Why Try Natural?
by Carla Atherton, Director of The Healthy Family Formula
Medications have become the common method of choice to deal with health complaints, aches, and pains. Millions of women are on some sort of antidepressant, sleep aide, or pain medication, and Ritalin has become a household word for our kids. You would have to be living under a rock to not know what Ritalin or Prozac are. There are some instances where medications are helpful, or are a temporary method of acute care, or rarely, are needed more long-term to address some kind of malfunction or problem that cannot be addressed by diet and lifestyle.
But it is very important to be sure that when you use medications you need to do your homework and assess whether that medication is warranted as no medication, no matter how benign it seems, comes at no cost at all. Cough syrups, Tylenol, inhalers, and antihistamines are all deemed safe for children, and women are prescribed antidepressants and pain medications every day, but if you read the ingredient lists or consider the side-effects and truly assess whether a cough suppressant or cold medication is warranted, it may found that the risks outweigh the benefits and that the body simply needs the time and right tools to heal.
With regards to children’s healthcare, and the healthcare of anyone in our western population, for that matter, administering medications for each symptom or discomfort or dis-ease state has become the standard of care. The use of medications has been seen to manage and sometimes cure our broken bodies and make life more comfortable. People who are able to afford medications are even being envied by those who cannot afford or do not have access to the drugs they believe will help them.
In this day and age, with the rise in the prevalence of ADHD, autism, autoimmunity, infection, sleep disorders, mood disorders, and Type 2 Diabetes in our youth, we would be hard-pressed to find many children who have not been on or is not currently regularly taking medication for some condition or another.
Granted, there are people who need certain medications as their challenges go beyond their body’s natural ability to heal due to irreversible damage or accidents or challenges from birth. And many people may not even realize how much they rely on medications or that medication use may affect their families since they only take Tylenol for fevers and ibuprofen for headaches. However, a medication is a medication, and no medication, even the ones with syrup in them to make them taste good and a photo of a sick child on the package, comes at no cost.
A Legacy of Pain Mismanagement
Allow me to use a personal example. Recently, my grandmother had a very long 3-month ordeal in the hospital. To make a long story short, in order to get her out alive and intact, we intervened on every level of care, including that of the medications she was being administered.
It was a life-changing event for her as she went into the hospital from her assisted living apartment to coming out into a nursing home. But it was not all roses when she was living on her own, either. She was on a laundry list of medications no one was really monitoring while she lived away from family, including daily narcotics and other medications that were dangerous for her considering her personal weaknesses, conditions, lifestyle and nutrition choices, genetics, and medication interactions. And some of those medications were just plain unnecessary. When we questioned this during her stay in the hospital, many of the doctors we saw shrugged and said that she was 91, what did we expect? Pain management was the ultimate goal because she wouldn’t live much longer, anyway.
But the real kicker was that her pain was NOT managed in any way. With her 2-page long list of medications, nothing was helping with her excruciating knee pain (which turned out to have been amplified by the opiates) that caused her to become less and less mobile throughout the months that led up to this cascade of health decline:
…using a wheelchair to get everywhere that led to
…sitting too much that led to
…weakness and falls and infection and congenital heart failure
…do you see what happened there?
It could have led to death, which it fortunately did not.
Throwing medications at the onset of every discomfort can teach people to reach for the seemingly quick fix, to cover up dysfunction, and to ignore root causes but does not always serve us or our families in the end.
The decision to use medications must be weighted carefully and seriously by asking questions such as:
Are there other ways to manage the pain or disease that do not cause other side effects or damage organs?
What is pain, and is the person in question feeling discomfort or is it true pain? Sometimes people are uncomfortable, but it does not mean that medication needs to be used every time. Sometimes the body is signalling the need for rest, for sleep, for touch, for nutrients, or for you to stop using the part of the body that is injured so it can heal.
Methods such as massage, physiotherapy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and nutritional adjustments and basic supplements can often be used in lieu of medications and most often can alleviate the root cause of the pain or discomfort rather than mask the symptoms.
