Do you carefully stock homegrown, local and organic food in your kitchen, make your own cleaning products and recycle just about everything only to open your medicine cabinet and find over-the-counter medications, throw-away cotton balls and chemical-laden toothpaste? Let us help you create a healthier medicine cabinet for yourself and the planet by choosing these natural, reusable and sustainable alternatives for your aches, pains and daily care needs.
Natural Pain Relief
We often turn to over-the-counter pills when we are in pain from headaches, sore muscles or painful joints, but natural alternatives may be equally effective and safer. Try these on for size.
Relieve Muscle and Arthritic Pain
• Arnica: Available in creams and tablets, arnica relieves osteoarthritic pain in the knee and pain following carpal-tunnel release surgery. It contains helenin, an analgesic, as well as anti-inflammatory chemicals. Apply cream twice daily; use tablets according to package directions.
• Devil’s claw: A South African herb with medicinally active roots, devil’s claw can ease muscular tension or pain in the back, shoulders and neck, and is a popular treatment for osteoarthritic pain. It may also ease rheumatoid arthritic pain after about two months of use. Devil’s claw extract is considered safe at the typical dosage of 750 mg (containing 3 percent iridoid glycosides) taken three times daily. It is also available as tincture (use 1 teaspoon up to three times daily) and tea. It should not be taken with blood-thinning medications and may not be safe during pregnancy or for young children, nursing mothers and individuals with liver or kidney disease, or digestive system ulcers.
• Capsaicin: The heat element in hot peppers, capsaicin manipulates the body’s pain status by hindering pain perception, triggering the release of pain-relieving endorphins and providing analgesic action. Commercial capsaicin creams such as Zostrix, Heet and Capzasin-P are used topically for arthritic and nerve pain. Creams containing .025 percent capsaicin can significantly reduce osteoarthritic pain when applied to joints four times daily. A higher concentration of .075 percent works best for peripheral nerve pain—such as that from diabetic nerve damage, HIV and pain following cancer surgery. When using topical capsaicin products, be sure to avoid touching your eyes and other sensitive areas.
• Gamma-linolenic acid: GLA may help the body produce the prostaglandins and leukotrienes (hormonelike substances) that can reduce inflammation. It curbs rheumatoid arthritic pain, relieving morning stiffness and joint tenderness. Some evidence indicates GLA also can help migraine headaches and mild diabetic nerve damage. Borage and black currant seed oils are the richest sources of GLA. The recommended daily dose for rheumatoid arthritis is 1 to 3 grams GLA supplement, and for mild diabetic neuropathy, 400 to 600 mg daily. GLA may take up to six months for significant relief. Note: Long-term use may lead to inflammation, blood clots or decreased immune system functioning.
Natural Headache Relief
• 5-hydroxytryptophan: 5-HTP is an amino acid our bodies create and then turn into serotonin. Many headache drugs work by affecting serotonin, and preliminary research shows that taking 5-HTP might help prevent migraine and tension headaches. Serotonin affects circulation in the brain and can help increase levels of endorphins—our bodies’ natural painkillers. Take 50 to 100 mg three times daily. Don’t combine 5-HTP with antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
• Feverfew: Many sufferers swear by feverfew for headaches, including migraines. Feverfew can reduce both the frequency and severity of headaches when taken regularly. It is available in 60-mg capsules of fresh, powdered leaf (1 to 6 capsules daily), or 25-mg capsules of freeze-dried leaf (2 capsules daily). You can also make tea—steep 2 to 8 fresh leaves in boiling water, but do not boil them, as boiling breaks down the active parthenolides.
• Magnesium: Magnesium can be relaxing to the nervous system and can help relieve migraine headaches and prevent tension headaches. While you can take 200 mg of magnesium two to three times daily, magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, so consider taking an Epsom salt bath for headaches that won’t go away.
• White willow bark: One of the oldest home analgesics, willow bark contains salicin, the key ingredient in aspirin, which makes it a natural pain reliever. Willow bark doesn’t work as fast as ibuprofen, but it’s also less likely to cause the gastrointestinal bleeding that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are famous for. Purchase willow bark as a standardized extract or tea and follow package dosing instructions. Note: Willow should not be given to children, nor used by individuals with aspirin allergies, bleeding disorders, or liver or kidney disease. Willow may interact adversely with blood-thinning medications and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, willow tends not to irritate the stomach in the short term, but long-term use can be problematic.
When minor cuts, burns or bruises befall the members of your family, turn to these time-tested treatments.
