3 Creative Strategies to Release Thy (Pill) Burden

May 4, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…

A goal for many of us with chronic conditions is to find a way to reduce the number of pills that we have to take.  They’re hard to remember, annoying to take, and sometimes have unwanted side effects.  Besides that, it’s just not the greatest feeling to be dependent on so many ‘substances’.

I discuss the concept of “pill burden” in another article, which is basically the idea that each treatment we use adds up to a total burden on our memories, psyches, and overall health.  Check out that article to learn why and to read about some of the strategies to manage it.

But one of the greatest strategies for managing pill burden is to reduce the burden – by reducing the pills! (And, just to clarify, pills are not the only burdens here – this includes any and all forms of treatment, including tablets, capsules, liquids, powders, inhalers, creams, and more.)

While it may seem like a pipe dream for us to ever eliminate all of those treatments, there are many strategies that can be taken to get rid of at least some of them.

So without further ado…

Incorporate into your diet

Not only would this make things easier, there is actually good reason to believe that nutrients obtained from foods are absorbed better than those from other sources, like pills, powders, and creams.  It’s called “food synergy” and there are a growing number of studies that show this to be the case.

Incorporating items into your diet may be easier said than done, but you would be surprised at how easy this can actually be for some things, even for those of us with limited or impaired absorption.

Example 1: Iron

Iron supplements must be taken two to three times a day for many weeks before iron returns to the appropriate level in the body.  From then on, iron must be taken daily to continue to maintain these levels.  These supplements are notorious for causing nausea, stomach pain, and significant constipation.

Iron absorption is very poor when it is obtained from plant products and supplements.  However, its absorption more than doubles when it is obtained from meat products.  We know that this happens because the iron comes in an enveloped form that is quickly sucked up by the intestine.  Consistent intake of small amounts of iron-rich meats (such as red meats) can allow for iron maintenance or replenishment at a more rapid rate than through the use of supplements.

Attempts to obtain adequate iron intake from plant products can be frustrating due to the 50% reduction in absorption.  However, if meat is out of the question for any reason, it is still easier on the GI tract than the use of supplements.  Certain plant products are higher in iron than others.  Additionally, Vitamin C increases iron absorption significantly, especially through the diet.  So what about adding juice or fruit to your meal?

[Personal experience: I personally struggle a lot with iron deficiency, and am unable to eat meat for the most part with my gastroparesis.  However, I have discovered that if I can just eat small bites of sausage a few days a week, it actually keeps me from becoming deficient.  And when I eat beans or tofu (plant iron sources), I combine them with some source of Vitamin C.]

Example 2: Vitamins A, E, and K

Although it is unusual to become deficient in these three vitamins, they are usually available as supplements and many people feel it is important to take them to ensure nourishment.

However, these vitamins are fat-soluble, which means that they dissolve in fat.  It also means that they collect in the fat tissues within our bodies.  This fat solubility can be used to our advantage and help us to eliminate the need to take these as additional pills because these vitamins are absorbed more rapidly by our bodies when they are eaten with fatty foods.  For instance, when eating green, leafy vegetables, utilizing a dressing that contains some fat can allow for great absorption of these nutrients.

And then you can toss those supplements out the window!

Find Creative Ways to Replace Them

Some items cannot be adequately replaced through your diet, or they’re just not part of your diet at all.  Sometimes there are still unusual or interesting ways that you can replace those ‘treatments’ and reduce your pill burden.

Example 1: Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements are popular and widely available.  They are usually taken once a day to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.  These supplements are known to cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

The best way to obtain Vitamin D is through sun exposure. In fact, for a person with light skin, very minimal amounts of sun exposure will stimulate adequate production of Vitamin D in the body.  This exposure is typically less than what usually triggers us to apply sunscreen.  For instance, the average person (recognizing that there are many interacting factors such as altitude, cloud cover, skin color, etc.) can receive adequate exposure to only the arms, face, or legs over just 15 minutes, twice a week.  Of course, skin cancer is a concern that is ever-present, so each person must consider their own risks and lifestyle.

Vitamin D is not present in many natural food products, but it is highly concentrated in fish skins and oils.  It is also already added to many of our dairy products, including milk, butter, and yogurt.  Although this is not ideal, the fortification of your food products is probably enough to prevent you from needing a separate supplement as well.

Example 2: Constipation Treatments

Constipation is a common issue for those with GI conditions, especially gastroparesis and IBS.  Most of us are quite interested in finding out how we can manage and prevent constipation, but often forget the very best treatment option – water.

Those of us with gastroparesis often end up severely restricting our water intake, for a number of reasons.  Some of us simply cannot tolerate it and it comes back up, some cannot handle the extra volume in the stomach, and other people may have gotten a lot of their liquids from fresh foods that they are no longer eating.  For those with IBS, it may be an issue simply because your liquid intake is mostly dehydrating – such as sodas and coffee or energy drinks.

There are a number of ways to try to get water into the diet.  For me, my issues are with still water. I cannot drink it or it will shoot back up my throat and into my mouth.  However, I do handle carbonated beverages relatively well.  In order to create a palatable water-based drink that I can tolerate, I now mix a tiny amount of juice with a glass of carbonated water, and it has worked wonders in alleviating my constipation.  Other people may do better with hot or warm liquids instead of cold liquids.  Sometimes incorporating liquid-filled meals into the diet may also help, such as cream or broth-based soups.

Reintroducing fresh foods that contain liquid is also a great option.  Fruits contain both water and fibers that can help to loosen the stool.  For instance, the melon family is brimming with liquid and is relatively easy to digest.  Overripe fruit may also be easier on the stomach because it is soft and partially broken down, providing both water and fiber.  For those of us with gastroparesis, a number of fruits might be more tolerable when they are peeled, so that is an option as well.

There is no doubt that increasing the fluid intake in your diet will dramatically improve constipation issues.  It will easily eliminate some of the other constipation treatments that you may need to use.  There may be times when other treatments will be required, but they should become less common.

Evaluate whether you need them in the first place

This seems somewhat obvious, but we all forget to do it.  I spent years taking a couple of the medications that my doctor prescribed to me without realizing that they weren’t helping at all (and one of them was making me feel worse).  I spent years taking Miralax before I figured out how to increase my water intake.  When I was able to stop the Miralax, my issues with bloating and gas became SO much better. But I had no idea at the time that this was possible – I didn’t reassess my treatments.

I have a whole article on reevaluating what we are using and putting into our bodies.  And in the future, I will also release articles on specific things to look for and consider when trying to cut down on your treatments so that you may find the ones that are most helpful to YOU.

Read more on simplifying your health and changing your perspective here.  Or learn about how to self-advocate by going here.  I’m happy to have you!

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