Ditch it: Medication

A few readers were curious about my life without medications and pharmaceuticals, so I’m devoting this week’s post to how I managed to ditch the meds.  Granted, I was not on very many.  As far as prescriptions go, I was only on the birth control pill.  I took occasional heartburn pills and antacids.  Sometimes I took painkillers for headaches or menstrual cramps.  I used to treat a cold with a regimen of DayQuil and NyQuil.  I wasn’t ever on a lot of medications though.  An easy thing to ditch once I committed to it.  In fact, the last medication I took (besides birth control) was a round of antibiotics for a double ear infection last summer – and had I known better, I would have tried to self treat that before going to the doctor!

Pain medication

Your major pain meds are Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Midol), Acetaminophen (Tylenol), and Naproxen (Aleve).  There’s also good ole’ fashioned aspirin.  Painkillers work by slowing or stopping the production of prostaglandin by your nerve cells.  Prostaglandin is produced when cells are injured or damaged, and then the nervous system transmits the information (“ouch, something is wrong”) to the brain, interpreted as pain where the damage is located.  So a pain medication isn’t actually helping anything get better, it is just dulling the communication of your cells to the brain so that your brain isn’t interpreting the pain.

Why don’t I take pain meds? I am not comfortable routinely taking something that interrupts the natural order of my body.  This is not to say that I would never take a pain medication (for instance, if I needed surgery or was seriously injured), but I don’t use it for day to day aches and pains like headaches, joint pain, backaches, etc.

Also, Tylenol/Acetaminophen damages the liver and depletes glutathione.  Glutathione is the miracle molecule that your own body produces just for you, and  it helps protect against chronic illness.  Glutathione deficiencies are found in patients with fatigue, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism, autoimmune disorders, Parkinson’s, arthritis, asthma, liver disease, and more.  It’s important.  And it’s easily messed with; poor diet, medications (like Tylenol), stress, trauma, toxins (from food and pollution), and radiation all deplete glutathione from your body, leaving you more at risk of developing chronic illness.  Glutathione also protects your nerve cells from mercury and other heavy metal toxicity.

What do I do instead of pain meds? There are natural pain relievers out there!

  • Antioxidant rich foods destroy free radicals that cause digestive inflammation – so they can help relieve or prevent pain in the digestive organs
  • Bromelain is an extract from the pineapple and reduces cramping and inflammation due to increased circulation – you can get benefits from eating pineapple or taking a bromelain supplement
  • Magnesium helps relieve and prevent cramps
  • Garlic can be used for many pain relief needs, including joint pain, tooth pain, and back pain
  • Clove oil will relieve pain from toothaches
  • Arnica, in a liniment or ointment, reduces swelling and pain from strains and bruises
  • Curcumin, from the turmeric root, is medicinally used to reduce inflammation
  • Staying hydrated helps to avoid cramps and headaches
  • Switching to a menstrual cup took away 99.99% of my menstrual cramps
  • Exercise helps relieve pain as well (yay endorphins!)

What about a fever?

This may surprise you, but fevers are generally a GOOD SIGN.  A fever means your body is fighting an infection.  Fever is a natural immune response, and by suppressing it with fever reducers you can actually prolong illness because your body isn’t able to do its job properly.

As long as you or your child is acting normally, staying hydrated, urinating regularly, and relatively comfortable, a fever is fine to be left on its own.

You should seek medical attention if a child has a fever of over 104.  I’m not a doctor, so definitely trust your gut if it seems like something is really wrong.

If you do feel the need to slow a fever, try a cool bath or the “wet sock” treatment.  After a warm bath or foot soak for at least ten minutes, put on a pair of thin, cotton socks that have been soaked in cold water and wrung out.  Cover the cold, wet socks with warm, wool socks and then rest, either sleeping or just resting and reading or watching TV, etc. I haven’t personally tried this treatment but apparently it works for migraines, ear infections, strep throat, and all things upper respiratory.

Digestive medication

I used to get bad heartburn.  Like, really bad.  It was so bad, it radiated into my face and felt like something was tearing through the hollows of my cheeks.  I have no idea why or how heartburn can do that, but it did.  Fried food, especially when followed by dairy products, caused it to flare up.  Not every fried food, but any fried food.  Now, cutting dairy and most fried foods from my diet has helped a lot.  In fact, I’ve gotten heartburn maybe once or twice in the past six months to a year.  So I tossed my bottle of antacid liquid and the off-brand Zantac pills, since I no longer need the medication.

