come about, the potential for new side effects is likely to occur.

The Potential for Addiction

As previously mentioned, the addictive properties of many prescription pain medications present an entirely different side to the prescription drug problem in the United States. Currently, the country is experiencing an opioid crisis the likes of which we have never seen before. In fact, the crisis — which many are calling an epidemic due to its rapid spread and steep rise — caused over 400,000 overdose deaths since 1997 and continues to kill 130 Americans every day.

Due to their chemically addictive properties, anyone can become addicted to opioids, even first-time users attempting to recover from surgery or get relief from the pain of a chronic condition.

Commonly abused opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone, such as Vicodin
  • Oxycodone like OxyContin and Percocet
  • Hydromorphone, such as Dilaudid
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl

Though opioids are currently under fire from the government as well as consumer advocacy groups, other classes of prescription drugs are known for their risk of addiction as well, having caused over 700,000 deaths due to overdose between 1997 and 2017.

Non-opioid commonly abused prescription drugs include:

  • Stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin
  • Depressants, including Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Luminal

The longer you take a highly addictive prescription drug, the higher your risk of addiction and the harder it will be to stop taking it.

Natural Alternatives to Prescription Drugs

natural alternatives to prescription drugs In light of the numerous side effects and potentially addictive qualities of nearly every prescription drug on the market, many people are beginning to research natural prescription alternatives. Moreover, healthcare practitioners and patients alike are seeing natural alternatives as vital assets when it comes to one’s own informed health decisions.

Can natural alternatives really provide relief from lingering symptoms of emotional pain, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, as well as prescription drugs can? In some cases, YES! And in most cases, symptom relief can be significant!

Find out how by reading on.

Restructuring Lifestyle

Consider the fact that the number one target of natural alternatives to prescription drugs is the potentially unhealthy lifestyle of the patient. For example, patients suffering from high cholesterol are often prescribed statins to lower blood cholesterol levels. Statin prescriptions often come with a healthy dose of diet and lifestyle advice from the care provider — eat a healthy diet, get exercise when you can. All too often, the only advice acted upon is the direction to take a prescription drug.

A too-sedentary lifestyle is a recipe that leads to an unhealthy outcome, both physically and mentally. Daily or at least regular exercise and physical therapy is another way to blend alternatives to prescription drugs into your lifestyle. A wealth of research has shown the dramatic positive effects of exercise on mental health, not to mention the physical improvements that come with this healthy lifestyle habit.12

An unfulfilling lifestyle can also have mental repercussions, contributing to stress, depression, and anxiety. Changing your habitual activities can open the door to new vitality. Many people find or rekindle a spiritual practice that enhances more profound joy in living, as well as provides healthy and meaningful social and community interactions. Joining or re-joining a social group or beloved hobby or new learning experiences may help you springboard to a better place. if help is needed to engineer such a sea-change in your life, CBT or other forms of talk therapy may be invaluable as it provides real guidance to help you find the best answers that you are looking for in re-designing your life and increasing personal satisfaction. 13-15

Helping Others

Perhaps the least-known but most powerful life-changing secret to happiness is the joy that is to be gained from helping others. Take the time to consider what your interests are — who you would like to help? What areas do you feel some genuine connection and compassion for that you would like to contribute to or assist? These are all deep mines of wealth for personal happiness, pride and self-worth, the exhilaration of helping others and getting out of your own head. The experience can be life-changing!16

Proper Diet and Supplementation

The importance of a proper diet cannot be overstated. Mental wellness is supported by a diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and adequate proteins. These foods give us energy and provide the raw materials for a healthy and functioning central nervous system, and support the intricate workings of our organs, hormones, and blood.9

Advocates of natural alternatives stress the inclusion of foods with omega-3 fatty acids to combat the cholesterol in the system. While omega-3s won’t lower your bad cholesterol, they will raise levels of the good cholesterol in your blood. In addition, foods rich in omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart attack-producing blood clots, as well as reduce the oxidation that produces inflammation in the body.11

natural alternatives to prescription drugsAnother area commonly addressed by natural drug alternatives is clinical depression and anxiety. The side effects listed for most antidepressants include suicidal thoughts and increased depression and anxiety — factors that serve to practically negate the purpose of taking the drug in the first place. As a result, even medical doctors are looking into natural alternatives to these drugs, such as supplementing with vitamin D for individuals with low vitamin D levels, dietary changes, endorphin-boosting activities, and more.10

In the end, there are some conditions for which doctors will always correctly prescribe pharmaceuticals. However, natural alternatives to medications are valuable to consider, especially as an accompaniment to a conservative prescription schedule under medical supervision. Natural alternatives may or may not completely replace prescription drugs but they can certainly help us eliminate some of the risk factors associated with many prescription medications.

