What's in Your Alternative Medicine Cabinet?


by By Lisa Weiner /


Posted on May 1, 2009 at 12:52 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Portland-based freelance writer Lisa Weiner is a nurse practitioner and proud mother of a two-year-old boy. She has a passion for demystifying the world of health for her patients and readers. Her work has appeared in Clinician Reviews, The Jewish Review, Northwest Palate and the Oregonian.

If you're like most people, you probably keep your medicine cabinet stocked with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, decongestants, cortisone creams, and bottles of antacid. Armed with these over-the-counter medicines, you feel ready to deal with the various aches, pains, ailments, and minor injuries life throws your way.

But in these times of organic food, preventive medicine and alternative healthcare, your medicine cabinet may need some updating. With the addition of a few natural remedies and supplements, you will not only have more tools to deal with illnesses, you may also able to prevent some of them from occurring in the first place.

So, get out your shopping list and get ready to head over to your natural foods store--the following are seven items that no "alternative" medicine cabinet should be without:

  • Echinacea: While there was much publicity given to a 2005 study that concluded that Echinacea was not effective at preventing illness, that study is thought by some to have been poorly conducted and to have reached a false conclusion. According to a 2007 study out of the University of Connecticut, taking Echinacea can cut your chances of catching a cold in half and can shorten the duration of a cold by one and a half days. Take it  when you're feeling run down, doing lots of air travel, or are going to be around people with colds (i.e., out in public during the winter).
  • Homeopathic Arnica: According to Portland, Ore., naturopath Greg Nigh, arnica is great for "... physical trauma or injury of [any] kind--bumps and bruises, surgeries, sore muscles from working or exercising. It's great to give to kids who get an injury." A 2006 study published in the journal Pharmacology affirmed the anti-inflammatory properties of arnica. It is available as a topical gel or as homeopathic pellets.
  • Chamomile Tea: Used for centuries, chamomile tea is a gentle way to promote relaxation, stress reduction and a restful night's sleep. In fact, one Japanese study done on rats showed that chamomile was just as effective at inducing sleep as prescription tranquilizers.
  • Vitamin D: It's necessary for strong bones, and has been linked with cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation, and a reduction of asthma symptoms. Nigh emphasizes that it is, "Of particular relevance during the winter months, [as it has the] potential to reduce colds and flu." In fact, a study published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection highlights the role of Vitamin D deficiency in many individuals who contract the influenza virus.
  • Melatonin: This can help with insomnia due to stress or jet lag. The time-release formulation is helpful if you have difficulty falling back to sleep after nighttime wakings.
  • Ginger Tea: It's wonderful for all sorts of digestive ailments, as indicated by a Danish study which showed that ginger significantly reduced nausea, vomiting, sweating and vertigo in naval cadets.
  • B complex vitamins: B vitamins are essential for the health of many of our organs, including skin, eyes and liver. They also play a key role in both immune system and nervous system health, and in the production of neurotransmitters, leading many experts to recommend them as an integral part of a stress management program. Nigh recommends the B's as a staple to good health. The holiday season is a good time to help prepare your body for the added stress (and poorer diet) by getting a daily dose of B complex vitamins.

With the addition of these powerhouse alternative medicines to the ubiquitous staples in your medicine cabinet, you can naturally find something to help with ails you.