Medicines, both herbal and pharmaceutical, are big business. These days, Americans spend over $220 billion per year on prescription drugs and close to $21 billion on herbs and other dietary supplements. When choosing the best remedy or preventive medicine, most of us simply want the safest, most effective option available, whether it’s food, herbs or a pharmaceutical drug. But the question of using herbs vs. drugs isn’t pointless. The facts about medicine aside, people often turn to supplements because they’re perceived as more natural than drugs, and can have fewer side effects and generally cost less.
Prescription Medications and Supplements Defined
According to the Mayo Clinic, almost 70 percent of adults take at least one prescription medication, and 20% of adult patients take five or more prescriptions. In addition to prescription drugs, 72 percent of Americans, or more than 180 million, use dietary supplements, according to Nutraceuticals World.
Prescription medication is a set of medicine or drugs that require a prescription from a physician or doctor before it can be dispensed. This usually follows a regular schedule that should be strictly followed. Prescription medications are intended to target a particular body part that is in pain or a particular illness.
The goal of prescription medication is to provide a cure if not to maintain and improve the current condition of the body. Most prescription medication can be refilled at the nearest pharmacy in your area.
Supplements are products taken orally that contains some ingredients like vitamins and amino acids. These are usually intended to supplement a dietary need. It can either enhance or improve one’s diet to reinforce the nutrient supply to your body. In comparison to prescription medication, supplements do not necessarily need a prescription from a doctor.
Supplements are readily available on the market and can be purchased without a prescription. Supplements are not considered medicines. They do not give a cure to any illness or disease. They are just taken to supplement or reinforce the need for nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
When Supplements Surpass Prescriptions
Polypharmacy is the term that describes the use of multiple drugs at the same time, and can be harmful or even fatal if not carefully managed. Medication side effects send approximately 1 million people to the emergency department every year, a number that continues to grow. Some estimates rank medication side effects as the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
For centuries, people have turned to natural remedies to fight common ailments such as colds, upset stomachs and toothaches. And the trend continues. Nearly 4 out of 10 adults have used some form of alternative remedy, according to a 2017 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Hands-On Help versus Pain Medication
Hydrocodone such as Vicodin for pain is highly addictive. Doctors wrote more than 134 million prescriptions for pain meds last year, for everything from dental surgeries to sports injuries.
Instead of prescription pain pills try some hands-on help. Pain can be debilitating, sure, but pain meds can be addictive — and ingredients such as acetaminophen may also damage your liver in the long term. Rather than relying on a pill that masks your aches, try to tackle the trigger by seeing a professional with a healing touch. “Drugs will never be the answer to solving pain because pills treat only the symptoms and not the underlying cause,” says Reggie Johnson, a chiropractor and acupuncturist who uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in his private practice.
Science supports the claims: People with lower back pain who received just four chiropractic treatment sessions in two weeks showed greater improvement in disability and pain compared to those receiving usual care, according to the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Probiotics versus Antibiotics
Probiotics, or live bacterial cultures, are considered to be “friendly” bacteria. So these organisms may be a good defense against the “bad” bacteria that can occasionally overwhelm a person’s intestinal tract, causing diarrhea.
Although antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, they can also disrupt the natural balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines. When good bacteria is eliminated, allowing other bacteria such as Clostridium difficile to grow out of control, attacking the lining of the intestine. The result: diarrhea.
In a recent review published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at nearly 13,000 men and women who were taking antibiotics and found that 44 percent of people who also took probiotics were less likely to develop diarrhea than those who didn’t.
Nutritional Psychiatry versus Antidepressants
A lack of essential nutrients is known to contribute to the onset of poor mental health in people suffering from anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. Nutritional psychiatry is a growing discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health disorders.
But nutritional approaches for these debilitating conditions are not widely accepted by mainstream medicine. Treatment options tend to be limited to official National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines which recommend talking therapies and antidepressants.
Antidepressant use has more than doubled in recent years. In the United States 63.3 million prescriptions were issued for antidepressants in 2016 at a cost of $269 million. This is an increase of 4.2 million on the number of items prescribed in 2015 and more than double than the 31 million issued in 2007.
The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognized by nutritionists working in the complementary health sector. However, psychiatrists are only now becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health.