Natural Alternatives to the Top 4 Prescribed Medications
October 2, 2023 at 8:02 a.m.
As a knowledgeable pharmacist, I am well-acquainted with the common inquiries people bring to their local pharmacist. Sometimes the questions revolve around seeking natural alternatives to conventional medications they are currently taking. For example, I take such-and-such, is there a natural equivalent?
Today, even though I’m not standing in the pharmacy or even wearing my white coat, I am delighted to assist you by providing insightful suggestions in this regard.
This will empower you to engage in informed discussions with your healthcare providers – it’s not intended to make you go and self-treat: many conditions below require physician supervision, lab testing and routine check-ups.
In this discussion, I will specifically address the top four medications frequently prescribed in the United States: lisinopril, levothyroxine, atorvastatin, and metformin. By exploring potential natural alternatives, you may be able to improve your blood work numbers, reduce the risk of side effects, and achieve better health status.
Here are the top four pharmaceuticals and some natural options:
1. Lisinopril (Zestril® or Prinivil®)
This is a prescription drug used to treat hypertension and heart failure. It’s an ACE inhibitor, we heard a lot about the ACE receptor during the pandemic, so you may recognize that word. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1987.
Alternatives to consider:
- Lifestyle modifications: Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, weight management, stress reduction, and limiting alcohol intake can support blood pressure management.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): Some studies suggest that CoQ10 supplementation may help lower blood pressure levels. A randomized controlled trial published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that CoQ10 supplementation significantly reduced blood pressure.
2. Levothyroxine (Synthroid®)
This is an oral medication commonly prescribed for the treatment of hypothyroidism, which is characterized by reduced thyroid hormone levels (i.e. an underactive thyroid gland).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved levothyroxine in the 1950s. Since then, it has become one of the most prescribed medications for thyroid hormone replacement therapy. In 2019, over 98 million prescriptions were dispensed!
This number is staggering and highlights the significant role levothyroxine plays in managing thyroid conditions. If undiagnosed, thyroid problems lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and faster aging!
- Some natural remedies to consider include selenium, ashwagandha, tyrosine, and botanical antioxidants.
(See information about Suzy Cohen’s free ebook and other resources to support thyroid health in the author bio at the end of the article.)
3. Atorvastatin (Lipitor®)
This is a popular statin medication used to lower cholesterol levels which is intended to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. It is the third most prescribed medication in the USA, as of 2020 with over 88 million prescriptions dispensed. It works by blocking an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, which plays a role in cholesterol production. This in turn helps reduce the risk of potentially fatal heart attacks and strokes.
But due to its mechanism of action, there are many side effects including those that cause muscle pain and weakness, hyperglycemia, and mood changes. As a result, customers at the pharmacy will often ask what else they can do (or take) instead of atorvastatin. Here are some options:
- Red yeast rice: Red yeast rice is a natural dietary supplement that contains compounds that act similarly to statin drugs meaning they block (inhibit) HMG-CoA reductase. This may help lower cholesterol levels. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that red yeast rice supplementation significantly reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. So instead of a statin, you could try red yeast rice with your doctor’s permission. (NOTE: because it is fermented and because of the nature of yeast, red yeast rice may not be suitable for people with IBS or other digestive issues.)
- Plant sterols and stanols (available as supplements) are another option to try for lowering cholesterol. These compounds found naturally in certain plant foods, have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. A paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that plant sterols and stanols significantly reduced LDL cholesterol levels.
- A very low carbohydrate diet along with exercise will often help a person get off statins. It’s almost foolproof! But it’s really, really hard for people to give up carbs and sugar. As a result, most people with high cholesterol opt for natural supplementation and statins.
4. Metformin (Glucophage®)
This medication was FDA-approved in 1994 for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Metformin works by improving the way your body uses insulin, improving insulin sensitivity. It doesn’t make more insulin. Also, the drug helps to reduce sugar production in the liver.
This is why it is a favorite amongst practitioners. Typically, side effects are mild such as a metallic taste, reduction in appetite, and GI-related side effects. But some people occasionally experience more serious side effects. For example, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition called lactic acidosis may occur. This occurs when there is an excessive rapid buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream, which can be caused by metformin’s impact on certain metabolic processes.
Although lactic acidosis is rare, it would be wise for me to tell you the symptoms just in case you don’t know them. That way you could seek immediate medical attention if they occur. Lactic acidosis is a side effect of many drugs, not just metformin.
Symptoms of lactic acidosis include: rapid breathing or shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; abdominal pain; weakness or fatigue; dizziness or lightheadedness; muscle pain or cramps; irregular or slow heartbeat.
It’s important to note that lactic acidosis is more likely to occur if a person has pre-existing kidney or liver problems, heart failure, severe infections, or alcohol consumption.
Metformin is considered a safe and effective medication for the management of type 2 diabetes, but if the dosage is too high there is a higher risk of lactic acidosis in cases. While this side effect is considered rare, I wanted you to know the symptoms just in case you or a loved one begins to experience them.
As for natural options, there are many. The main ones for treating diabetes would be diet and lifestyle. Losing weight and controlling carbohydrate intake is key. Fitness and exercise turn on life-extension genes that can help you naturally produce more insulin and improve insulin sensitivity. Aside from these suggestions, which control glucose metabolism, the following may help too.
- Berberine: Berberine, a compound found in certain plants, has been studied for its potential blood sugar-lowering effects. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine indicated that berberine supplementation significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels.
- Gymnema sylvestre: It reduces how much sugar you absorb through your intestines, thus lowering bloodstream levels. It also stimulates insulin production while simultaneously improving insulin sensitivity. Some studies suggest it may improve beta cell regeneration.
As you can see there are many options that Mother Nature has provided people with when it comes to helping treat conditions. Being a pharmacist who is passionate about natural medicine, I want to you to know that we can provide valuable information and guidance when it comes to prescription drugs. Pharmacists who are also trained in natural alternatives offer a unique perspective to address your questions and concerns.
There isn’t a pill for everything yet. So keep an open mind and next time you have your appointment with your physician and ask about natural remedies.
Suzy Cohen has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including ‘Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers,’ ‘Diabetes Without Drugs’ and a nationally syndicated column.
Some other resources from Suzy Cohen:
- She offers an ebook “Hypothyroidism: 5 Reasons You Don’t Get Well” more info HERE.
- She suggests: “Use my search box (at www.suzycohen.com) and type in ‘thyroid’ or ‘hypothyroidism’ and you can read many of the articles I’ve written.”
- Her book “Thyroid Healthy” is available on Amazon.
- A dietary supplement she developed and sells is Thyroid Script.
- She also offers GlucoScript MAX.