Americans fill nearly 6 billion prescriptions a year, at a rate of more than 15 scripts per citizen. While the consequences of prescription drug abuse are well-documented—the opioid crisis still claims dozens of lives daily in the United States—even many non-opioid prescriptions, used as instructed, can still lead to long-term complications.
But studies show that short-term symptom relief does not need to come at the expense of long-term health. Here are natural alternatives to five highly prescribed drugs.
Natural alternative to ACE inhibitors
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, like lisinopril, are effective medications for high blood pressure. But they carry serious risk for some. They can lead to hyperkalemia—a factor in kidney and liver disease—or even cause angioedema in some patient populations, which is a frightening medical emergency.
For hypertension patients, there is a natural supplement that can compete with lisinopril and other ACE inhibitors, according to some research.
Numerous recent studies have found that hibiscus performs well for controlling hypertension, even when placed head-to-head against ACE inhibitors. A study in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that a daily dose of an aqueous extract of hibiscus reduced serum ACE levels in mild to moderate hypertension patients by 32%, compared with 30% in the lisinopril group. “These actions are possibly due to the presence of anthocyanins in the extract,” the authors wrote. While the results were intriguing, the double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial was small, only involving 78 patients.
Authors of another small study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology and Research looked at the antihypertensive effect of Hibiscus sabdariffa on stage 1 hypertension. A cohort of 46 patients participated, with no major difference in age and body mass index between control and case groups. The blood pressure of both groups was documented at baseline and at the end of the study. Those in the case group received 2 standard cups of sour tea every morning for 1 month.
Researchers found there was a “significant reduction in systolic blood pressure in both groups, but the mean reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure was significantly higher in the case group (P = 0.004 and P < 0.001, respectively).” The authors concluded that “herbal medicine could be a considerable choice with lesser adverse effects if used within appropriate amounts,” along with lifestyle and dietary modifications. However, further investigation is needed.
Hibiscus is widely available in supplement form, and is often brewed in tea, known as “sour tea.”
Natural alternative to metformin for polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common and uncomfortable hormonal condition that affects women of reproductive age. It is often treated with metformin, the popular diabetes medication that has been linked to vitamin B12 deficiencies and lactic acidosis, among other negative side effects.
To steer clear of those risks, consider treating with a natural alternative that has been shown equally effective.
A growing body of evidence suggests that certain types of inositol, a sugar derived from fruits and produce, can be just as effective against PCOS as metformin. Authors of a large literature review and analysis published in Gynecological Endocrinology reported finding “no differences...in the effect of [metformin] and [myo-inositol] on short-term hormone changes,” adding that “the better tolerability of [myo-inositol] makes it more acceptable for the recovery of androgenic and metabolic profile in PCOS women.”
Natural alternatives to sleeping pills
Ambien, or zolpidem tartrate, is one of the top 100 most-prescribed drugs in the United States. The popular sleep aid, however, carries the risk of producing a dangerously drowsy, “zombie-like” state. It also has a sprawling list of concerning drug interactions, making this prescription a non-starter for many with other comorbidities. There is also potential for dependency.
For better sleep, it may be worth trying natural alternatives first.
Though the best-known of the natural sleep aids, there isn’t a huge body of work around its specific value as a nightly sleep enhancement supplement. That is not to say there isn’t plenty of evidence it can help with sleep, however. According to the NIH, studies have demonstrated that melatonin can alleviate jet lag and improve outcomes in delayed sleep-wake phase disorder and childhood sleep disorders.
Melatonin is also believed to have anticancer properties—so even if it isn’t the sleep aid for you, there may be some potent benefit on the side.
Tart cherry juice
Tart cherry juice is another intriguing natural sleep supplement. A very small study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that patients who consumed about 2 cups of it during the day fell asleep 84 minutes faster than subjects in a placebo group. The authors wrote that the tart cherry juice provided numerous benefits: It “increased tryptophan availability, reduced inflammation, and may be partially responsible for improvement in insomnia.”
Natural alternative to steroidal anti-inflammatories
Steroids like prednisone are often prescribed for their proven anti-inflammatory capabilities, but they bring a host of well-known downsides, like extreme mood changes and countless physiological effects ranging from bloating to acne. Long-term use may also be associated with the development of some cancers.
Curcumin is a naturally occurring supplement that is the active ingredient in turmeric. It’s also considered by many to be an excellent anti-inflammatory.
There have been plenty of studies on the chemical’s medical potential, and a literature review of those studies published in Phytotherapy Research reported encouraging results. Curcumin significantly reduced key biomarkers for inflammation. Other studies have also reported potential for curcumin in use as part of combination therapy for certain cancers.
Natural alternatives to proton pump inhibitors
In both their over-the-counter and high-dose prescription forms, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are some of the most commonly sold drugs in the United States. But continual use can carry severe side effects: They have been linked to vitamin deficiencies, osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer.
PPIs are potent drugs, but they’re only labeled for 48 doses per 365 days. To avoid overusing PPIs, consider trying this natural supplement against heartburn and indigestion.
There are countless natural products that are recommended anecdotally for heartburn and acid indigestion symptoms, like peppermint oil and ginger, but for many of those options, there are equal indications that they may actually worsen symptoms.
Aloe vera is one natural substance that has research behind it—and no known risk of exacerbating symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that daily ingestion of 10mL of aloe vera syrup reduced the severity of eight main gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms like heartburn, nausea, and regurgitation.
Of course, for this and other listed conditions, the lack of study evidence for some natural alternatives does not necessarily mean they provide no benefit. There is further research to be done, and supplements that don’t improve symptoms on their own may be useful in combinations.
For example, Australian researchers recently published a study in Nutrition Research that assessed the efficacy of aloe vera in combination with other natural supplements speculated to alleviate heartburn, like peppermint oil, curcumin, and slippery elm. Their formulation delivered overwhelmingly positive results, and nearly half of participants who had been taking PPIs reported no longer needing them at the study’s conclusion.
To learn more, check out 7 clinically proven natural remedies at MDLinx.