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The Top Five Medications You Shouldn’t Take Without Trying a Natural Alternative First

The Top Five Medications You Shouldn’t Take Without Trying a Natural Alternative First

Reuben Dinsmore BScH, ND

Natural supplements, or nutraceuticals, have been given a bad rap lately—which, in some cases, has been absolutely warranted. But natural formulas that actually contain what they claim on the label, and that are formulated to have maximal efficacy, can be equal to their pharmaceutical counterparts. Better yet, they can be just as effective without the laundry list of side effects.

Statins

Statins (the class of drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol) accounted for 3.8 per cent of all money spent on prescription drugs in Canada in 2013. High cholesterol is blamed for heart attacks and strokes via formation of arterial plaques. But the real culprit is inflammation, without which the plaques wouldn’t form in the first place. Bottom line: You can lower cholesterol all you want, but as long as there is inflammation present, plaques can still form.

Some common side effects of statins include muscle pain, cognitive impairment, sexual dysfunction, and increased risk of cancer and diabetes.

Nutraceuticals are an alternative to statins. These include: Omega-3 fatty acids (best sourced from wild-caught fish oils) and curcumin (the active component in turmeric). Both are excellent supplements to lower inflammation. Garlic extracts have been proven to improve cholesterol levels as well. Another option I discuss with patients is red rice yeast extract, which is the natural compound statins were derived from in the first place, and works in a similar manner. This product may have side effects; I find that it can be beneficial for some patients, but not all, something I deal with on a patient by patient basis.

Antacids

It’s said that five million Canadians suffer from heartburn symptoms weekly. Prescriptions for the acid-blocking drugs PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) accounted for $24 million in BC alone in 2013. Risks of taking these mostly involve nutrient deficiencies from poor absorption DUE TO LOW STOMACH ACID (see the problem here?). Examples include bone fractures from poor calcium absorption or anemia from decreased levels of vitamin B12 or iron. B12 deficiency can also cause dementia and neurological damage. There has also been a correlation shown between PPI use and C. difficile infection, which causes life-threatening diarrhea.

Nutraceuticals: Long story short, most people don’t have too much stomach acid. The problem is the acid they have is getting into the wrong place (the lower esophagus) where it burns. This can be from the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach not closing properly, either from poor tone or insufficient stomach acid, which is the signal for the sphincter to close. Limonene (an extract from citrus peel) helps strengthen this muscle and promotes movement of food downward to the stomach. DGL (an extract from licorice root) stimulates mucus production in the stomach, which acts to coat and protect the sensitive lining of the esophagus.

SSRIs

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the most common class of anti-depressant drugs. One in twelve Canadians will experience major depression in their lifetime, but it’s still one of the most misunderstood conditions. Standard treatment protocols typically target neurotransmitter activity (most commonly serotonin). However, new research indicates the underlying cause may actually be inflammation. Either way, natural medicine has you covered.

Some nutraceuticals to consider are 5-HTP, which is used to make serotonin, with the help of vitamin B6. The herb St. John’s Wort has been studied extensively and appears to work in the same way as SSRIs. Both 5-HTP and St. John’s wort have shown similar efficacy to SSRIs when given for mild to moderate depression. And as I mentioned earlier, omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin decrease inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.

Side effects of SSRIs include sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and worsened/chronic depression. St. John’s wort also has a side effect which should be considered if taking other medications—it impacts liver function, which can result in either higher or lower blood medication levels.

Anti-hypertensives

Hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure) affects 6 million Canadians, and is responsible for approximately 13 per cent of all deaths. Various classes of anti-hypertensives include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). Diuretics increase urine output, which can negatively affect sodium and potassium levels, which can cause muscle cramps. ACEIs and ARBs may both cause a chronic dry cough. All anti-hypertensives can cause dizziness, headache and low blood pressure.

Again, there are many nutraceutical options for patients to consider, such as CoQ10, magnesium, garlic extracts, omega-3 fatty acids, L-arginine and vitamin C. All of these have all been shown to lower high blood pressure by various means. Dandelion leaf is an effective diuretic that doesn’t lower potassium levels.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs most often prescribed for anxiety disorders and insomnia. They work by binding to receptors for GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that calms activity of the nervous system. Interestingly, this is the same mechanism by which alcohol acts in the brain. One obvious effect of benzodiazepines is sedation—great when the treatment target is insomnia. Not so great when you just want to decrease your anxiety but still function. Other side effects include dizziness, loss of balance, and even cognitive impairment at higher doses. They also have a significant risk of developing physical or psychological dependence and rebound anxiety when discontinued.

