If you had to narrow the contents of your medicine cabinet down to 15 items, which ones would you choose? Sounds like a Zombie Apocalypse question, doesn’t it? Seriously, though, in starting a new year, a common goal shared by many is to de-clutter. I, for one, can honestly say my own medicine cabinet is in dire need of an overhaul… but exactly WHAT items are the most important? Local pharmacists weigh in with their recommendations.
Just a few short years ago, “probiotic” was a term unfamiliar to most. We’d all heard of antibiotics, of course. Today, probiotics are much more widely used, and can be found in many nutritional supplements, as well as in dietary sources such as Greek yogurt. Pharmacist Lisa Huggins recommends this as one of her top three medicine cabinet must-haves. “Probiotics can fix virtually all [gastrointestinal] trouble. This alone makes the supplement worth having around, but it also boosts immunity, helps with acne, can calm a colicky baby and is a must for toddler diarrhea.” In addition, probiotics can offset some of the negative side effects caused by many antibiotics.
2. A Multivitamin
A quality multivitamin is a good addition to any family’s medicine cabinet. While studies show that dietary sources are the best way to obtain vitamins and minerals, society’s tendency toward convenience foods leaves many people falling short of reaching optimal levels. A good multivitamin can help fill in these gaps, though all of the contributing pharmacists emphasized a greater need for a better diet.
3. Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer
Edmond pharmacy owner Lee Gile lists this among her top must-haves. Regular-strength Tylenol or Motrin (or their generic equivalents) are invaluable when it comes to providing pain relief from minor muscle aches or headaches. These medications also serve to reduce fever in the case of illness, though they should not be used unless the fever is high or is causing significant discomfort. Be sure to follow package directions exactly, and if you have a history of ulcers or related stomach problems, talk to your health-care provider about using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory products such as Motrin.
4. Vitamin D
According to Huggins, “I consider a Vitamin D supplement to be a must for everyone, but it can be hard to convince people because there are no overt benefits. It’s all strictly preventative. However, Vitamin D boosts immunity, protects bones and now studies have shown that it may play a major role in the prevention of many types of cancer.” In fact, in recent years, the National Institutes of Medicine have recommended tripling the recommended daily dose for adults and children. At least 600 IU/day is recommended.
Gile considers Benadryl (or a generic equivalent) to be an important addition to anyone’s medicine cabinet because it can stop or reduce the effects of an allergic reaction. The antihistamine helps clear up runny noses and itchy, watery eyes, but it also may cause drowsiness.
Pharmacist Dave Mason began carrying Xylitol gum products a few years ago at the request of a handful of local dentists, and now has expanded his line to include candy, mints, toothpaste and sweeteners—all of which have a tendency to fly off the shelves. Xylitol is a sugar substitute which can be found naturally in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables. Unlike other sweeteners, xylitol is beneficial to dental health, and has been shown to help remineralize areas of tooth decay with regular use. Xylitol may also play a role in the reduction of ear infections and allergy symptoms, according to some studies.
7. Fish Oil
Huggins recommends fish oil supplements, noting that they are good for the skin and have anti-aging benefits. In addition, “fish oils promote heart health, and have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help with any random aches and pains. They help to preserve brain health, and are necessary for growing smart babies.”
8. Aloe Vera
Gile includes aloe vera on her list, primarily for its soothing effects on burns. Some studies also show topical aloe vera may be effective in helping to heal mild psoriasis and minor skin infections. Aloe vera gel with lidocaine often helps to relieve pain caused by mild sunburns.
While probiotics and Vitamin D may be effective in preventing allergies from occurring, Huggins is quick to point out that “we live in Oklahoma, and at the end of the day, a sinus headache is a sinus headache.” (Hear those winds sweeping down the plains?)
10. Hydrocortisone Cream
Gile recommends keeping over-the-counter strength hydrocortisone cream on hand for the treatment of minor skin rashes, but cautions to “never apply it to open wounds or broken skin.” Hydrocortisone cream is often effective in the treatment of mild skin irritations or rashes caused by eczema, poison ivy, insect bites and contact dermatitis.
11. Petroleum Jelly
All of our contributing pharmacists agree that petroleum jelly has a wide range of uses. It can be effective in facilitating wound healing, can provide a barrier to protect against skin irritants, and acts as an excellent moisturizer, soothing dry, cracked skin.
12. Assorted Bandages
After you’ve treated those minor cuts and scrapes with a little petroleum jelly, it’s a good idea to cover them with a bandage to reduce the risk of infection. Once again, all of our contributors were unanimous.
Huggins recommends keeping melatonin, or a supplement supporting GABA on hand for sleep disturbances. GABA is an amino acid, and is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It produces a calming effect and promotes sleep. Melatonin supplements can help to regulate circadian rhythms. “If you can catch insomnia early it doesn’t turn into an Ambien habit and everyone is infinitely better off,” says Huggins.
Mason recommends a calcium supplement to virtually all of his patients. “Not all calcium is created equal. Some forms are better absorbed than others.” With regard to dosage, it’s best to speak to your healthcare provider about what type and how much calcium you should be supplementing.
15. Saline Rinse
Huggins considers saline solutions to be a go-to medicine cabinet item. “It has so many uses for people of all ages. Saline is great as a sinus rinse, and they sell kits specifically for this purpose. It does a great job of cleaning out the sinuses and nasal cavity of irritants and allergens.” It’s a great eye rinse, though she notes that it’s important to keep those bottles separate if the solution has been used nasally. Saline is also good for rinsing wounds, and is a must for those who wear contacts.
If you’ve been looking to pare down to the bare necessities in the new year, consider keeping these things on hand in your medicine cabinet. These staple items will assure that most basic needs can be met, even those which may be unexpected. For any questions or concerns, contact your pharmacist or healthcare provider.
Our Readers Respond
We asked our readers to share their medicine cabinet “must-haves,” and here are some responses:
- Herbs, multivitamins, apple cider vinegar and coconut oil
- Vicks VapoRub, gripe water, ibuprofen and Coban stretchy bandages
- Dermaplast spray for all the “owies”
- Vitamin “m”—Motrin!
- Probiotic and a nasal aspirator
- Dark buckwheat honey for use as a cough syrup (for kids older than 1 year)
- Homeopathic cough & fever reducer, children’s multivitamin gummies, band-aids, peroxide and alcohol
Thanks to Hollie H., Kirsten D., Kimberly M., Mari F., Jamie H., Sara R., and Daphanie M. for your feedback. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MetroFamily for more opportunities to share your thoughts.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and single mom to two girls. An Edmond resident, she graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma and is an HR manager in the medical field.