For years, doctors prescribed quinine for people suffering from nocturnal leg cramps. If my case is any example, it worked well. I didn’t think anything about it because, in many countries, it is sold over the counter. But, between 2005 and 2008, the FDA received 38 reports of adverse reactions and two deaths associated with quinine use. Physicians are now warned not to prescribe quinine for any condition other than uncomplicated malaria. And mine didn’t have any other ideas on how to reduce my leg cramps. Ouch!

I’m glad physicians exercise caution when prescribing medications. However, if you read about the side effects of aspirin, you wonder why all the hubbub about quinine. Children who ingest aspirin when they have a fever are susceptible to Reye Syndrome which can result in permanent brain damage, coma, seizures and death. Adults who take aspirin regularly for arthritis may find themselves with a bleeding ulcer or worse. But no one thinks to remove aspirin from the shelves because the side effects are the result of taking it for its intended purpose while quinine has only been formally tested to treat uncomplicated malaria.

Most people know that bananas contain potassium. Baked potatoes contain even more. Consume two potatoes and two bananas and you’ve taken in your potassium requirement for the day. Side effects are minimal. You have to eat anyway so the cost is negligible. And you don’t need a prescription. Get enough potassium and the leg cramps that used to wake you up might be significantly diminished because this particular vitamin is vital for muscle health. If my doctor had prescribed bananas and potatoes in the first place, I could have avoided a lot of the painful nights I experienced after quinine was no longer an option.

The quinine incident started me on a quest to discover what else I was missing nutritionally. Like most people, I blindly purchased common substances from the grocery store thinking that, if my stomach was full and I ate a somewhat balanced diet, I was getting proper nutrition. After thoroughly examining the packaged food I was buying, I found that my normal American diet was extremely deficient in many nutrients. And I decided that I would rather eat my way to health rather than becoming dependent on the medical profession during my old age.

Vitamin A helps prevent germs from entering the body and vitamin C helps kill germs. Carrots, kale, citrus, spinach, squash, and broccoli are all great for the immune system. One cup of lentils will give you about one third of your daily requirement of zinc which is important for keeping your white blood cell count where it should be. Eating these substances can very well keep you from catching the flu that everyone in the office seems to be sharing. It sure beats taking medication after the fact.

If you suffer from arthritis, try increasing the amount of olive oil, green tea, flax seeds, walnuts, ginger and turmeric that you consume. They are great for reducing inflammation. Losing a bit of extra weight also helps. You may not be able to eliminate your medication, but the amount you take can certainly be reduced. It’s not only cheaper, but healthier. A lifetime of arthritis medication can cause significant problems for your internal organs.

Carrots, citrus, blueberries, cinnamon, and beans can help lower your cholesterol as can oatmeal. Cinnamon has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar, stop yeast infections, prevent blood clots, reduce arthritis inflammation, and help with digestion.

Sea kelp is a great source of iodine and, therefore, can help thyroid function. That’s good news if you struggle with your weight due to a sluggish thyroid. Consuming nori can help with edema and indigestion as well as increasing resistance to infection. Most commonly used as a wrap for sushi, it can be added to soups and stews.

Berries, particularly blueberries, are great anti-oxidants. They can also reduce memory loss which is great news for those of us who are no longer teenagers. They also can help reduce urinary tract infections so, if you don’t like the tart taste of cranberries, blueberries are your answer.

The moral of the story is, of course, that consuming a healthy diet can reduce the number of medications you take and, therefore, eliminate many of the side effects that are associated with most over-the-counter and prescription substances. Of course, if you are already suffering from any serious condition, your physician is the best one to advise you on treatment. But, as they say, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

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