Instead of heartburn medication, try…

  • Apple cider vinegar – one tablespoon in water before a meal or as needed for heartburn symptoms.  A lot of the time, heartburn and acid reflux is caused by too little stomach acid, not too much.  Raw ACV (with the mother, check out Bragg’s brand) mimics the acidity of stomach acid and helps break down the food
  • Avoiding trigger foods – for me, cutting dairy and avoiding fried foods has gone a long way toward saying farewell to heartburn
  • Papaya enzymes are a natural alternative to antacids like Tums

Cold medications

Ah, the cold and cough aisle of the pharmacy, how I do not miss you.  Guess what’s in DayQuil and NyQuil? Yep, acetaminophen.  They are basically Tylenol + some cough suppressant and decongestants.  Instead of treating with pills or syrups, try the following:

  • Master tonic – this stuff will cure what ails you, cough, cold, flu, whatever.  I haven’t been sick in a year because I take it at the first sign of a tickle in my throat.  Chop by hand or in a food processor garlic, onions, horseradish root, ginger root, and hot peppers.  Put it all in a jar.  Fill it with raw apple cider vinegar.  Put a lid on.  Keep it in a cool, dark place (cabinet is good), shake daily, and strain the liquid after two weeks.  Keep this “magic garlic juice” in the fridge.  You can also eat the veggies but I have stuck to just downing a tablespoon of the tonic as needed, twice daily when I feel like something’s coming on.  You can take it as a daily preventive but I just take it when I think sickness is trying to get in.  I am telling you, garlic is amazing.
  • Raw honey for a cough (or boil a lemon cut into halves, squeeze the juice out, add glycerin in a 1:1 ratio with the lemon juice, and then add raw honey to make a cough syrup)
  • Sniff peppermint essential oil to relieve a stuffy nose
  • Elderberry syrup is another miracle cure that super boosts the immune system and will help you kick a cold, flu, or cough fast.  You can make your own or buy it pre-made.

Birth control

This is the big one.  I went on the pill in 2006.  During my first experience trying to de-toxify the food I was eating, I switched to natural and hormone-free meats and felt like maybe I should also stop pumping more artificial hormones into my body.  So I stopped the pill for a few months in 2010.  However, my cycles were irregular and I got tired of freaking out that I was pregnant every month so I went back on for the convenience of it.  The next time I decided to go off, the decision stuck.  Here are some reasons I stopped taking hormonal birth control:

  • It’s artificial hormones, which disrupt your natural hormone balance
  • They come with a chance of blood clot, embolism, stroke, cardiac issues, and other high-risk side effects
  • They affect the gut, upsetting the balance of gut flora and potentially leading to leaky gut syndrome
  • Cervical cancer risk increases while on oral contraceptives and decreases when contraceptives are stopped
  • The pill comes with an increased risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer
  • On and on and on… there is a lot of info about the risks that come with hormonal contraceptives, including the pill, the shot, the ring, and anything else I missed

So what’s a girl to do when she doesn’t want to get pregnant?

First of all, there’s condoms.  Latex or non-latex, but you want one without spermicide because the spermicide Nonoxynol 9 has actually been shown to increase rates of transmission of certain STIs.  Seems counter-intuitive to me.  There are also diaphragms and sponges and other stuff I don’t know much about because I haven’t used them.

My preferred method of birth control is the Fertility Awareness Method.  FAM requires charting your fertility signs, including basal body temperature (BBT – your body temperature upon waking), cervical position (that sucker moves around!), and cervical fluid (ranging from a sticky paste-like consistency to a stretchy egg-white consistency).  The simple fact is that there’s a very small window in your menstrual cycle during which you can conceive and become pregnant.  Fertility Awareness allows you to identify that time window and either avoid pregnancy (by abstaining or using a barrier method) or achieve pregnancy.  I recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility if you are interested in this method.

If you are coming off the pill, it’s good to take a couple months to allow your cycles to regulate before you rely on FAM for birth control.  I took advantage of a change in relationship status several months ago to devote some me-time to getting to know my body.  Remember when irregular cycles freaked me out, back when I first tried going off the pill? That’s because I don’t ovulate until around day 24, and my luteal phase is only 10 days, making a 34 day cycle.  On the pill, I had a forced 28 day cycle.  That’s almost an extra week of me thinking my period was late every cycle… had I only known then what I know now!  Whenever it matters again in the future, I’ll be able to avoid pregnancy naturally without medication, which makes me a very happy lady.

It just feels better to trust my body on this stuff, instead of pumping it full of pharmaceuticals because I don’t know how to make it work naturally.  The more we understand our bodies, in my opinion, the better we do to take care of them.

