Update, May 2019: Antidepressant medication 100% saved my whole life, and I’m now on birth control again to address extremely painful and heavy periods. I still hate Tylenol though. Moral of the story: Do what you need to do to feel better – yes, many times, natural remedies and dietary changes can help address things, but sometimes it’s okay to use 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!
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.
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
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.
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.