Many people try a pill, find that it helps, and then keep on taking it for weeks, months or years—never realizing that certain medications tend to lose their effectiveness for some people over time. What’s even more worrisome is that, in some cases, such drugs eventually can lead to a worsening of the very conditions they were supposed to treat.
When I discussed this concern with Michael T. Murray, ND, author of more than 30 health-related books, including What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know: The Alternative Treatments That May Change Your Life—and the Prescriptions That Could Harm You, he told me that certain nutritional supplements provide effective, safer alternatives that allow some patients to reduce or discontinue conventional drugs. And because the supplements help address the underlying causes of disease—rather than simply acting as what Dr. Murray called “biochemical Band-Aids” to reduce symptoms in the short term—they keep on working in the long term, he said.
Here are common prescription and nonprescription medications that can lose effectiveness over time, plus possible natural alternatives. Important: If you are using any of these drugs, do not simply discontinue them on your own. Instead, consult a qualified holistic doctor to find out whether switching to supplements or adding supplements to your medication regimen is appropriate for you and to determine optimal dosages. Also note that, while the supplements mentioned below generally are safe, some may not be appropriate for pregnant women or people with certain medical conditions—another reason why you should discuss their use with a knowledgeable practitioner. Talk to your doctor about…
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for osteoarthritis. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) and celecoxib (Celebrex). NSAIDs often produce short-term benefits by initially reducing osteoarthritis pain and inflammation… but over time, Dr. Murray said, they can accelerate the progression of joint destruction by inhibiting cartilage formation, leading to greater pain and disability.
Natural alternative: Glucosamine sulfate. With age, some people appear to lose the ability to produce sufficient levels of glucosamine, a substance the body uses to manufacture the cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the joints. Though glucosamine sulfate supplements are not anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving drugs per se, over time they reduce inflammation and ease pain by helping the body repair damaged joints… and in numerous studies, the supplements produced much better results than NSAIDs in relieving osteoarthritis. Typical dosage: 1,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate daily. Results may be seen after two to four weeks of use… the longer glucosamine is used, the greater the therapeutic benefit.
Blood sugar–lowering drugs for type 2 diabetes. One common side effect of oral diabetes medications such as glyburide (Micronase) and pioglitazone (Actos) is weight gain—yet excess weight makes blood sugar levels even harder to control. As a result, Dr. Murray said, blood sugar–lowering medications may be prescribed at even higher dosages or in combination with other medications, creating an even greater risk for side effects.
Natural alternative: Mulberry leaf. Research has shown that mulberry therapy reduced fasting blood glucose concentrations in diabetic patients more significantly than glyburide… as a bonus, mulberry also decreased LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Dr. Murray noted that mulberry supplementation may improve blood sugar levels to the point that some patients, under their doctors’ supervision, may be able to reduce or discontinue oral diabetes medications. Typical dosage: 1,000 mg of mulberry leaf powder three times daily, taken before meals. Caution: Mulberry may not be appropriate for patients with impaired liver function.
Bisphosphonates for osteoporosis. Medications such as alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel) and ibandronate (Boniva) help protect against fractures by increasing bone density—but when used for more than five years, they actually increase the risk for fractures of the thighbone as well as for osteonecrosis (bone death caused by poor blood supply) of the jaw.
Natural alternatives: BioSil and vitamin D. BioSil contains a highly bioavailable form of the trace mineral silica, which improves bone mineral density and increases the collagen content of bone. Vitamin D supplementation also helps by ensuring that the body absorbs and retains calcium, a mineral critical for building strong bones. Typical dosages: 6 mg to 10 mg of BioSil daily… plus 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. Caution: BioSil may not be appropriate for people with kidney problems… vitamin D may not be appropriate for patients with high blood calcium levels.
Sedatives for insomnia. When sleep medicines are taken every night for a long time, they tend to lose their effectiveness. Some such drugs can impair the ability to reach the deeper stage-three and stage-four levels of sleep, thus worsening sleep quality—which is one reason why they can produce a morning “hangover” feeling, Dr. Murray noted. What’s more, sedatives have a variety of possible side effects (dizziness, drowsiness, impaired coordination) and are potentially addictive—all of which make them poor candidates for long-term use.
Natural alternatives: Melatonin and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Melatonin is a hormone that normally rises at bedtime, promoting sleepiness. According to Dr. Murray, melatonin supplementation is particularly effective in treating insomnia in seniors, in whom low melatonin levels are quite common. 5-HTP is an amino acid that converts to serotonin, a brain chemical that helps initiate sleep. Supplementing with 5-HTP increases deep sleep without lengthening total sleep time, Dr. Murray said. Typical dosages: 3 mg of melatonin per day, taken at bedtime… plus 50 mg of 5-HTP per day, taken at bedtime. Caution: Melatonin may not be appropriate for patients with bleeding disorders… 5-HTP may not be appropriate for patients taking SSRI antidepressants.
Referrals to holistic physicians: American Holistic Health Association (www.ahha.org)… American College for Advancement in Medicine (www.acam.org)… American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (www.naturopathic.org).