Questions?  Any questions about what I’ve written here, or is there anything I’ve missed?  Oh, allergies… eat raw LOCAL honey.

23 thoughts on “Ditch it: Medication

  1. Nicola B says:

    Interesting post…I’ve never really been a fan of taking painkillers..partly because I have been quite lucky in never having really bad period pain/headaches etc, and thus not ever getting in the habit of taking them. If I have a headache, it is usually tension or dehydration related, so I try and treat the cause.

    I’ve taken antibiotics in the past year- I try and resist going to the doctor as long as possible, and to rest etc and let body do its thing and heal, but sometimes it does not work…I am trying to be generally more healthy though, in order to give my body the best chance of fighting things off.

    As for colds, honey and lemon are my favourite things to take for them…other than that, I just wait for them to go and sleep as much as possible.

    FAM sounds interesting…not sure that I am quite ready to try that, but it does appeal, so I will keep it in mind!

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks for reading! I really like FAM because it has allowed me to get to know my body better, and I’m pretty into that🙂 it’s not for everyone but it’s definitely an option.

  2. Eimear says:

    This is really interesting. I think I’m with you an awful lot on decreasing the dependency we have on pharmaceuticals, although luckily I’m quite healthy anyway so I’d like to see how I’d cope should I ever need long term medication.

    My brother works with a man by the name of Patrick Halford and he reckons the only thing the body cannot fight off by itself is a virus. I assume this is why so many people died from common cold and flu before pharmaceuticals came around.

    I hope you don’t mind but may I also point out that one cannot cure a cold, only treat the symptoms. We get so many people into the pharmacy asking us for something to cure their cold and would start arguing when I tell them medication will only treat the symptoms. They’re convinced that since they feel better after a couple of days, it’s the medication doing its job when really the body has just fought hard.

    • Caitlin says:

      I believe 100% in our bodies ability to heal themselves. And I help my body along with the right stuff at appropriate times (proper food, loads of garlic which is a natural antiviral, antibiotic, and antifungal). I pretty much take garlic for everything and it seems to help my body clear anything.

      I think a lot of people died of common illnesses “back in the day” because there weren’t high standards for sanitation and nutrition. Medical advances absolutely helped with treatment but I believe that soap did too🙂

  3. cvheiser says:

    Hey! I have ditched most meds also. My big one was also birth control, for many of the same reasons you did. I am using this. It is expensive but it will help when we want to get prego again and it was worth it for the conveniences of not having to chart myself. Between this and FAM I feel very confident. (thought I would post here also in case the Lady Comp link could help someone else) http://www.amazon.com/VE-Valley-Electronics-GmbH-Germany-LCF1001/dp/B000NOKX4Q

  4. rebekkastarfish says:

    Thank you so much for reacting to your curious readers and sharing your insights! If you ever got diabetes or such, would you take the insulin shots or try to eat even more carefully? Would that even be possible? Very interesting topic, I guess a lot of health issues could be treated by eating the right things! (But for now I prefer taking pills over eating pieces of a pig’s thyroid gland.) For migraine-like headaches, before resorting to painkillers I sometimes try the head tie method … basically meaning you take a scarf/broad stripe of cloth and tie it around your head as tightly as possible. This counterpressure sometimes brings a bit of relief.
    And it’s amazing how much detailed information the body is actually sending about what’s wrong, if one learns to listen to it, it is possible e.g. to learn feeling the difference between headaches caused by dehydration and other headaches (because of glaring sunlight or extreme cold, or just plain old migraine, yuck), which means that by doing the right thing the intake of pain killers can be reduced to really serious occasions. And the stomach can really tell you sometimes which food is causing the ache, sickness, or heartburn. I tend to joke I have taste buds inside my tummy and some people just don’t believe how much internal information I really catch, ignorant folks😀
    Sadly when I was in middle school I started getting nasty headaches from the chemical evaporations in the class rooms (carpets, glue, varnish, wall paint …) and couldn’t escape them at all, so I had to take tons and tons of aspirin in order not to miss too many lessons … my blood clotting was really, really bad after these years and gave me a docor-scaring nose bleed after a (pretty useless) corrective surgery. One more reason to stay away from aspirin! Nowadays I hate going into gyms because most of the time I still have to take Ibuprofen if I want to make it through just the one hour of dance class or so while inhaling the plastic vapours … does anyone here have any advise on that, besides just staying away from 90% of all public buildings? (Btw, the last doctor I went to decided to ignore my complaints about regular headaches which come out of the blue. Not. one. freaking. word. My hope is on you now, internet.)
    I’m also thinking about getting off the pill, but I really fear the cramps to keep me from university stuff. Do you have any theories how/why the cup worked for you on that? If the lady doctor won’t find a curable reason for these brutal days I might give it a try, it might be some well invested money! And sorry for this insanely long comment.

