Pharmaceutical drugs are often expensive and laden with side effects. Sometimes your doctor’s prescribing motivations are downright shady. The blame doesn’t necessarily lie with the physician though, but with the entire health care system, which incentivizes expensive treatments and medications over prevention or lifestyle changes. This has led to many patients being prescribed drug after drug, often in response to other drugs’ side effects. (Ever heard of the Pfizer Circle of Hell?)
But when we look at many of the country’s most prevalent and dangerous diseases, the underlying cause is an unhealthy lifestyle. “If you think about the issues that prevail today, they are related to eating too much of all the wrong foods, getting far too little physical activity, toxins we’ve invented like tobacco, inadequate sleep and strained social bonds,” Dr. David Katz told Time. Katz is the director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and author of the book Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well.
Adopting healthier habits is most effective when done as a preventive measure. From heart disease, to diabetes, to cancer, to high blood pressure and cholesterol, you can take steps to reduce your risk for most of America’s most deadly conditions. However, even patients who are already sick sometimes choose to manage their disease by changing how they live, rather than popping pills and dealing with the side effects. Some people who are pre-diabetic, or who suffer from high cholesterol, for example, have shown greater success in reversing their conditions than those who took medicine. In some cases, mental illnesses can be treated with lifestyle changes and talk therapy rather than medications, depending on the needs and desires of the patient.
It’s important to note that it’s not always safe to quit your current drug regimen. You should always consult your health care provider before stopping any prescribed medications. But when you approach the issue safely, thoughtfully, and with your doctor’s guidance, some health conditions can be managed through lifestyle changes alone. Here are three essential ways toward better health without the use of drugs.
Research has shown that a plant-based diet with healthy fats and whole grains can effectively reduce your cholesterol. Many doctors try to push their patients into taking cholesterol medications after just one test shows elevated levels, but if you do the work, you can bring your cholesterol down yourself. Plant-based diets have also been shown to help men with prostate cancer. Many diseases, such as diabetes, are connected to being overweight or obese, so with proper diet management, you can lose weight, get better nutrition, and hopefully, stave off the condition.
Exercise is the next essential piece of the puzzle. Research has shown that doing cardio for 30 minutes or more per day raises HDL cholesterol levels — that’s your good cholesterol, which is essential to keeping the bad cholesterol down. Physical activity controls symptoms related to heart disease, as well as many other metabolic and psychological conditions. One study found that brisk walking cut postmenopausal women’s breast-cancer risk by 14% compared with those who didn’t walk. The women who exercised more vigorously saw a reduced risk of 25%. Further research is beginning to show exercise as an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction, anxiety, and dementia.
Sleep is critical to everything from general healing, to stress management, to mental health. One study found that men who simply took a 30-minute nap three times a week reduced their risk of dying from heart disease. Research shows that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to eat more and gain weight. In this way, all three lifestyle changes will ideally work together to support one another. That means a lot of work for patients to take on, but always remember the rewards. Given the chance to alter what’s actually causing your health problems, instead of taking drugs to manage the symptoms (perhaps indefinitely), surely it’s worth giving it your best try.