Since 2006 we’ve helped people from all over the world taper off of their prescription drugs. Call us to talk about your options. We want to help.

1. Gøtzsche PC. Our prescription drugs kill us in large numbers. Pol Arch Med Wewn. 2014;124(11):628-34. doi: 10.20452/pamw.2503. Epub 2014 Oct 30. PMID: 25355584. [cited 2023 June 13]

2. Fischer B, Bibby M, Bouchard M. The global diversion of pharmaceutical drugs
non-medical use and diversion of psychotropic prescription drugs in North America: a review of sourcing routes and control measures. Addiction. 2010 Dec;105(12):2062-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03092.x. Epub 2010 Sep 15. PMID: 20840172. [cited 2023 June 13]

3. Paul NP, Galván AE, Yoshinaga-Sakurai K, Rosen BP, Yoshinaga M. Arsenic in medicine: past, present and future. Biometals. 2023 Apr;36(2):283-301. doi: 10.1007/s10534-022-00371-y. Epub 2022 Feb 21. PMID: 35190937; PMCID: PMC8860286. [cited 2023 June 13]

4. Bensefa-Colas L, Andujar P, Descatha A. Intoxication par le mercure [Mercury poisoning]. Rev Med Interne. 2011 Jul;32(7):416-24. French. doi: 10.1016/j.revmed.2009.08.024. Epub 2010 Jun 25. PMID: 20579784. [cited 2023 June 13]

5. Ejemot-Nwadiaro RI, Ehiri JE, Arikpo D, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing promotion for preventing diarrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 3;2015(9):CD004265. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004265.pub3. Update in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021 Jan 6;12:CD004265. PMID: 26346329; PMCID: PMC4563982. [cited 2023 June 13]

6. Lau PM, Stewart K, Dooley M. The ten most common adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in oncology patients: do they matter to you? Support Care Cancer. 2004 Sep;12(9):626-33. doi: 10.1007/s00520-004-0622-5. PMID: 15064936. [cited 2023 June 13]

7. Gholami K, Shalviri G. Factors associated with preventability, predictability, and severity of adverse drug reactions. Ann Pharmacother. 1999 Feb;33(2):236-40. doi: 10.1345/aph.17440. PMID: 10084421.  [cited 2023 June 13]

8. Merk Manuals Consumer Version Tolerance and Resistance to Drugs [published online 2023] [cited 2023 June 13]

9. Bourre JM. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients. J Nutr Health Aging. 2006 Sep-Oct;10(5):377-85. PMID: 17066209. [cited 2023 June 13]

10. Menon, V., Kar, S. K., Suthar, N., & Nebhinani, N. (2020). Vitamin D and Depression: A Critical Appraisal of the Evidence and Future DirectionsIndian journal of psychological medicine42(1), 11–21. [cited 2023 June 13]

11. Ross BM, Seguin J, Sieswerda LE. Omega-3 fatty acids as treatments for mental illness: which disorder and which fatty acid? Lipids Health Dis. 2007 Sep 18;6:21. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-6-21. PMID: 17877810; PMCID: PMC2071911. [cited 2023 June 13]

12. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017 Dec;106:48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003. Epub 2017 Sep 7. PMID: 29150166. [cited 2023 June 13]

13. Gautam, M., Tripathi, A., Deshmukh, D., & Gaur, M. (2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for DepressionIndian journal of psychiatry62(Suppl 2), S223–S229. [cited 2023 June 13]

14. Herbert C. Enhancing Mental Health, Well-Being and Active Lifestyles of University Students by Means of Physical Activity and Exercise Research Programs. Front Public Health. 2022 Apr 25;10:849093. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.849093. PMID: 35548074; PMCID: PMC9082407. [cited 2023 June 13]

15. Dew RE, Daniel SS, Armstrong TD, Goldston DB, Triplett MF, Koenig HG. Religion/Spirituality and adolescent psychiatric symptoms: a review. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2008 Dec;39(4):381-98. doi: 10.1007/s10578-007-0093-2. Epub 2008 Jan 25. PMID: 18219572. [cited 2023 June 13]

16. NAMI How Volunteering Improves Mental Health [cited 2023 June 13]

Originally Published Apr 26, 2019 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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