We have a German statesman to thank for the expression ‘papering over the cracks’. It means to disguise a problem, rather than try to resolve it.
Which is exactly what we do when we turn to pharmaceutical drugs to manage pain, heartburn, thyroid disorders and other health conditions.
Referred to as the ‘Silent Holocaust’, our culture of over-medicating interferes with our bodies’ natural self-healing mechanisms and – in many cases – does us a mischief in the process.
Even more harmful is that these drugs mask important warning signals from our bodies telling us that we need to do something differently.
Even if you don’t pop pills yourself, you still have a vested interest in raising your IQ about the misuse of pharmaceuticals. That’s because they can wind up in your body indirectly.
We can’t blame our GPs – unless your doctor follows a functional medicine approach, contracting out your healthcare to your GP is like asking your butcher to bake you a cake.
So if drugs aren’t the solution, then what is?
Like all the best ideas, it’s simple. It’s also nothing new.
For the most part, as this cardiologist writes, lifestyle adaptations can correct a lot of our health conditions.
The first step if you are suffering with any of the conditions below is finding a functional doctor (i.e. one that addresses the underlying cause of disease). With your doctor, you can work together to implement any lifestyle changes necessary to bring about a lasting improvement to your health condition.
Below is a list of some of the top most commonly prescribed drugs, information about the conditions they are used to manage, and an overview of some effective approaches to healing that have been developed by doctors with a functional approach to medicine.
You should always consult with your trusted medical adviser before adopting any lifestyle changes.
Hydrocodone – used for pain
Generally, we do not experience pain without inflammation.
We need a level of inflammation (without it our blood doesn’t clot), but many of us have chronic high levels.
Chronic high inflammation has been called the silent killer and as well as pain, is linked to obesity, ADD/ADHD, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, migraines, thyroid issues, dental issues and cancer.
The good news is that we already know a lot about how to manage inflammation levels naturally, the key things being through improving diet choices, ensuring good gut health and supplementing.
Managing inflammation naturally
- Functional doctor Dr Andrew L. Rostenberg suggests eating a modified elimination diet, which is probably going to be a rendition of the ‘Paleo’ diet.
- Heal and repair your gut.
- Supplement with a high quality fish oil (Mother Nature’s Asprin).
- Do the other 16 science-backed things, which include getting high quality sleep, managing stress and exercising.
- Eat a lot of phytonutrients and specifically a group called polyphenol antioxidants, which act as natural pain relievers. (The effectiveness of these depends on having good gut health to begin with, which is why you need to ensure that first). Top foods to eat regularly are turmeric and ginger. Ginger is easy to get into your diet, for example by preparing ginger ‘tea’ and switchel. As there are some absorption issues with turmeric, you might want to take a curcumin (compound found in turmeric) supplement.
Statins – used to reduce LDL cholesterol
Statins work by hindering body enzymes from producing cholesterol in the liver. Using them has two important consequences:
- Statins prevent our ability to create CoQ10, also known as the ‘miracle molecule’, and extremely important for health ageing. Many doctors have stated that taking drugs that inhibit CoQ10 isn’t scientifically valid.
- Statins disrupt the production of our primary hormones (our hormones are built on cholesterol). Hormonal imbalance sets you up to develop disease.
Understanding elevated LDL cholesterol
In a world of good and bad cholesterol, LDL is the bad one (HDL is good). Both are a waxy-like substance made in the liver, and also derived from the foods we eat.
It was thought that higher LDL levels puts us at greater risk for a heart attack. However that link has now been thoroughly debunked, perhaps most authoritatively by this study. Despite that, the prevalence of bad science about cholesterol persists.
That said, we want to help ourselves to have optimal levels of cholesterol. That includes avoiding low levels too ( lower than 150). Because animal foods help to build cholesterol, vegans and vegetarians are at particular risk of low levels, and should get tested.
Managing cholesterol naturally
- Follow Dr Mark Hyman’s 7 step strategy, which includes eating a healthy diet full of good fats (think ‘healthy greasy’), exercising and getting good quality sleep.
- As a special mention, ensure the adequate intake of soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol and pulls it out of body. Some optimal sources of soluble fiber are broccoli, carrots, chia seed, flax seed and beans.
Lisinopril – used to manage high blood pressure
Lisinopril works by relaxing blood vessels. This lowers blood pressure and increases the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.
The drug has a number of unpleasant side effects and has been linked to liver damage.
Understanding high blood pressure
If your blood pressure is high, it means you are inflamed. When we’re inflamed, our blood gets thicker. If blood gets so thick that it can’t push blood into small vessels, then we are starving our organs of oxygen.
Failing to deal with high blood pressure over the long term sets us up for damage to all of our vital organs.
Managing high blood pressure naturally
- Follow Chris Kresser’s top three tips, which deal with diet changes, lifestyle changes and supplementing.
