Ask The Pharmacist: Mother nature’s medicine cabinet

Q: I’d like to try natural supplements and save some money on medications. Do you have any ideas for easy substitutions using vitamins, minerals or other supplements that could improve my health? — B.H. Ontario, Canada

A: Many people are starting to think outside the pill in an effort to save money, time and energy. There are some incredibly effective nutrients and herbal products that address all sorts of minor issues. But many people are convinced that prescribed medications are better than natural remedies because they are approved by the FDA, forgetting that herbs such as ginseng, ginkgo, ginger, Pau D’ Arco, hawthorn (among hundreds of others) have been used for centuries.

Do you realize that prescription drugs are sometimes tested on just a few thousand people for a few years before approval?

Does that mean that herbs are safer than drugs? Not necessarily, herbs are just drugs that come from the earth and many of them work the same way drugs do. You have to be just as careful with Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet as you do your local pharmacy’s. Purity and quality matter a big deal.

With vitamins, I prefer that you buy reputable brands which contain bioavailable and natural forms of a nutrient; don’t bother otherwise because the wrong form could be ineffective or harmful. For example, I prefer methylcobalamin for vitamin B12, not cyanocobalamin because the ‘methyl’ form goes right into the nerves and brain where it could ease painful neuropathies. The natural form of beta carotene is far superior (and safer) than the synthetic version. Here are other economical solutions to persistent problems that could save you between $50 and $200 per month. Consult your health professional to see if these are right for you and follow label dosage directions:

Cholesterol — Some of the best cholesterol-lowering supplements include aged garlic, niacin, omega 3 fatty acids and L-carnitine. Unlike statins, these supplements do not usually cause side effects like leg cramps, generalized musculoskeletal pain, memory loss or liver damage.

Depression (Folic acid, vitamin C and chelated magnesium) — These substances help you create happy brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Supplemental forms can be extremely effective in certain individuals who don’t respond well to drugs.

Hypertension — High quality fish oils (or krill oil) could be substituted for the pricey prescription version called “Lovaza.” Fish oils appear to help arthritis, skin problems, autoimmune disorders, constipation, heart disease, cholesterol and diabetes.

Insomnia — GABA, passionflower and melatonin are three ‘sleepers’ that may be helpful but do not use in combination with other sleep aids (OTC or prescribed).

Diabetes — Gymnema sylvestre, fenugreek and chromium can reduce blood sugar. I wouldn’t combine these with your diabetic medication because the interaction could cause serious hypoglycemia. Your doctor should closely monitor your progress.

Did you know

A Canadian study found that women who consumed at least five beers per week increased their risk of developing psoriasis.

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. This information is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Always consult your physician.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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