10 Conditions Where Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent Medication

Public Domain. stanvpetersen

From helping with dementia to prehypertension and chronic pain, these lifestyle changes could help you hop off the medication merry-go-round.

Modern medicine is great, and modern medicine is awful. It treats conditions, alleviates pain and saves lives. It's expensive, can be addictive and have unwelcome side effects, has an environmental impact, and too often treats the symptoms instead of the causes.

While the idea of taking a pill to cure one's ills is seductive, wouldn't you rather make some changes and not be held hostage to pharmaceuticals if you don't really need them?

All too often medication is prescribed by doctors before lifestyle changes are suggested; or drugs are prescribed in the “predisease” stage before other options can be tried. And that's a shame. With that in mind, I was really happy to see that Consumer Reports published an awesome recap of conditions that can respond favorably to lifestyle changes.

TreeHugger has covered many of these before, but I really like how Consumer Reports handled it; short and to the point. Check out their article to see more conditions and the drugs – and their associated risks – used for treatment; but for a sampling of lifestyle changes as first defense, these are great. We've used Consumer Reports (CR) as a launching point and added our own information as well; block quotes are directly from them.

1. Back & Joint Pain: Try yoga, swimming, gentle stretches, tai chi, massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, or heat. Try these 5 simple exercise for back pain

When to consider a drug: Anti-inflammatories are okay for short-term flare-ups, though even then stick with a low dose and don’t take them for longer than 10 days without talking with your doctor. Opioids should be a last resort and prescribed at the lowest effective dose for the shortest time possible.

2. Dementia: CR suggests establishing a regular routine, do calming activities, and have frequent social contact. It’s also a good idea to rule out underlying conditions that can sometimes lead to disturbed behavior, such as constipation, infection, or hearing or vision problems. Note that one in three cases of dementia are preventable!

When to consider a drug: If the patient suffers from delusions, hallucinations, or other serious mental illness, or presents a danger to himself or others.

3. Mild Depression: Exercise, meditation, and various forms of talk therapy. Also, 30 minutes of nature a week reduces depression.

When to consider a drug: If therapy alone isn’t enough or depression is severe. Reassess after six weeks and consider switching drugs if you aren’t getting better.

4. Restless Leg Syndrome: Try warm baths or a foot soak before bed; leg massage before bed can help too. Meditation and/or moderate exercise can help – try a brisk 30-minute walk each day. Try a foot wrap that's better than drugs for restless leg syndrome.

5. Heartburn: Eat smaller meals, don’t recline right after eating, lose extra weight, and avoid trigger foods, including acidic or greasy meals. For occasional heartburn, try OTC products such as Maalox, Pepcid AC, Tums, or Zantac 75, suggests CR.

When to consider a drug: If heartburn occurs twice weekly or more for four weeks or longer and your doctor diagnoses gastroesophageal reflux disease, which occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus and damages it. In that case, consider a PPI for a few months while your esophagus heals.

6. Insomnia: Try a simple five-step system; eat foods that promote good rest; reset your sleep cycle; try a nighttime shower.

7. Osteopenia, or Preosteoporosis (Bone Density at the Low End of Normal): CR recommends consuming foods high in calcium and vitamin D, do weight-bearing exercises such as walking or lifting weights, and to quit smoking. Plus take steps to prevent falls by, for example, avoiding sleeping pills and installing grab bars in the bathroom.

When to consider a drug: If bone-density tests show you have full-blown osteoporosis. Even then, consider taking a break after five years to reduce the risk of lasting side effects.

8. Prediabetes (Blood Sugar Levels at the High End of Normal) Exercise, eat a healthy diet rich in nonprocessed and nonstarchy foods, and lose weight.

When to consider a drug: If you develop full-blown type 2 diabetes.

9. Prehypertension (Blood Pressure at the High End of Normal): Quit smoking, cut back on sodium and alcohol, lose excess weight, and exercise. Personal note: Although concerned about my family history of hypertension, my doctor suggested acupuncture before medication when I was showing borderline hypertension numbers; after a few months of treatment, I dropped to normal range and have stayed there for 15 years.

When to consider a drug: If you develop true hypertension.

10. Obesity: If you’ve been unable to lose weight on your own by exercising more and eating less, ask your doctor about formal weight-loss programs.

When to consider a drug: If lifestyle changes have failed and you are obese or overweight and have heart disease or type 2 diabetes. If you haven’t lost at least 5 percent of your weight after three months, stop because it’s unlikely to help.