- As a special mention, ensure that your diet contains plenty of magnesium-rich foods (top sources are cacao – which is the unprocessed version of cocoa – and dark leafy greens), vitamin C, and potassium rich foods.
- Ginger, with its active compound being good for vassal dilation, is especially useful for helping to increase oxygen supply.
Synthroid – used to treat thyroid conditions
Synthroid works by artificially replacing the thyroid hormone, and in doing so causes the body to produce less of it. Basically it massages the numbers on a blood test. The drug has a lot of grim side effects.
Understanding thyroid issues
Any thyroid dysfunction is like the engine warning lights coming on in your car. As the most chemically sensitive organ in the body, your thyroid is the sink of a toxic lifestyle.
Hyper/hypothyrodism manifests in a number of ways, including excess sweating, exhaustion, brain fog and messed up sleeping.
The causes of thyroid issues are varied, but the four most common are:
- Toxicity (caused by heavy metal exposure and environmental factors).
- Deficiency in minerals (affected by gut health).
- Food intolerance — commonly gluten (protein in wheat) and casein (protein in diary) allergies.
- Hormone imbalance – caused by stress, excessive carbohydrate consumption and too little dietary fat.
Because the causes are multiple, an individual approach is required to treating thyroid conditions.
Dr Andrew L. Rostenberg advises: “If your doctor is diagnosing your condition without looking at antibodies – find a different one.”
Managing hyper and hypothyroidism naturally
- Follow Dr Mark Hyman’s 6 step approach, which includes eliminating the causes, exercising and eating the right foods.
- As a special mention, eating edible seaweeds can help rectify iodine deficiency (one of most common causes of thyroid enlargement) and eating Brazil nuts can help with a selenium deficiency (another key to a healthy thyroid).
Prilosec – used to manage heartburn
Seemingly innocuous, the pill that makes heartburn go away has very nefarious consequences.
The stomach has to be acidic in order to function effectively. Counter intuitively, most acid reflux is caused by too little stomach acid, which happens for a variety of reasons. Treating heartburn effectively involves working on increasing stomach acid naturally.
Increasing stomach acid naturally
- Follow Chris Kresser’s three step approach: reduce factors that promote low stomach acid, replace stomach acid and restore beneficial bacteria.
- Other things include changing your mealtimes so you are more in sync with circadian rhythm. We are still learning about this, but broadly it means you might benefit by eating your larger meals at breakfast and lunchtime, and easing off later in the day.
Antibiotics – used to manage bacterial infections
Antibiotics are prescribed for illnesses caused by bacteria, not by viruses (antibiotics do not work against viruses).
GPs will prescribe antibiotics to treat a variety of ailments including moderately severe acne, cystitis, skin infections such as impetigo and the sexually transmitted infection, chlamydia.
It is clear that we need to use antibiotics with greater discretion than we do currently. In the process of killing bacteria, antibiotics totally nuke your GI (gastrointestinal) tract, compromising your immune system (70% of which lives in your GI). Just one course of antibiotics disrupts gut microbiome for a year.
Antibiotics overuse is a legitimate danger to all of us: the bugs that we are trying to kill are completely antibiotic resistant, as they mutate around antibiotics (that’s epigenetics in action).
Bacterial infections are caused by microbes and spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, sex, contact with contaminated surfaces, food and water, and contact with infected creatures, including pets, livestock, and insects such as fleas and ticks.
Prevention is always better than a cure. If we do need antibiotics, there are things we need to do afterwards to protect our health.
Raise your antibiotics IQ by taking this quiz.
- The top things we do for our immune systems are keeping our gut microbiome (gut bugs) healthy, getting sleep and sunlight, and supplementing with vitamin D.
- After that, we can focus on regularly eating anti-bacterial foods, the most potent being garlic, coconut oil, raw manuka honey, oregano oil and probiotic foods.
Damage limitation, post antibiotics
- Focus on building up the internal forest again by taking potent probiotics, including supplements and functional foods such as kefir.
- Yeast is likened to the cockroach that survives the bomb of antibiotics. If we have symptoms of a yeast infection, then your health professional might recommend an anti-candida protocol such as the Body Ecology Diet.
Metformin HCL – used to manage diabetes
This is the drug of choice for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, particularly in overweight and obese people. It suppresses natural glucose production by the liver, and activates an enzyme which plays an important role in insulin signaling, whole body energy balance and the metabolism of glucose and fats.
Diabetes drugs cause imbalances which aren’t correctable without abstaining from them.
It is fairly well understood now that we give ourselves type 2 diabetes through diet choices. What is slightly less well known is that our consumption of grain products is causative in the development of diabetes. That makes avoiding diabetes simple, and even curing yourself of it perfectly possible.
People have reversed their diabetes naturally, in thirty days. See the documentary ‘Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in Thirty Days’.
Reversing diabetes naturally
- Follow this approach set out by Dr. Axe, which gives you the foods to remove and those to add in.
- Exercise – 30 minutes a day is enough.
