Just a spoonful of sugar

Many people find it difficult to swallow pills, tablets and capsules. Most often, the problem originates in childhood–but it can last well into adulthood.

In rare cases, trouble swallowing stems from a medical issue, such as dysphagia. This muscular disorder affects the muscles in the throat that push food down toward the stomach. Esophageal reflux can also send regurgitated food or medicine back up after swallowing.

But for most people, the problem is psychological rather than physiological. Many people simply concentrate much too hard on swallowing medications. You really don’t think about swallowing when you eat.

Of course, with food, we are continually chewing and swallowing reflexively. But pills are hard, foreign objects. And you’re supposed to swallow them whole, without chewing. But swallowing can be difficult if the pills have a bitter taste or a dry, chalky texture that triggers the gag reflex. Larger pills with hard edges can scrape the throat adding to the unpleasantness.

Many people try to get around these issues by crushing pills or emptying capsules into some other edible substance to help them go down easier. Unfortunately, these techniques can sometimes do more harm than good.

For example, timed- or delayed-release medications send doses into the bloodstream gradually over time. But when you crush or cut them, you can get too much into the bloodstream all at one time…and nothing later.

So if you have trouble swallowing pills, try these simple steps instead:

  1. Get into the right position and posture

It may seem natural to tilt your head backwards while taking a pill. (Think: the proverbial “knocking one back.”) But this method can cause even more problems, making it feel as if the pill is going down the wrong way. Instead, tuck your chin in toward your chest when swallowing to help the pill float to the back of your throat.

  1. Try to relax
    Some people worry that the pill will end up going down the wrong pipe. But when you swallow something, the windpipe is automatically closed off for a moment. So take a deep breath before taking the medicine and know it will automatically go in the right direction.
  1. Slow down

If you have more than one tablet to take, slow down and take them one a time with plenty of fluid. Then you can be sure none will get “stuck” when going down in a group.

  1. Choose the right “chaser”

If you have trouble “making the medicine go down,” a spoonful of sugar isn’t exactly the right solution. But it’s the right idea. Try taking pills with fruit juice or even applesauce to disguise the taste and texture. Just don’t use soda or carbonated beverages. The bubbles won’t help and can even result in burping them back up.

  1. Find an alternative

If none of the first four steps helps, I have good news: In many cases, you don’t have to take pills or tablets. Ask whether your medication is available in capsules, which are smoother and softer and glide easily down the throat. Some medications even come in liquid form.

Now–here are a few things to know about pills and their technical terminology…

Originally, a pill was used to describe a small rounded, spherical dose in a little ball. In the old days, apothecaries rolled them by hand. Tablets are more flat with disc or lozenge shapes. These are the typical forms seen today with high-output, automated presses–which are done for the convenience of mass production, not patient consumption. They save big pharma a few pennies each, which adds up to big bucks. But with what they’re charging people for these drugs, you’d think we could have them in a higher-grade form.

Capsules are the easiest “pills” to swallow. They dissolve easily and harmlessly in the warm, gastric fluids of the stomach. They contain loose powders, which are easily digested and absorbed. By comparison, pills or tablets are hard and contain excipients to hold them together, which make them harder to digest and difficult to break down.

Virtually all high-quality dietary supplements come in capsule form, including my own Smart Science line of dietary supplements. I only once used a tablet form for one of my dietary supplements to save costs for consumers who needed them. However, we now use only encapsulated supplements. While the cost is a little more, the results for swallowing, digesting and ultimately for absorbing and benefitting from the nutrients are vastly superior.


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