In new two-part BBC documentary The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, Dr Chris van Tulleken takes over part of a GP surgery and aims to stop patients’ reliance on prescription drugs.

Dr Chris works out that someone born today may go on to consume 100,000 pills during their lifetime, and decides to focus on diet and exercise as alternatives to prescription medication in cases where it is safe to do so.

Always speak to your doctor before making any change to medication you are prescribed.  

Here are five natural alternatives to try:


Walking is something we all do every day but as well as getting us from A to B, it can also have a range of health benefits, from helping you shape up to improving your mood.

Taking regular active walks can even help lower blood pressure.

“A recent study from the University of East Anglia has found that people who joined walking groups saw significant falls in average blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight, and cholesterol. Pretty impressive,” notes Dr Sally Norton, health expert and weight loss surgeon.

What’s more, if you are feeling depressed or anxious, walking can help to lift your mood. A recent study by the University of Stirling showed a brisk walk was “an effective intervention for depression".

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During the first episode of The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, Dr Chris suggests swimming as part of a combined treatment for a patient with depression.

Swimming can be a great activity to take up at any age. A low-impact activity, it is great for people with joint pain, fatigue and immobility – as the water in the pool helps support your weight.


According to The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, an estimated 5 million people in Britain take antidepressants. One treatment Dr Chris suggests for a patient suffering from depression is mindfulness.   

A 2015 study by Oxford University showed that mindfulness could be as effective as antidepressants in preventing people relapsing into depression.

Mindfulness is derived from a Buddhist meditation technique. The aim is to be more aware in the present moment.

The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs: 5 natural alternatives to prescription medication

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"Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful,” notes Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, on the NHS website

“This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply 'mental events' that do not have to control us.”

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A whole host of ailments can be improved by a tweak in diet. Cutting down on your salt intake can improve blood pressure, while eating less animal fat and more fruit and vegetables can be beneficial for cholesterol levels

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Avoiding alcohol and caffeine and eating sources of soluble fibre such as rolled oats and non-starchy vegetables (carrots, celery and lettuce) can lessen the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Natural pain-fighters

For those everyday niggles such as headache or toothache, you might want to consider some natural alternatives to tried-and-true painkillers.

You might already know the traditional toothache remedy oil of clove, but did you know that peanut butter can also soothe the pain of an aching tooth – the sticky condiment acts as a barrier between the bacteria and the tooth.

If you’ve got a bad cold or flu make sure you eat lots of vitamin C- rich fruits – strawberries, oranges, red and yellow peppers – as well as drinking plenty of water. Meanwhile Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, which can boost your immune system.

Interested in trying natural alternatives to prescription drugs? Let us know in the Comments section below.

The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs starts on BBC One at 9pm, Thursday 15 September.