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Stepping Away from Prescription Medications: A Holistic,

Healthier Treatment Plan

Anuhya Pulapaka
Mrs. Bagley
Intern Mentor GT
Centennial High School
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The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that almost one-half of the

American population uses prescription tranquilizers, painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants. The

numbers are simply overwhelming. In Americans ages 12 and over, 44.5% of the population

using prescription medications used psychotherapeutic drugs, 36.4% used prescription pain

relievers, 14.7% used tranquilizers, 6.4% used stimulants, and 6.9% used sedatives (Hughes, et.

al). The Journal of the American Medical Association expounds on this data, citing that between

2000 and 2012, there was an 8% increase in prescription drug usage by Americans 20 and older,

rising to a staggering 59% of the population. These medications are most commonly prescribed

for the cardiometabolic syndrome which includes heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes. While

Elizabeth Kantor, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and co-author of

the American Medical Associations study, warns against drawing hasty conclusions from the

data, she does note that even with adjustments accounting for various factors that might

influence the data, the upward trend continues. This overuse of prescription drugs is concerning.

Often the side effects of these drugs can be devastating including muscle spasms, increased

likelihood of heart attacks and strokes, withdrawl, anemia, impotence, and severe high blood

pressure (Dennis). In addition, in the 2015 Drug Use and Health Survey, it was found that 19

million Americans misused the prescription leading to addiction and detrimental health effects.

Kimberly Johnson of the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

confirms that the general prevalence of these prescription drugs and the physiological effects

they have make them easily abusable (Hughes, Doctors are overprescribing medications

that often expose patients to harmful side effects; instead, doctors must prescribe a mixed

regimine that amends exercise plans, eating habits, and sleep patterns in conjunction with

lower dose medications for a healthier treatment.

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A doctor should prescribe an exercise plan to counter the effects of the health problem the

patient has. Depending on the severity of the affliction and after assessing the patient case by

case, exercise can either be used in conjunction with a medication, allowing for a decreased dose

of the medication, or even a potential first step of treatment. Dr. Kerry J. Stewart of Johns

Hopkins School of Medicine states, One of the key benefits of exercise is that it helps to control

or modify many of the risk factors for heart disease. In addition, he explains that it works as a

natural beta blocker, slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, improves muscles

ability to deoxygenate the blood, and reduces the amount of stress hormones that can decrease

heart health. In most cases, while it will not be a complete replacement for medications, exercise

does improve the overall health of the patient and can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular

issues, diabetes, and many more complications (Stewart). Mayo Clinic reports that incorporating

exercise into ones daily routine improves quality of life in addition to benefitting ones health. In

addition to the obvious effects of weight control and improving the bodys ability to prevent

health problems, exercise can alleviate moods, provide more energy in day to day dealings, and

improve sleep patterns, deepening sleep and allowing one to fall asleep quicker. About 150

minutes per week of moderately intense exercise is often enough for these benefits to occur

(Exercise: 7 Benefits). After assessing the patients physical fitness as well as after having the

patient undergo a stress test to confirm that their body may handle exercise, doctors should

develop a personalized workout plan that can allow patients to achieve better health. Guiding the

amount of exercise and the types of exercise patients do provides a multifaceted treatment plan.

In the age of instant mixes, fast food, and frozen, microwavable meals, having good

nutrition is extremely difficult. By forming a specialized dietary plan for their patients, doctors

can ameliorate many health issues and reduce the necessity for prescription medications. The
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United States Office of Disease and Health Promotion reported in its 2015-2020 Dietary

Guidelines that three-fourths of all Americans have a diet that lacks the necessary amount of

fruits, vegetables, dairy, and oils and that most Americans have a diet high in sugars, sodium, and

saturated fats. This is especially concerning as poor nutrition has been linked to serious health

problems including depression, heart disease and stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, and

osteoporosis (Risks of Poor Nutrition). By addressing this egregious issue, doctors can add a

preventative element to their treatment as improvements in eating habits are key to bettering

health. In fact, a fruit and vegetable rich diet can lower the risk for cardiovascular disease. A

Harvard longitudinal study of over fourteen years of over 110,000 people found that eating eight

or more servings of fruit and vegetables decreased made one 30% less likely to suffer from a

stroke or a heart attack. Amazingly, by decreasing saturated fat and increasing vegetable, fruit,

and low-fat dairy intake, their systolic and diastolic blood pressures were decreased by 11 mm

Hg and 6 mm Hg, respectively. This drastic change is as much as most blood pressure

medications achieve, which is unquestionably significant (Vegetables and Fruits.). If a change

in diet to allow for proper nutrition is suggested and supported by a doctor, a patient can receive

lower doses of prescription medications, which reduces the risk of adverse effects as well as will

reduce the likelihood for drug misuse and addiction.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research advises that adults

between the ages of 18 and 60 should get seven hours of sleep every night. Yet, often caught up

in hectic, fast-paced lifestyles, Americans neglect this recommendation (Moller-Levet, et. al).