When beginning to look at pain and fever as the body doing its job and giving signals as it should do, we can then stop, look at all of the pieces of the puzzle, listen, and respond appropriately with the tools that we have.
How Do “Benign” Medications Such as Tylenol Harm Your Child?
My grandmother’s story is all too common. Our grandparents cry out for help, our children lay on couches or in beds thermometer sticking out of their mouths, pale or flushed, sometimes holding their heads in pain or burning up with fever. We want it to stop. We want to fix them. We don’t want our loved ones to be in pain. Our instincts as caregivers is to want to take that pain or discomfort away, but is that always the best idea, and are our methods always the best ones to employ?
To illustrate the problems that over-medication can cause, we can look at Children’s Tylenol, a seemingly benign yet exceedingly common medication used for children for common discomforts such as pain and fever.
First, it is helpful to illustrate the reasons why “benign” medications are not, ever, “benign.”
- Numbing the pain is not always good. Sometimes we need to feel what is happening in the body so we can identify the type, root, source, and cause of the discomfort. You can then ask the questions: What is it? AND Why is it happening? What is my body trying to tell me? You learn to listen to your body and can communicate your findings, and then you can use the appropriate course of action to address the cause.
- Medicating for pain interferes with the body’s natural immune response, and because of its suppressive nature, dumbs down the body’s own natural intelligence. With a confused immune system, your body can actually mount a more severe attack on the source of the discomfort requiring more medication, or it can forget how to mount an attack at all the next time. It is imperative to modulate a healthy immune system as it is what will protect you and your children from infection and toxicity (which requires an active, appropriately responsive immune system) and prevent the onset of autoimmunity (an inappropriately overactive immune system that attacks its own tissues thinking they are foreign invaders).
- Every medication depletes the body of essential nutrients. Tylenol (acetaminophen), in particular, depletes the antioxidants Coenzyme Q10 (which is essential for heart, oral, and stomach health) and glutathione (which is the master antioxidant) (Walsh, Nutrient Power). Other medications can deplete minerals and B vitamins (Walsh, Nutrient Power). Why is this important? If you think about oxidation, think about an apple rotting or aging. Oxidation is basically your internal apple turning brown. Antioxidants protect the body from this aging process, detoxify, and fend off free-radicals which damage proteins and enzymes and genetic material.
- Even “benign” medications can cause organ damage, it has been proven that Tylenol use in large amounts is toxic to the liver, in particular, and that its use has been linked to increased rates in common chronic conditions in children such as asthma. The Healthy Home Economist reports that:
A major study of over 20,000 children suggests that giving this popular medicine even as infrequently as once per year could have a permanent, life-threatening health effect.
Researchers at the University of A Coruna in Spain asked the parents of 10,371 children ages 6-7 and 10,372 adolescents aged 13-14 whether their children had asthma and how often they had been given acetaminophen within the previous year and when they were babies. The children in the younger age group who had received the medicine only once per year were at 70% greater risk for asthma while those receiving Tylenol once a month or more were shockingly 540% more likely to have asthma. The study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, also found that children who had even a single dose of Tylenol before their first birthday had a 60% risk of developing asthma.
In the older age group of 13 and 14 year-olds, asthma was 40 percent more likely if they had taken acetaminophen within the previous 12 months. The young teenagers were 250% more at risk if they took it once a month. The researchers speculated that Tylenol, called paracetamol in the UK, may reduce a potent antioxidant called glutathione in the lungs and blood, which results in damage to the lung tissue. Glutathione is produced by the body (it is a combination of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine and glutamine) and is referred to as the “mother” of all antioxidants by Dr. Mark Hyman MD. (http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/tylenol-just-once-a-month-raises-a-childs-asthma-risk-540/)
Damage caused by Tylenol is more likely to occur if there is a prolonged use and we are still awaiting randomized clinical trials to make the definitive links, but given the fact that children’s bodies are so sensitive and are still developing, extreme caution should be employed with young people, in particular, or those with chronic pain or health conditions — even the occasional but consistent use should be carefully considered. Add up all of the fevers, aches, pains, and bumps a child can experience throughout the year, and you may be surprised about how many opportunities there are to use medications.
