Aggressiveness. Hallucinations. Confusion. Stomach bleeding...
Even spoken in the dulcet tones of TV drug hucksters, side effects sound scary. Or at least they should. "Anytime you take a drug, whether it's prescription or over-the-counter, you're accepting a certain amount of risk," says Sandra Kweder, M.D., deputy director of the office of new drugs at the FDA's center for drug evaluation and research. "If you take it regularly, that risk only goes up."
It's not just side effects you should be wary of. Many meds are costly and often aren't as effective as drug-free strategies. "Taking something doesn't always make you as healthy as doing something can," says John Abramson, M.D., a lecturer in health policy at Harvard medical school and the author of Overdosed America. "It's better to try a lifestyle modification first. That way you're actually trying to achieve better health, not just masking symptoms with drugs."
So we rolled up our sleeves and found eight popular medications that our experts say can be most readily dumped in favor of DIY strategies. Read on for a healthier, drug-free you.
Instead of cough syrup, try a dose of honey
Think about how long it takes honey to travel down the inside of a plastic bear squeeze bottle, out its head, and onto your toast. You can check your e-mail, Facebook, and the Dow while waiting. Well, that same thick, viscous quality makes honey a perfect substitute for cough syrup. Both do essentially the same thing--coat the throat, relieving irritation.
In fact, a recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that a spoonful of honey was better than dextromethorphan (DM), the active ingredient in Robitussin DM and other cough suppressants, at halting hacking in children. Honey should work equally well in adults, says study author Ian Paul, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State University. The best part: You won't feel dizzy or light-headed--one of the side effects of taking DM.
Try buckwheat honey, a darker variety that contains more antioxidants than lighter shades do. (Antioxidants may help prevent heart disease and cancer, scientists believe.) Take 2 teaspoons when you want to quiet your cough--at night or before a meeting, for example--but don't try to squelch the cough altogether. Productive daytime coughing can help loosen and move mucus out of your lungs.
Instead of NSAIDs or acetaminophen, the warrior pose
What's the first thing you do when your back starts hurting? You probably stretch and twist your torso in an instinctive attempt to work out the kinks you're feeling. Your body is onto something: In a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a therapeutic yoga technique known as viniyoga reduced peoples' chronic back pain enough for them to decrease or even eliminate pain medications. And in so doing, they spared themselves the potential liver or gastrointestinal damage that can result from long-term reliance on NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and aspirin) or acetaminophen. After all, chronic back pain can persist for 3 months or longer after an acute episode, possibly leading sufferers to stay on these medicines longer than the labels recommend.