Beware of these dangerous OTC drugs

Of course, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is one of the most dangerous over-the-counter (OTC) drugs still permitted to be on the open market. And the other day, I answered readers’ concerns about the alternatives to Tylenol for pain relief. A lot depends on the type of pain you have. But you do have natural, effective, and safe alternatives that can help wipe out your pain.

Unfortunately, Tylenol isn’t the only popular OTC medication causing problems. In fact, the FDA just issued a new warning about another common OTC medicine. It’s been associated with kidney damage, heart problems and even death. And you may have a bottle of it sitting in your medicine cabinet right now. I’ll tell you all about this dangerous–and frighteningly common–drug in a moment. But first let’s talk a little about OTC drugs, in general.

Generally speaking, if you try to find “instant relief” in a little tiny pill–as promised by OTC remedies–you open yourself to a lot of dangers.

The American Pharmacists Association points out that OTC medications are intended only to treat short-term illnesses and symptoms. They are not designed to cure anything. Plus, they only mask the symptoms of what your body is telling you is really wrong.

When the OTC drugs become a substitute for following a healthy diet and lifestyle…or when you take them habitually as a “crutch” to put off effective healing…you are actually abusing these drugs. And potentially becoming dependent on them.

Plus, if you ingest these “fast relief” OTC remedies habitually, you buy a ticket on a slow trip to any number of real, potentially permanent health problems. These problems can occur with any OTC treatment–from ibuprofen to antacids.

Over the past several months, the FDA has actually taken action to protect consumers against several OTC drugs (including Tylenol). And recently, the FDA issued a warning about sodium phosphate laxatives.

In general, laxatives help alleviate occasional constipation. But many Americans take laxatives on a regular basis. They think if they don’t have a bowel movement at least once a day, they’re not “regular.”

Indeed, Big Pharma uses snappy ad campaigns to convince consumers that its version of “regularity” is a requirement. But everyone is different when it comes to these matters. And quite honestly, most habitual laxative users probably didn’t have a real “regularity” problem to begin with.

Now, let’s look at sodium phosphate laxatives, in particular. These laxatives are sold under the brand name “Fleet.” (You can also find sodium phosphate in store-brand and generic laxatives.)

They work by drawing water into the bowel. This action softens the stool and makes it easier to pass. But this action also dehydrates your body, which can lead to abnormal electrolyte levels in the blood. Dehydration can also lead to kidney damage and heart failure.

Indeed, the new FDA warning states that taking more than one dose of a sodium phosphate laxative in 24 hours can harm the kidneys and heart. And can even cause death. The FDA cited 54 reports of toxic side effects and 13 deaths among people who inappropriately took sodium phosphate laxatives.

People most at risk are children, adults over 55, and patients who take medications that affect kidney function. (Ironically, two of these three at-risk groups are most likely to use laxatives and are at risk of dehydration to begin with!) So in this case, you can safely let the Fleet sail without you.

According to the FDA, the medicines that affect kidney function include:

  • diuretics
  • angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors used to lower blood pressure
  • angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) used to treat high blood pressure, heart, or kidney failure
  • and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.

So if you take any of these drugs, make sure you NEVER use a sodium phosphate laxative.

If you want to keep things moving naturally, you have safer options. First, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Ripe bananas work especially well for constipation. (Under-ripe bananas help alleviate loose bowels.) Second, stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Better yet, stay hydrated with Red Joe water-soluble powdered rooibos extract. Third, keep moving. Constipation commonly strikes older people because they become too sedentary. So, keep moving to keep things moving.

Also, consider using peppermint (Mentha piperita). Peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach. And it improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. As a result, food passes through the stomach and digestive tract more quickly with less bloating and gas. This effect may help explain all the brightly wrapped “after-dinner” mints. But I suggest skipping the candies. And try peppermint tea or peppermint oil supplements instead after a meal.

Several studies have shown that coated peppermint capsules can help reduce indigestion, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. (Coated capsules keep peppermint oil from releasing directly into the stomach, which can cause heartburn and indigestion.)

In one study, researchers recruited 57 people with bloating, gas, and stomach pain. They divided the patients into two groups. One group took two coated peppermint capsules twice a day for four weeks. The other group took a placebo. Of the people who took peppermint, 75 percent experienced a significant reduction in symptoms.

Or, you can simply drink a few cups of peppermint tea a day and see if that helps. Other teas for digestion are verbena and linden. My family has been using these teas for at least five generations–so I can personally vouch for their effectiveness.

Finally, as stated above, try Red Joe rooibos to settle digestion and stay hydrated.

Granted, some natural remedies don’t provide “instant relief” the way OTC medications are advertised. But they often act better over time. You usually begin to feel their effects after two to three days, if not more quickly. And you’ll reach maximum benefit after two to three months. However, some herbal remedies like ginger, peppermint oil, or herbal teas like verbena can actually provide surprisingly quick relief for indigestion and GI complaints–and they do not have to, and should not be taken, habitually.