- Tylenol is chock full of unhealthy ingredients. If you have become a label reader (which I highly encourage you do), just have a look at the “other ingredients” from a bottle of Children’s Liquid Tylenol. Anhydrous citric acid, Butyl paraben, F, D, & C red dye # 40, flavors, glycerin, high fructose corn syrup, microcrystalline cellulose, carboxymethylo sodium, propylene glycol, purified water, sodium benzoate, sorbitol, sucralose, and xanthan gum.
A word about a couple of these ingredients:
Parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they disrupt the endocrine (hormone) system and are shown to cause cancer because of their detrimental effect on the immune system. The National Institute of Environmental Sciences reports that:
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. (https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/)
Food dyes are a common allergen for children, and many children who have been labeled ADHD or have brain fog, learning difficulties, and mood and behavior problems have been discovered to have food dye or sugar allergies. There are thousands of documented cases where a child was taken off of food dyes, and their whole life changed – they got along with siblings, had a better time of learning, were invited to birthday parties, again, were able to be in social situations. Imagine the impact that a simple discovery like this can have on a child’s entire experience in this life. An article in Scientific American reports that:
A 2012 meta-analysis of studies co-authored by [Joel] Nigg concluded that color additives have an effect on hyperactive behavior in children, with a small subset showing more extreme behavior than others. He also concluded that further research was needed because so many of the studies looked at only small numbers of people or could not draw conclusions about the general population. Studies have also shown removing foods containing artificial dyes via restriction diets can successfully decrease hyperactivity but Nigg says this is likely because removing processed foods in general is healthier and results in better behavioral outcomes for children with ADHD. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-artificial-food-coloring-contribute-to-adhd-in-children/)
High fructose corn syrup is a cheap, highly processed sugar that is poison for the body and harmful to the brain. Eating this “food” on a regular basis is detrimental to your health and can cause a myriad of health problems including Type 2 Diabetes, brain degeneration, behavioral problems, mood problems, learning disabilities, the list goes on and on. Being that it is a highly processed sugar, it also suppresses the immune system. Therefore, when it is added to a medication that is intended to alleviate a symptom caused by a weakened immune system, the sugar actually weakens the immune system further. This ingredient is also found in thousands of “food” products that litter our super market shelves.
The rest of the ingredients in Children’s Tylenol are equally harmful, except, perhaps, the water.
A comprehensively researched paper entitled “Evidence that Increased Acetaminophen use in Genetically Vulnerable Children Appears to be a Major Cause of the Epidemics of Autism, Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity, and Asthma” written by Dr. William Shaw deeply explores Tylenol use in children and the detrimental effects it can have on health and powerfully concludes that:
Since all children may be at risk from asthma, Dr. McBride is in effect saying that acetaminophen is contraindicated for the treatment of any children. Although the case for acetaminophen being a cause of autism and attention deficit with hyperactivity may not be as strong as the case for asthma, the severe asthma risk combined with the risks of autism and attention deficit with hyperactivity are so severe that we as a society should maintain a degree of caution with acetaminophen given the proven overall toxicity due to accidental overdose of the drug, and the availability of ibuprofen or abstaining from treatment as alternatives. A large-scale trial of acetaminophen restriction in pregnancy and the first 3 years of life is warranted to test the hypothesis that acetaminophen is a causative agent in autism, asthma, and attention deficit with hyperactivity. Due to the increased risks associated with accidental overuse of acetaminophen, increased public awareness of such risks is paramount. (https://www.greatplainslaboratory.com/articles-1/2015/11/13/evidence-that-increased-acetaminophen-use-in-genetically-vulnerable-children-appears-to-be-a-major-cause-of-the-epidemics-of-autism-attention-deficit-with-hyperactivity-and-asthma)
Tylenol is only one drug of many that are being administered to children and adults on a daily basis. The most common medications administered to children, in particular, are antibiotics, bronchodilators, steroids (both inhaled and topical), anti-inflammatories, acetaminophen, anti-fungals, amphetamines and stimulants that are used to treat ADHD such as Ritalin and Methylphenidate, cough suppressants, decongestants, antihistamines, and fluoride (https://www.verywell.com/the-30-most-prescribed-drugs-in-pediatrics-2633435) with an increasing number of medications being prescribed to children and teens for mood disorders and anxiety.