- Dr Axe suggests some supplements to take to help with insulin management. Certain foods also aid naturally in balancing blood sugar, including apple cider vinegar and cinnamon.
Xanax – used for anxiety
Xanax enhances the effects of a certain natural chemical in the body (GABA), producing a calming effect.
The addictive potential of the drug is high.
Anxiety has been called the Generation Y epidemic. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetic predispositions and stressful life events. It is almost certainly linked to the increasing prevalence of gut health issues.
Treating severe anxiety long term has to start with a proper diagnosis by a mental health professional – and possibly a variety. Without a determination to get to the root cause, then the solutions are limited.
Managing anxiety naturally
- Cognitive behaviour therapy.
- Once you are dealing with a manageable level of anxiety, the focus should be on a high quality diet, with particular focus on restoring and repairing gut health.
- Use of adaptogenic herbs such as maca and medicinal mushrooms, which have been used in the Ayurveda system of medicine for years.
‘Z medicines’ – used for insomnia
Sleeping pills work by binding to receptors in the brain that help control our level of alertness or relaxation.
Although these types of drugs are generally thought to be non toxic, their effectiveness is reduced over time.
Getting restful sleep is an essential tool for us all to master. In terms of importance to overall health, it’s right up there at the top of the list along with ensuring good gut health.
Dealing with chronic insomnia naturally
- Key things are dealing with anxiety (see above) and practicing good sleep hygiene.
- Once those are taken care of, you can focus on eating a high quality diet, supplementing (especially fish oil), and being aware of your circadian rhythm (not disrupting it by weird eating times).
- As our sleep hormones decrease as we age, we can take melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland that you can also get over-the-counter (but not in certain countries, including the UK).
Zoloft – used for depression
Zoloft is a selective serotonin inhibitor that works by altering the levels of serotonin, one of our neurotransmitters that is responsible for the ‘feel good’ factor.
The use of these types of drugs has been linked to birth defects. However, probably the biggest drawback is that they don’t address underlying causes of depression. They can also make the sufferer feel dependent.
There isn’t one reason why we become depressed – there are loads. Scientists have recently hit on a theory that depression is caused by inflammation.
Severe depression requires expert help in the form of a clinical psychologist or other mental health professional, who might recommend behavioral therapy.
Treating depression long term
- Low level depression can be managed naturally through dietary adjustments, regular exercise, being outside, and supplementing with high quality fish oil and vitamin D. In fact more and more research is suggesting eating right can curb depression (sometimes in conjunction with using antidepressants).
- Neuroscientist Alex Korb has suggested an approach whereby depression is reversed one small step at a time (although he doesn’t vilify medication; he just says ‘they are not the whole picture’).
- According to a 2015 study published in The Lancet, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is effective at preventing depression relapses, making it a good potential avenue to exploit.
Ritalin and adderall – used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Both medications are central nervous system stimulants. They increase the brain activity of norepinephrine and dopamine, the neurotransmitters linked to ADHD.
Each has negative consequences on body and brain.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). It’s either more common or more commonly recognized.
No-one knows the cause for sure, but theories include toxicity and genetics.
Treating ADHD naturally over the long term
- Follow the protocol developed by Dr Natasha Campbell (GAPS) that has successfully treated many of autism and ADHD.
- Other solutions include supplementation with amino acids.
Corticosteroids – used for crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
Corticosteroids mimic the effects of hormones that our bodies produce naturally in the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys. When prescribed in doses that exceed your body’s usual levels, corticosteroids suppress inflammation.
They have a number of undesirable side effects. For this reason they are usually prescribed for short periods at low doses.
Understanding crohn’s and colitis
Crohn’s is an autoimmune condition (where the body attacks itself), characterized by inflammation of the intestinal tract. Colitis is also inflammation of the lining of the colon.
Therefore, a long term approach to managing the conditions is by reducing inflammation.
As your gut health is so closely tied with your mental health, then sufferers may need to manage anxiety at the same time (see above).
Long term treatment for crohn’s and colitis
- Follow Dr Natasha Campbell’s protocol, GAPS. For an example of someone who has done that and is powerfully inspiring others to do the same, read up on Crohn’s Babe Tara Rosas (that’s her in the picture above).
- One additional thing that research is showing can be useful is supplementing with cucurmin (the beneficial compound in turmeric).
The default use of drugs to ‘fix’ health conditions comes at a high price. We are far better off using pain and other bodily cries to learn how to heal ourselves in the long term.
More often than not, we can avoid taking medicines and adopt simple lifestyle changes that will either alleviate or rid ourselves entirely of our health issues.
If you are suffering from any of the above, the no.1 priority should be to find yourself a decent healthcare adviser with a holistic and functional approach to treatment.
Mounting evidence is showing that a pivotal thing in enjoying great health and avoiding developing any of these conditions is restoring or maintaining optimal gut health.
Do you have a ‘from pills to plants’ story of self healing to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!