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In our instant-gratification society, we’ve been conditioned to reach for a pill every time we feel a minor ache and pain. Oftentimes, we’re simply masking our symptoms instead of getting to the root cause, and drugstores are more than happy to oblige by stocking shelves with over the counter drugs and medications.

In 2015, Americans spent a total of $32.1 billion on over-the-counter (OTC) medications. This figure has been steadily climbing since 1964. The problem is, a headache, for instance, isn’t caused by aspirin deficiency, so an aspirin isn’t going to cure it!

Even worse, many common over the counter drugs may actually make you sicker than before. Advertisements for OTCs are far less likely to tell consumers about the potential harms and side effects involved in downing a pill, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates ads for prescription drugs, while ads for over the counter drugs are regulated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC); and they tend to be more lax with their standards.

Popular Over The Counter Drugs

Here are six over the counter drugs you may buy and use regularly without a second thought — and what you may not know about their harmful effects on your health.


Aspirin and ibuprofen (i.e Advil and Motrin) are a class of drugs known as Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, usually abbreviated to NSAIDs. More than 30 million take an over-the-counter NSAID every single day. Because they effectively block pain and reduce inflammation, doctors long recommended them to relieve the joint pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis.

Unfortunately, these seemingly benign painkillers cause about 16,500 deaths in the US annually, and more than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized because of their side effects. Over the last 20 years, more than 300,000 deaths have been caused by aspirin and other NSAIDS. Sadly for arthritis sufferers, NSAIDs wreak havoc on the gastrointestinal system, causing ulcers and stomach upset. Even worse perhaps, they have been proven to accelerate osteoarthritis and joint destruction by inhibiting the formation of key compounds in cartilage, glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These compounds are responsible for maintaining the proper water content in the cartilage matrix, thereby helping cartilage remain gel-like and continue to absorb shock (you may read more in Dr. Murray’s book, What The Drug Companies Won’t Tell You).

2. Acetaminophen

Tylenol is acetaminophen, and it’s the most widely used pharmaceutical painkiller and fever reducer in the US. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most common pharmaceuticals associated with both intentional and unintentional poisoning and toxicity. Tylenol overdose is the leading cause of liver failure and causes 10 percent of all cases of kidney failure in the US. It is responsible for more emergency room visits than any other drug on the market, according to the Cleveland Clinical Journal of Medicine.

3. Stomach Acid Blockers

Sales of OTC acid blocking-medications in the US exceed $13 billion annually. These household names, such as Axid AR, Pepcid AC, Zantac, and Prevacid, are designed to relieve the pain and discomfort of acid reflux and heartburn. It’s not easy for people to stop once they start, because they get dependent on these drugs, which interfere with and eventually disable the body’s own natural digestive processes. There are serious consequences of taking either the acid-blocking or proton pump inhibitor versions of these drugs. Both classes of drugs produce significant disturbances in the gastrointestinal tract, which protects the body from infections that lead to pneumonia, peptic ulcer disease, and malnutrition.

4. Antacids

Common antacids such as Pepto-Bismol, Milk of Magnesia, Rolaids, Tums, and Alka-Seltzer are safe if taken occasionally. On the other hand, Maalox, Rolaids, Digel, Mylanta, and Riopan all contain aluminum, which may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Overuse or regular use of any of these drugs can lead to bowel irregularities, kidney stones, and malabsorption of nutrients.

5. Sleep Aids

Common over-the-counter sleep aids, such as Benadryl, Unisom, and Nytol, can be effective for occasional insomnia. However, these drugs contain antihistamines, which interfere with normal sleep patterns and actually disrupt healthy sleep cycles — the “repair” mechanisms that help us feel rested, happy, and ready to face the day. As a result of this brain function interference, you’re left groggy and “hung over” the next day. Also, OTC sleep aids lose their effectiveness over time, because your body quickly develops a resistance to antihistamines.

6. Children’s Cough And Cold Medications

All OTC children’s cough and cold medications — cough suppressants, cough expectorants, decongestants, and antihistamines — now contain a warning on the label geared toward children under four-years old. That’s because the FDA found them to have serious side effects, including death. So, do you really want your five-year-old, or even your 10-year-old, to take these over the counter drugs? All the scientific evidence shows that these symptom reducers don’t help colds and flu, which go away on their own in five to 10 days. Why risk convulsions, heart problems, trouble with breathing, and neurological complications that are associated with OTC children’s cold and flu medicines?

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Over The Counter (OTC) Drugs

Bottom Line

Before you got to your corner drugstore and buy over the counter drugs that merely relieves the symptoms of your ailment, find out about its side effects and search for alternative, natural therapies that actually address the cause of your discomfort. For most common conditions, there are safe alternatives to over-the-counter medications that actually cure the underlying condition. You can get symptom relief without the dangerous side effects.

This article, Over-The-Counter Drugs That Make You Sick, was reprinted with permission from the author.

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