Letting the Body Do Its Job
After carefully assessing the situation, if it is concluded that medications are not an option or are not the best option, what tools do we have?
First, if you or your child is in pain or has a fever, do not panic. Fever is the body’s immune system ridding itself of an invader. In order to prevent this sense of panic, educate yourself and stock your natural remedies toolkit. If you are scared or worried, remind yourself that you have the wisdom and the ability to care for yourself and children. Take a breath and assess the situation before you act. Listen to what is going on, and resist the urge to silence the symptoms.
If your child is ill, let them rest. If you are ill, yourself, rest. Rest is the simplest thing to do but is the most important, regardless of its simplicity.
If you or your child is in pain, use appropriate methods such as hot or cold therapies, changing position, movement, meditation, breathing, etc., to also help alleviate their discomfort before reaching for medication.
Do educate yourself about therapies such as homeopathy, essential oils, massage, and herbal teas that work with your child’s body and not against it so that you can know enough to use them at home.
Take in plenty of fluids. Fluids will flush and replenish and are needed for every process in the body.
Build the body with the right nutrition tools. Nutrients are the fuel the body runs on, and it is imperative that it has what it needs to repair and then maintain. Nutrition is key.
Within reason, allow the illness take its course. It is important to build the immune system in order to become stronger for the next assault.
Please seriously consider your family’s use of over the counter medications. You and your children can become better aware, more empowered, and better educated about your needs and how to handle health challenges when you listen to your bodies and use the tools that will strengthen and enliven them while preparing them for their future challenges.
The next time you or your child is ill, these are the questions to ask:
What might be causing me to be unwell? Covering up the symptoms may not be the answer.
Is this life-threatening?
Will I heal on my own, all the while strengthening my immune system in the process?
What is in the medication I am about to take?
How might it affect me in the short term? How might it affect me in the long term?
Is there an alternative way to make me more comfortable and that might work even better?
What Is in Your Medicine Cabinet?
Revisit the following: Do you have any of these things in your medicine cabinet? Check for side-effects and/or ingredients, and consider some alternatives (please be aware that just because it is labelled “medicine” doesn’t mean it’s good for you): ”benign” pain and fever medications such as Tylenol, Advil, etc., cough syrup, non-prescription, over-the-counter drugs such as antihistamines and topical ointments, prescription drugs, etc.
Medications have their place and can be a useful tool in acute situations or for a temporary period of time, or at times when the body is too compromised to handle the disease or injury, itself. However, it is exceedingly important to understand at symptoms, discomfort, pain, and even emotional upheaval are the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Although the western tendency to medicalize health promises fast results with little effort, it rarely addresses what has caused the illness or discomfort and therefore can exacerbate health problems in the long run, cause uncomfortable side effects, trading one health problem for another, drive illness deeper only to surface as something else, or render people dependent on medications for long periods of time or even a lifetime.
✓ Carefully consider the side effects and risks involved in taking any drug, regardless of whether some people believe it to be benign. No drugs come without a cost
✓ Read the labels to find out what any medication may contain
✓ Find out if there is a safer, natural alternative
✓ Ride out minor illnesses rather than reaching for a pill bottle when you are sure you are not in danger. Your immune system will do the job more often than not
✓ Minimize prescription drugs with your physician’s consent and guidance
✓ Research any drug you take or give to your children
✓ Research any natural treatment you take or give to your children
✓ Remember that healing is not always fast or comfortable yet is a natural part of human existence.
Medications such as Tylenol are not benign as they have a long list of side effects and unhealthy non-medicinal ingredients.
Always be mindful and informed about any medication that you may chose to take or give to your children or others in your care as no medication comes without a cost.
William J. Walsh. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. 2012. USA.