If you ever watch television, read magazines, or leave your house, there’s no doubt you’ve seen advertisements for prescription drugs. They are now sort of…everywhere. You have to practically stare at them in the subway in New York, and they are really all over TV. While the drugs promise miracle cures for all that ails you, if you pay attention to the fast talking voice at the end of a television commercial, you’ll hear a long list of side effects (usually sped up to nearly cartoon speed). Some of them are pretty horrifying. Recently, Mount Sinai School of Medicine evaluated pharmaceutical advertisements and found that only 18 percent of them complied with FDA guidelines. Likewise, more than a (scary) 50 percent failed to outline significant risks of the drugs they advertised.

Direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals was allowed by the FDA starting in 1997. Today, the budget for prescription drug ads exceeds $57 billion per year. Most ads suggest patients “ask your doctor” about whatever drug is being hawked. Many patients do, and since 1999 the incidence of people taking one or more prescription drugs has risen from less than 43 percent of the population to more than 48 percent. It begs the question, are Americans getting sicker, or is direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals causing an increase in the number of Americans unnecessarily taking prescription medications? (Or both?)

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I would never suggest that all drugs are bad. In some cases, pharmaceuticals can save lives or improve the health of the patient. It’s a huge benefit to the modern world to have life-saving drugs at our fingertips. That’s why I recommend working with a doctor you can trust and advocating for yourself. But is every prescription necessary?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, use of pharmaceuticals in the United States has risen sharply in the past decade. At least 48.3 percent of Americans have used one or more drugs in the past month, while a full 10 percent have used five or more! The most commonly used pharmaceuticals, by demographic are:

  • Children (0-11): Bronchodilators
  • Adolescents (12-19): Central nervous system stimulants
  • Adults (20-59): Antidepressants
  • Adults (60 and older): Cholesterol medication

Let’s look at one type of drug as an example: statins. Statins are cholesterol-lowering medications. As I mentioned previously, the CDC reports this is the most commonly taken prescription medication in adults over the age of 60. While statins are very effective at lowering cholesterol, in many cases so is adapting lifestyle changes such as eating a plant-based diet, losing weight, quitting smoking, managing stress, and getting regular exercise.

Statins also have a whole host of side effects ranging from mild to serious. According to the Mayo Clinic, side effects of statin drugs include:

  • Aches and pains in the muscles and joints
  • Digestive problems (nausea, diarrhea, constipation)
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Kidney damage
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Neurological problems including memory loss and confusion
  • Dangerous interactions with other medications

While the risk of developing coronary artery disease is nothing to minimize, the risks of side effects of the drugs to treat high cholesterol aren’t exactly minor either. We could do a similar breakdown for other drugs, like anti-depressants.

shutterstock_128536454Another concern with prescription medications is this: when side effects arise resultant of taking medication, how are they treated? Do you treat with a new medication to manage the symptoms? Unfortunately, this often happens in Western medicine – treating each new symptom with another medication. The result is a toxic sludge of medications – each with their own side effects – building up in your system. While each medication may help you manage specific symptoms, they also have their own side effects and risks.

It’s important to note I’m not telling you to stop taking any medications you are on. That is a decision you need to make in conjunction with a highly qualified medical professional. I would suggest, however, that you educate yourself about the medications you are prescribed and take only those that are medically necessary. Some tips for managing medications and health:

  • Minimize or eliminate over-the-counter medications, especially if you’re taking prescription meds.
  • Work with a primary health care provider with whom you have established trust.
  • When a doctor prescribes a medication, ask questions about the benefits, risks, and side effects of the drug. You may also want to ask if the medication has been studied to treat your condition or if the doctor is prescribing it as an “off label” use. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 20 percent of medications prescribed are for off label uses.
  • Ask your doctor about non-drug treatments to manage your condition.
  • Read the package insert and pharmacist’s instructions for every prescription.
  • If you do decide to take the medication, ask about drug interactions with non-prescription medications, vitamins, herbs, and other drugs.

Symptoms Tell You Something Is Wrong

When you experience a “symptom,” your body is telling you something isn’t right. Immediately rushing to treat that symptom with a medication may help you feel better in the short term; however, if you don’t treat or eliminate the underlying cause of your symptoms your health will not improve.

The ROOT cause of many of the symptoms we experience is nutritional. Poor nutrition – eating foods and chemicals the human body was not meant to process – is at the root of many diseases. Likewise, deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, toxicity from food additives and pesticides, and other food related illnesses can cause everything from minor aches and pains to life-threatening illness. Beauty Detox Foods is designed to help you gain control of your health by providing your body with the wholesome, nutritious foods it requires for optimal health.

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The best way to avoid taking medication is to prevent symptoms and illness from arising in the first place. Here are my tips for optimizing your health:

  • Eat a mostly plant-based organic diet consisting of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds (especially Omega-3 rich chia seeds), and whole non-gluten grains.
  • Minimize foods the human body doesn’t process well, such as dairy, peanuts, processed foods, sugar, chemicals and excessive amounts of animal protein.
  • Skip artificial and/or sugary beverages such as soda and processed fruit juice.
  • Drink plenty of pure water.
  • Manage your stress via meditation or yoga.
  • Find active activities you enjoy and pursue them regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

On a related note, people also often find themselves asking which what vitamins should I take and do I really need it?

New York Times Bestselling Author, Nutritionist, Wellness and Beauty Expert