Whether you are being prescribed a new drug, trying a dietary supplement or using a vitamin or mineral, your body may undergo certain phenomena as the treatment takes hold in your system. We know these as side effects (or adverse effects) and they can vary greatly based on everything from our body composition to our diet in relation to the medication’s active ingredients.
Today, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about side effects, from what causes them to how to treat common ones. But before we begin, please note the advice in this article should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care. If you have concerning side effects, please seek medical attention.
Why do side effects occur in the first place?
In a perfect world, treatments would only target the specific condition we are trying to remedy. But they can also have an impact on other parts of our body, which is what causes side effects. These commonly occur when a patient starts a new treatment, but they can also kick in when the usage of that treatment ceases or the dosage is increased or decreased.
The good news is that for any drug or medication to get approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug manufacturer is required to list all its known adverse effects. These can be found printed on the box or in the included pamphlet. They will also be listed in order of probability, so you can gauge which side effects are more likely to occur.
Why do side effects occur in the first place?
While some side effects can be severe, most are rather common across multiple types of treatments and can be remedied at home. Here are a few of the most common side effects you may come across:
Upset stomach and nausea
Few things are worse than feeling sick, especially when you’re taking medicine to make yourself feel better! Give one of these remedies a try if you are feeling under the weather:
- Ginger: Studies have shown ginger can truly have a positive effect on an upset stomach. You can drink a ginger tea, eat a ginger chew or, like any Midwesterner will tell you, try some ginger soda!
- Chamomile tea: Chamomile is an anti-inflammatory, which will help relax stomach muscles and reduce cramping.
- Apple cider vinegar: Though potent in flavor, apple cider vinegar can help neutralize an upset stomach. If you need to mellow it out, mix a tablespoon with a cup of water and a teaspoon of honey.
Though unpleasant, dry skin can be managed and alleviated with some simple lifestyle changes:
- Change the temperature: Try turning down the heat of the shower to help relieve dry skin and make sure you pat, not rub, yourself dry when you’re done.
- Drink water: Our bodies are 60% water, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of it.
- Lotion up: Lotions that contain grapeseed oil and antioxidants can help trap water in your skin and reduce dryness.
Nothing can bring your day to a screeching halt quite like a headache. If your treatment is causing these to occur, see if one of these tips helps:
- Get some sleep: This might sound like basic advice, but getting 7-9 hours a night is the sweet spot between too much and too little sleep, both of which can increase the likelihood of headaches.
- Avoid histamine-rich foods: Histamine is a chemical found naturally in the body that plays a role in a variety of systems. If you are prone to migraines, reducing your intake of histamine-rich foods (like aged dairy and fermented foods) can help.
- Drink caffeinated coffee or tea: Caffeine can have several positive effects on the body, which can decrease headaches. It can also increase the effects of common headache treatments, like ibuprofen. However, be mindful of intake, since caffeine withdrawal can actually make headaches worse.
Feeling sleepier than usual after starting a new treatment? You’re not alone. Drowsiness is one of the most commonly reported side effects of medications. Here is how you can perk up:
- Wait it out: If you just started taking the treatment, avoid driving or other activities that require alertness until you see how it will affect your day-to-day.
- Avoid certain over-the-counter meds: Take a good look at your medicine cabinet and avoid medicines that list drowsiness as a side effect. Look for daytime or non-drowsy variants.
- Ask about timing: Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the treatment can be taken at night when you are already feeling sleepy.
Note: Most side effects will fade as your body adjusts to the new treatment. However, if side effects persist for a long period of time, consult your doctor.
What about mixing certain food and drink with treatment?
If your doctor doesn’t tell you outright, it is a good idea to ask if there are any foods or drinks that you should avoid while on the treatment: you might be surprised by what you hear! For example, some blood pressure medications don’t mix well with grapefruit and it is not advised to eat chocolate if you are taking certain monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
And alcohol is universally viewed as a no-go while on most medications, since it can either decrease the medication’s desired effect or increase the effect to a more dangerous level.
The bottom line: While some side effects are severe, most are common and can be treated at home. Side effects usually fade with time, but consult your doctor if they do not. Make sure you ask about any foods or beverages you should avoid when starting treatment.