Last Updated on August 6, 2020

Prescription drug prices are soaring. Could supplements save the day?

prescription drugsThe prescription drug landscape has come a long way since 1928, when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic. But today’s high prescription costs are driving many of us to find more natural, alternative methods to address our health and wellness. Could this be one reason why a record 76% of Americans now take supplements?

Prescription drugs are getting pricier

In 2015, Americans spent $325 billion on prescription drugs. And we likely would have spent even more, except that millions couldn’t afford medications and instead had to do without them altogether. Our spending on prescription drugs is expected to hit $610 billion by 2021. Medications are 2-6 times more expensive here than in the rest of the world, and that gap is only expected to increase—to the detriment of our wallets.

Take this example. A 30-day supply of Xarelto costs around $292 in the U.S. The same drug costs $48 in South Africa. A 30-day supply of Tecfidera is $5,089 in the U.S. and $663 in South Africa. Although drug companies often change pricing across global markets to account for demand, cost of living and other factors, there’s no denying that a $5,000 per month price tag for a single medication is out of reach for most Americans.

In 2015, the spending on prescription drugs per person averaged $1,200. Experts say that over the next decade, prescription drug prices will increase by 6.3%, and American healthcare spending will increase by 5.3% to keep up. In 2016, President Trump said he would bring down drug prices. But with those prices still soaring, we haven’t seen relief yet.

The supplement industry is thriving

With an expensive drug landscape staring us in the face, people are looking into alternative forms of treatments. The supplement market might just provide the wellness benefits many people seek.

The supplement industry is thriving. In 2016, two-thirds of Americans were regularly taking supplements. More than $28 billion is spent on supplements every year. Retail sales for nutritional supplements and products in 2016 topped $41.16 billion—$5.67 billion of which came from sports nutrition and fitness supplements.

Research tells us that two-thirds of athletes around the world take dietary supplements to enhance their performance and game. More than 40% of college students now take protein products to supplement their nutrition.

Supplements vs. prescription drugs

Some studies have shown that some supplements can produce similar results as pharma drugs, or at the very least, boost your wellbeing. But because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements like it does prescription drugs, companies aren’t allowed to make definitive claims about their products.

Still, the research speaks for itself. The Alliance for Natural Health International reported that adverse reactions to pharma drugs are 62,000 times more likely to be fatal than food supplements—and 7,750 times more likely to be fatal than herbal remedies.

A number of studies have tested the effectiveness of certain supplements. One study suggested that multivitamins might be effective in decreasing the risk of cancer in men.  Studies and trials of Rhodiola, an adaptogenic herb (and natural Nootropic) suggested that the herb “shows anti-depressive potency in patients with mild to moderate depression” and that it improved “physical fitness, mental fatigue and neuro-motoric tests…and general well-being.”

Intrigued? Check out this list of top-ranked Nootropics.

Choosing the safest supplements

Supplements can have many therapeutic benefits. But if you’re taking prescription drugs, it’s vital to run them by your doctor before use to make sure your supplements don’t cause a negative interaction with your other medications.

With more than 50,000 supplements on the market today, and no regulation ensuring the quality and safety of every product, it’s also important to choose supplements based on honest reviews (and take the recommended dosage, of course).

Equally crucial is knowing how much of a vitamin or mineral your body actually needs. Some supplements tout high levels of a particular ingredient, despite the fact that the body doesn’t need that amount to function properly. Remember, too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. So take only the recommended dosage, and do your homework to be sure that the levels of vitamins and minerals in a product are safe.

Studies show that more people than ever are seeking alternative ways to boost their wellbeing. Soaring prescription drug prices might just be what it takes for more consumers to start seeing supplements as a viable, beneficial and more affordable alternative. And this shift is already well underway, with nearly 90% of adults now seeing supplements as safe and effective.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.