Unsurprisingly, the Center of Disease Control found that over one-third of the American

population does not meet the American Academys recommended guideline. Unhealthy sleeping

habits do more than just cause short term tiredness and fatigue; sleep deficit has been strongly
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linked to severe health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental

disorders, and high blood pressure (1 in 3 Adults). Even more astounding, a British study

found that after a mere seven nights of getting less than six hours of sleep, there was a change in

up to 700 genes. While not all these genes were identified, there are several that play roles in

immune, stress, and inflammatory response. This fundamental shifting of a persons genetic code

is alarming, especially considering the brief time period of neglect it takes to inflict such a

permanent, harmful change (Sleep Deprivation). By helping patients establish good sleeping

habits, doctors can do more than just prevent the aforementioned health problems; it can improve

a persons general well being. Sleep plays a key role in the bodys ability to regenerate dead or

hurt cells, allowing it to return to a homeostatically, reenergized, balanced state (Klein). The

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute contends that receiving the right amount of sleep

increases learning, problem solving skills, and creativity. Healthy sleeping habits increase the

bodys ability to balance hormone levels; for example, its ability to react to insulin is improved,

aiding individuals who are at risk for or have Diabetes (Why is Sleep Important?). In

addressing sleep as part of treatment, doctors can greatly improve the health of the patients

suffering from a preexisting condition as well as aid in developing habits that will be

preventative, decreasing the need for high dose, strong medications.

With the uptick of prescription drug usage by Americans, there is serious cause for

concern. Linked to cardiovascular issues, addiction, overdose, gastrointestinal problems, and

Diabetes, prescription medications can often be just as devastatingly dangerous to patients as the

original health problem for which they are being treated. As such, doctors must transition from a

medication heavy regimen and address necessary changes in patients exercise patterns, diet, and

sleep schedule. While skeptics of more natural methods of treatment claim that it is folly to
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attempt to treat debilitating diseases with simple lifestyle adjustments, this belief is narrow-

minded and inaccurate. Research has shown that healthy exercise, diet, and sleep patterns can be

just as effective as medications in combating imbalances (Vegetables and Fruits.). This

treatment plan does not advocate for a total end to medications; instead, it allows for less potent

prescriptions, reducing the risk of negative side effects and drug misuse. A combination of

healthy exercise, diet, and sleep does more than just restore the body to a healthier state; its a

strong preventative measure as well.

Works Cited

Dennis, Brady. Nearly 60 Percent of Americans- the Highest Ever- Are Taking

Prescription Drugs. The Washington Post, 3 Nov. 2015.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and

Health Promotion, 2015,

eating-patterns-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.

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Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity. Mayo Clinic, 13 Oct. 2016, Accessed

12 Jan. 2017.

Harris, Richard. Widespread Use of Prescription Drugs Provides Ample Supply for

Abuse. NPR, 8 Sept. 2016,


supply-for-abuse. Accessed 16 Jan. 2017.

Hughes, A., Williams, M. R., Lipari, R. N., Bose, J., Copello, E. A. P., & Kroutil, L. A. (2016,

September). Prescription drug use and misuse in the United States: Results from the


National Survey on Drug Use and Health. NSDUH Data Review. Retrieved from

Klein, Sarah. 8 Scary Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation. The Huffington Post, 6 Mar.


effects_n_2807026.html. Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.

Moller-Levet, Carla S., et al. Effects of Insufficient Sleep on Circadian Rhythmicity and

Expression Amplitude of the Human Blood Transcriptome. Proceedings of the National

Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America.

MyPlate. United States Department of Agriculture, 7 Jan. 2016, Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.

1 in 3 Adults Dont Get Enough Sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed 16 Jan. 2017.

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The Risks of Poor Nutrition. Government of South Australia Health,


Sleep Deprivation Can Change Your Genes. The Huffington Post, 26 Feb. 2013,

Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.

Stewart, Kerry J. Exercise and the Heart. Johns Hopkins Medicine,


html. Accessed 16 Jan. 2017.

Vegetables and Fruits. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,

Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.

Why is Sleep Important? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 22 Feb. 2012, Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.