    • Caitlin says:

      I welcome insanely long comments, let me see if I can hit all your points🙂

      I’ll start at the bottom – I think the cup helped with the cramps because I wasn’t putting chemicals into my body via tampons and pads. There’s weird stuff in there.

      With regard to your headaches from public places filled with plastic vapors, I do not have any suggestions unfortunately😦 I would recommend you see a naturopath or holistic doctor who will listen to you about those headaches, too. They will have better ideas than little old me on the internet.

      If I had diabetes I would attempt to control with diet and only turn to drugs if necessary. But I believe that diabetes is controllable and even reversible with diet. You just have to love your body more than the foods making you sick, which can be really really hard.

      Thanks for sharing the tip about the scarf around your head, that’s something I’ll try next time I get a headache. And that’s so cool that you are so in tune with your body to know which food specifically your stomach is angry about!

  5. brosselit says:

    I’m just getting caught up, after taking my break, and I have to tell you that I love all of your crunchy stuff lately!

    My daughter was on 6 medications for severe GERD. My husband and I wanted to lose weight, so we went on a low glycemic diet. We fed Beanie the same things we ate, and she was able to go off of all her meds! Higher glycemic foods require more stomach acid to digest (proteins and fats, especially), so they work as natural antacids. She gets symptoms when people give her lots of sugar and yucky stuff.

    As far as monthly cramps, I used to get them horribly, until I started eating healthier. I ate a lot of garbage the past week (we were staying with various relatives), and I found myself popping ibuprophen again.

    • Caitlin says:

      I am so glad you’re loving the crunch!!

      I seriously believe that diet is the key to a healthy life. You cannot out-exercise or out-supplement or out-medicate a poor diet. Good for you for listening to your body and sticking to a good diet (most of the time… but I am not perfect either! #cupcakes)

  6. minimalistbride says:

    I’ve never been a fan of medication. Birth control has always been an issue for me. The pill made me anxious and depressed, and after a year of depo shots my body weight increased 15%. I went off birth control completely for 2 years and discovered that my cycle is ridiculously regular and I like the predictability of my PMS symptoms etc. After talking to my doctor (I see a DO rather than an MD, best decision ever) I decided to have an IUD inserted and I love it. They have 2 types, one is non hormonal copper (paragard) and the other is hormonal (mirena) which only releases a fraction of the hormones and it stays localized in the uterus rather than affecting the whole body. I had the mirena inserted in a quick outpatient procedure and my cycle is exactly the same just with a much lighter period.

    Also wanted to add the migrastick for headaches and migraines. It’s basically concentrated menthol that you roll onto your temples to relieve pain. And it smells good!

    Last, if anyone suffers from insomnia, my fiancé and I combat it with turning off all artificial light and relaxing by candle light an hour before bed, then on especially hard nights a cocktail of 5-HTP, magnesium, and catnip. It’s very effective. The magnesium is a muscle relaxant, the 5-HTP helps with quality sleep, and the catnip can make you fall asleep quickly without even noticing, kind of like anasthesia!

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks for the tips on headache and insomnia!! I personally am not comfortable with an IUD but I know many people benefit from them. Glad you were able to get off the pill and the shots!

  7. livingsimplyfree says:

    Caitlin, I love where you went with this. I never take over-the-counter stuff but do have to take one prescribed medication which I want to quit, just trying to figure out what to do instead. Tylenol was used so regularly in nursing homes that the elderly were having liver failure.. Scary stuff. I also never gave my children medications and their immune systems work well, rarely do they ever get any of the stuff going around. If I do get a cold, I turn to hot lemon and honey, works every time. I even used it when my son passed the H1N1 (swine flu) to me.. He did get a script as he needed to the doctor to sign a paper for work, I used honey and lemon. I was better much faster than he was.

    One thing you left out about birth control pills, is that we excrete these into the water system which can’t be removed from the public water systems. It affects the fish and we drink it. I have been hearing that it is affecting the sperm of men which is resulting in less boys being born. Scary stuff.

    • Caitlin says:

      That is something to look into about the sperm and boys being born!! Scary, omg. I hadn’t heard that. More research to be done for sure.

