Holistic nutritionist Debbie Kim offers all-natural swaps for many of your over-the-counter needs.
For years the medications and treatments found at the drugstore have been considered safe and benign, but these days people are becoming more aware of the risks and side effects of many over-the-counter drugs. Every day I get questions from patients who want to know if there is a natural alternative to painkillers, allergy medications, or antacids. Fortunately nature has provided alternatives to many of these products. In fact, these natural remedies have been used for ages to treat common ailments, and you may even be surprised to find that they work better than their manufactured, chemical-laden counterparts. So why not give your first aid kit a natural makeover?
When making this shift, it's important to remember that natural healing agents often work differently than their pharmaceutical counterparts, so take some time to familiarize yourself with them. And do note that some traditional Chinese formulas may require the supervision of a licensed acupuncturist or herbalist. Do not take them if you are pregnant or nursing except with the supervision of a qualified and licensed healthcare practitioner.
Here are a few easy swaps that will take care of most common ailments:
For joint aches and sore muscles: use arnica instead of Tylenol or Motrin. This homeopathic preparation comes in pill, cream, or gel form. It can be taken internally or smoothed onto aching muscles or joints for relief from arthritis and other pains. It also is incredible at speeding the healing of bruises! Instead of analgesic creams like Bengay, try white flower oil. This has been used by doctors of Chinese medicine for years to help with sore muscles and aches and pains, especially for back and foot pain. It is great for massages and can be wonderfully reenergizing.
For indigestion: substitute apple cider vinegar for your antacid tablets. Apple cider vinegar has many uses, from detoxing and weight loss to tooth whitening and sunburn relief, so it definitely deserves a place in your medicine cabinet. For heartburn relief, mix 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a glass of water and sip before or during meals to help aid in digestion. Weak stomach acid is often times what causes heartburn, so assisting your digestion with apple cider vinegar may prevent the discomfort associated with heartburn. (Note: This is not recommended for use by those with ulcers.)
For bloating: you can also try taking natural papaya enzyme if you have weak digestion and/or bloating. Raw potato juice (yep!) may sound strange, but it is very soothing for an acidic stomach, as are raw celery juice and aloe juice. Experiment and see what works best for you!
For allergy relief: swap out your antihistamine pills for a neti pot. This traditional Ayurvedic treatment involves filling a small ceramic pot with warm distilled water and a bit of sea salt. You then insert the spout of the pot into one nostril and carefully tilt your head so that the water drains through your sinuses and out the other nostril. Make sure that you tilt your head forward enough so that the saltwater does not go back down your throat. I've had patients who master this technique and swear by it because of how great it makes their sinuses feel. For stubborn cases, you can also try adding a drop or two of lavender essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil, or grapefruit seed extract.
For dry, itchy skin: trade in your lotion for coconut oil. It's another one of those miracle substances with 100 different uses. The fatty acids in coconut oil help skin retain moisture and leave it super-soft, and the oil also has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. It's a fantastic eye makeup remover, too; not only does it not have any harsh chemicals, it also leaves the skin around your eyes well hydrated. And coconut oil makes an amazing deep conditioning treatment for the hair – try smoothing on a little for an anti-frizz treatment.
For athlete's foot: replace antifungal creams and powders with grapefruit seed extract (GSE), which has potent antimicrobial action. Mix 10 drops of GSE with a dollop of coconut oil and massage into the feet or affected area. Another great use of GSE is as a gargle for a sore throat. Just dilute 10 drops in a glass of water.
For colds and sore throat: stock up on yin qiao san, a traditional Chinese medicine. With flu season upon us, one of the most common things I see right now are issues with the immune system. For colds that start with a sore throat, yin qiao san is key. Symptoms are usually relieved within a day, and it helps shorten the duration of a cold. For best results, take it it as soon as cold or flu symptoms appear.
For occasional constipation: substitute aloe vera juice for over-the- counter laxatives. Drink 2 to 3 ounces before bed or first thing in the morning.
To cure diarrhea: huo xiang zheng qi wan is a natural substitute for treatments like Pepto-Bismol. This traditional Chinese preparation is incredibly useful for acute diarrhea from food poisoning, flu symptoms, or even traveler's diarrhea. It is available in both liquid or pill form, but because it does not taste great, you may want to try the tablet form first.
For tooth and oral care: swap out your regular toothpaste and mouthwash for xylitol. This naturally sweet substance that comes from the birch tree has amazing benefits for dental health and can even help with dental infections. Try it in toothpaste, mouthwash, mint, or gum form.
You'll be delighted how much less cluttered your medicine cabinet looks after a natural makeover, and how effective all these simple, chemical-free alternatives can be.