This is an area where you should have a thorough workup with your naturopathic doctor and consider the options that are right for you. You can take GABA as an alternative (but there’s mixed evidence on whether or not it actually gets into the brain), or herbs such as passionflower (which has the same mechanism of action as benzodiazepines). Other herbs include valerian, chamomile, kava, and many others.

So now you think you’re ready to ditch all your pharmaceuticals and go natural? Not so fast—the examples used above are by no means the only supplements that have been used effectively for these conditions. And equally as important are diet, exercise, sleep habits, relaxation techniques and other lifestyle factors. The next step is to sit down with a naturopathic doctor and work together to develop a personalized approach that takes all your health concerns into consideration.

Dr. Reuben Dinsmore practices at Yaletown Naturopathic Clinic. Call 604-235-8068 or email info@yaletownnaturopathic.com

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Greying Nation: An Aging Population Doesn’t Have to Burden the Health Care System

by Lorne Swetlikoff, ND

By delaying and preventing the onset of degenerative conditions, naturopathic medicine can enable people to age healthier, delay retirement, and positively impact the sustainability of our health care system.

1 out of 3 Canadians is a Baby Boomer

According to Statistics Canada’s 2006 census, one out of three Canadians is a baby boomer (born between 1946-1965) and make up the largest group in our population. There is significant concern that this demographic shift will place a significant burden on our health-care system challenging its sustainability.

Age-related conditions like dementia, arthritis, and heart disease are common amongst the elderly. These conditions are degenerative and require patients to be continuously engaged with their doctors and health system. If Canadians are aging and older Canadians get age-related conditions, then health-care delivery costs are set to rise significantly. Who is going to pay for this? Certainly not younger Canadians as that population group continues to shrink.

Preventing age-related infirmities is an essential strategy in dealing with this issue. By keeping Canadians healthy, it is more likely that they will live longer, have more productive lives, perhaps retire later, and reduce health-care needs.

How do we keep Canadians healthy?

Recognize that decrepitude and degeneration are not normal aspects of aging but are states of disorder that are diagnosable, treatable, and more importantly preventable.

Our current medical system is focused on diagnosing and treating disease. This is important. but it’ a reactive approach to something that has already happened. To strengthen our system, we need to be proactive and prevent disease. Preventing degenerative diseases requires continuous assessment of health parameters and undesirable trends over the course of one’s life. Intervention then becomes a system of keeping people healthy.

The basic philosophical premise of naturopathic medicine is that there is an inherent healing power in nature and in every human being. The ND’s responsibility is to strive to understand the minimum level of intervention that will stimulate the body’ self-healing processes

Restoring unique biochemical deficiencies to a normal physiological balance and intervening with natural therapies to support a patient’s condition may help make them feel more vital, and energetic, and move them out of their decline.

Some useful steps that you can take to make sure that you increase your longevity and vitality and don’t slide into old age prematurely:

  • Undergo periodic screening for biological health markers like hormone deficiency, vitamin mineral deficiency, amino acid deficiency, chemical toxicity levels, inflammation markers, digestive analysis, blood sugar levels and heart evaluation to determine your current state of health. Such intervention is aimed at restoring the normal physiological balance of the body.
  • Strive to identify the cause of your problem by visiting a naturopathic doctor.  Don’t just treat symptoms, which often allows the real disease to progress past the point of recovery.
  • As appropriate, use natural therapies as a first resort to stimulate the body to heal.  Customize your treatment plan to meet your biochemical needs and re-evaluate that plan to changing circumstances, stresses, and experiences.
  • Keep in mind that prevention is not just taking a test. For example, taking a PSA test to rule out prostate cancer, or a having a mammogram to check for breast cancer are important procedures, but it’s important to determine your individual risk factors for cancer and then make the necessary changes early in your life to enable healing, wellness and longevity.
  • Educate yourself and gain the appropriate awareness to make smart health choices now to increase longevity in the future.

A statistic from the late 90s showed that by delaying nursing home admission by just one month, it would save the U.S. health-care system $3 billion a year. Naturopathic doctors help people get well, and have effective strategies in preventing, delaying, and treating age-related diseases. This can have a positive impact on our aging population and in reducing the associated health-care.


This article originally appeared, in a longer version, on CBC.  Dr. Swetlikoff is a licensed ND in Castlegar and Vancouver.