4 Medication Swaps to Ask Your Doctor About Right Now

Could something else be safer and more effective than the meds you're currently taking?

Whether it's a headache, joint pain, or a classic bout of indigestion, lots of different options exist to cure what ails you—from over-the-counter (OTC) meds to vitamin supplements, and even healthy drinks that carry amazing properties. This range of choices can feel overwhelming—should you take this drug instead of that one? Are there certain remedies you should never take together? What about things you should never take at all? Read on for four medications people often reach for when suffering from common maladies and some surprising, potentially safer, alternatives. A cup of white willow tea, anyone?

READ THIS NEXT: 4 Popular Medications That Medicare Will Never Cover.

Melatonin instead of sleeping pills

Blue bottle with tablets spilling out.
Jorge Martinez/iStock

Losing sleep due to insomnia or any other disorder can mess with your overall wellness on many different levels. Trouble concentrating, decreased immunity to illness, and high blood pressure are just a few possible effects of sleep deprivation, according to Healthline. And while plenty of sleep medications are readily available, they "can lead to addiction and other dangerous side effects," warns Tonny Benjamin, MD. "They can also become ineffective over time, requiring higher and higher doses for the same effect." Benjamin recommends trying melatonin instead.

"Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces naturally, and is essential for normal sleep/wake cycles," Benjamin explains. "Many people find that taking melatonin supplements can be a powerful tool for improving their sleep quality and reducing the amount of sleep-aid medications they need to take."

READ THIS NEXT: 4 Major Medication Shortages That Could Affect You.

Probiotics instead of antacids

Probiotic nutritional supplement abstract.

Call it heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion—the bottom line is that all of these stomach-related ailments can be extremely uncomfortable. "Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus)," explains the Mayo Clinic. This can cause pain in the chest that may get worse when you lie down or bend over, and/or a bitter, acidic taste in your mouth, says the site.

Medication for conditions like heartburn include histamine-2 (H2) blockers such as Famotidine (Pepcid), or Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), which include Omeprazole (Prilosec).

However, "emerging research suggests that probiotics may be a viable complementary treatment, whether a person has occasional bouts of acid reflux or more prolonged gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)," reports Medical News Today. In addition, "there is also evidence that probiotics may ease side effects of medications that help manage the condition." That's because probiotics help address the balance of gut bacteria, which is essential for good gut health. Priobiotics can be taken as supplements or foods such as "yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi," advises Healthline.

Tylenol instead of aspirin

Container and box of Tylenol.

Over the counter (OTC) pain relievers may seem interchangeable, but each type is different. Acetaminophen and aspirin are a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), while acetaminophen is also "a pain reliever and fever reducer, but doesn't have [the] anti-inflammatory properties of NSAIDs," explains Cleveland Clinic.

If you're taking aspirin to address various aches and pains, Benjamin suggests trying Tylenol (acetaminophen) instead. "Tylenol (acetaminophen) and aspirin both relieve pain by reducing the activity of endogenous chromaffin cells in the brain," says Benjamin. "I recommend Tylenol over aspirin if you have a choice, because it's less likely to cause adverse effects or complications."

RELATED: For more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Supplements instead of pain relievers.

Woman taking magnesium pills out of a bottle.

If possible, you may want to take a break from OTC meds altogether, since none of them come without the risk of side effects or complications. "Acetaminophen… shares some side effects with aspirin," cautions Benjamin. "Both drugs can lead to gastrointestinal injury and bleeding, although they occur at different rates and severity depending on the person." And prescription painkillers such as codeine can result in addiction and overdose, among other dangerous side effects.

Different vitamin supplements can help address various conditions. "When it comes to headaches, low magnesium is a key contributor," reports the Functional Medicine Institute, noting that an estimated 75 percent of Americans do not consume enough magnesium. "Dark leafy greens, like spinach, are the best way to get magnesium from food," the site advises. "You can also take a high-quality supplement." Magnesium can also be helpful in addressing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

For joint pain, the Functional Medicine Institute suggests omega-3 supplements. "The two fatty acids in omega-3, EPA and DHA, can reduce inflammation," says the site. "According to several different studies, people with rheumatoid arthritis who took omega-3 supplements had a reduction in joint pain."

And the herb white willow "is nature's aspirin," Eva Selhub, MD, tells WebMD. "It has salicin, which tames inflammation. It's good for headaches and may ease low back pain." WebMD notes, however, that willow bark—which can be taken as a tea or a supplement—should not be used in anyone under 18 because of a higher risk of a serious condition called Reye's syndrome.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
Filed Under