      I also had H1N1, no flu shot, and I got over it with a couple days in bed, seriously. You know how I feel about shots😛 I love the honey + lemon for illness, it seriously makes me feel so much better and acts as a great cough syrup.

      • livingsimplyfree says:

        Lemon and honey is a miracle cure. Honey is the one thing I can’t give up to be vegan completely.

        I never get flu shots, I don’t want any more poison entering my body. With the H1N1, I rested a lot and drank my honey and lemon. My son paid $80 forTamiflu and suffered for a couple of weeks. Later we heard that Tamiflu really didn’t help anyone. Big pharma made quite a profit on that one.

      • Caitlin says:

        Yeah… big pharma sucks. 😦 Tamiflu is a big load of nonsense.

        Honestly, I think honey is a miracle food and as long as you thank the bees you’re good.🙂

      • livingsimplyfree says:

        Funny you should mention thanking the bees. This morning I went out to the garden to find so many bees on the flowers of the pumpkin plants they were nearly tripping over each other. A bee would land on a flower only to find it already occupied and fly off to find another (there are plenty). I sat there watching them for quite a while, before I left I thanked them for being there.

      • Caitlin says:

        I am so glad there are still bees. They are dying off, which is going to devastate the rest of the Earth, and no one seems to notice.

  8. di says:

    Herbal products are low-dose toxins. Your body knows best how to heal itself. Just supply it with whole grains, veges and fruits.

  9. rebekkastarfish says:

    I just had to re-read this post after I went off the pill some weeks ago😀 Thanks again for the inspiration. When I went to see the doctor because of these evil cramps I was told it’s most likely endeometriosis (also the reason it didn’t go away at all after switching to eco-cotton pads …) and that I should take a different pill to keep me from having a cycle at all. Needless to say my body wasn’t happy. After two weeks of stomach aches and mad crying at night I finally got the courage to stop this self-destructing behaviour. Now I’m stuck with the cramps and have to learn charting … lol. I guess I’ll order a used copy of the book you recommend

    • Caitlin says:

      It’s a really good book🙂 I also recommend a warm bath with epsom salts and lavender for relaxing away cramps. Good luck!! If you have a smartphone there are a lot of good charting apps.

  10. EcoCatLady says:

    Interesting post that I have mixed feelings about. While I totally agree that Americans have a cavalier attitude toward medication, I also think that there are situations where it absolutely saves lives.

    As a child I suffered through repeated strep infections, and spent nearly a solid year on antibiotics. Only after they cultured the entire school did they discover that my best friend was a carrier. She wasn’t thrilled about having to take penicillin when she didn’t seem sick, but after that I stopped getting strep. I have very mixed feelings about the whole incident. On the one hand, I think it’s quite likely that without the antibiotics, the infections would have progressed to scarlet fever and I would have been roadkill on the highway of life. On the other hand, I wonder what damage the prolonged exposure to antibiotics did to my gut, and whether or not that has something to do with the severe food allergies that I now have.

    I have similar mixed feelings about vaccines. On the one hand, I’m not wild about shots, or the idea of whatever else is in there being injected into me. On the other hand, I’m really glad that I don’t have to worry about things like polio, small pox, measles, mumps, tetanus, etc.

    And then there’s CatMan (my better half) who suffers from a neurological condition that isn’t well understood. He was near suicide from the constant excruciating pain before they figured out a combination of off-label uses of epilepsy drugs and anti-depressants which allow him to function. The drugs literally gave him his life back.

    I have bad migraine headaches. Through diet, supplements and avoiding estrogen mimicking chemicals I got them down from several headaches per month to several per year, but I still occasionally get them. I don’t take the migraine medicines because in general they make me feel worse. I do, however take either ibuprofen or Tylenol with green tea at the onset of a headache because if I can nip it in the bud it saves a week of suffering. And I am on the pill – but the birth control aspect of it is secondary. I’m mostly on it because I used to suffer from debilitating cramps – the doctors said I had either fibroids or endometriosis, and the two choices were birth control pills or surgery. Honestly, birth control pills seemed like a better option than surgery. And since I’ve had anaphylaxis 4 times, I keep an epi-pen handy and take antihistamines if I have to eat something I didn’t prepare myself – just in case.

    So I dunno. I guess when it comes right down to it I look at medications as a lesser of evils sort of a thing. I think the first step should always be diet, environment and other non-medical interventions. But I do believe there is a time and a place for medication. As with anything else, the technology itself is not good or bad, it’s the way we use it.

    Sorry for the long comment… didn’t mean to rant, I just have mixed feelings.🙂

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