• Aloe vera gel: Cooling and healing, aloe vera soothes the inflammation of sunburn and minor kitchen scalds and burns. Keep a fresh plant in the kitchen and, when needed, cut a stalk and squeeze gel from it. Or buy 100 percent pure aloe vera gel.
• Calendula salve: The bright yellow-orange blossoms of calendula have astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. Apply it as needed to any minor skin irritation including diaper rash, blisters, minor scrapes and more.
• Goldenseal capsules or powder: A powerful antimicrobial, goldenseal is effective against a variety of microorganisms that cause traveler’s diarrhea. The powder has antiseptic properties and can be sprinkled onto minor cuts or wounds to stop bleeding (it stings, but is very effective). Do not take goldenseal internally during pregnancy.
• Grindelia poison oak/ivy tincture or spray: Grindelia, also known as gumweed, contains resins and tannins that help to relieve the pain and itching of plant rashes. It’s commercially available as a tincture and also as a spray specifically for treating poison oak/ivy rashes.
• Witch hazel extract: Distilled witch hazel has mild astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for insect bites and skin irritations. It’s also an excellent base for diluting essential oils for a variety of simple, topical herbal first-aid remedies. Do not take
Stomachaches can knock the fun out of any day. When you’re facing indigestion or digestive cramps, try these methods of natural relief.
• Fennel: Fennel seeds are stocked with 16 analgesic and 27 antispasmodic chemicals. It makes a pleasant licorice-flavored tea and is especially good for menstrual cramps. Avoid the herb while pregnant or nursing because of its estrogenic effects.
• Ginger: Ginger’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties can help alleviate digestive cramps, indigestion and mild pain from fibromyalgia. Take 1 to 4 grams powdered ginger daily, divided into two to four doses, or make tea from 1 teaspoon chopped fresh root simmered in a cup of water for about 10 minutes.
• Peppermint: A famous antispasmodic for digestive cramps, peppermint essential oil is also used as a local topical anesthetic in commercial ointments such as Solarcaine and Ben-Gay. Germany’s Commission E recommends oral peppermint oil for digestive issues in adults. Several double-blind studies of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome demonstrate peppermint can significantly relieve painful abdominal cramps, bloating and flatulence. Take a 0.2- to 0.4-ml enteric-coated peppermint capsule three times daily; enteric coating prevents stomach upset. For mild stomach discomfort, try a tea from fresh or dried peppermint leaves.
Looking for more natural remedies? Read Quick Home Remedies for Common Ailments.
Antiseptic Skin Spray
Use this effective spray as needed on minor cuts, burns and abrasions to prevent infection and speed healing.
• 15 drops tea tree or eucalyptus essential oil
• 10 drops helichrysum essential oil
• 5 drops lavender essential oil
• 2 ounces distilled water
• 1/2 ounce grain alcohol or goldenseal tincture
Combine ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well before each use to help disperse the oils. Makes 2-1/2 ounces.
Reprinted from Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green.
Better Dental Care
Have you ever wondered what makes your toothpaste green, sweet and minty-fresh? Most conventional toothpastes contain petrochemicals and hormone-disrupting chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and triclosan, as well as artificial sweeteners such as saccharin (made with chlorine, ammonia and other noxious chemicals). They also often include synthetic dyes, many of which are derived from coal tar—a known human carcinogen. (Look for the words “colorant,” “blue lake” or any “lake,” “yellow No. 1,” “D&C” and “FD&C” on labels.) For naturally refreshing alternatives, seek out products made with herbs such as neem, parsley, clove and tea tree, and sweetened with stevia or fruit and herb extracts. Check out the websites below for better options free of potentially harmful chemicals.
Calling All Ladies
It may not be a glamorous topic, but the average woman will throw out 10,000 to 15,000 tampons and pads in her lifetime, and 20 billion end up in landfills every year in North America—that’s a lot of waste! Instead, consider these smart, reusable alternatives.
The DivaCup is a reusable menstrual cup that is worn internally. Menstrual cups have existed since the 1930s, when women were searching for an alternative to the choices of the time. The DivaCup offers 12-hour leak-free protection; is latex-, plastic-, PVC-, BPA-, phthalate- and dye-free; and is reusable (the company recommends replacing it annually). Single DivaCup, $40
GladRags offers reusable menstrual cups as well as cloth pads in a wide array of colors and patterns, including organic undyed cotton. Cloth Pad Sampler Kit (includes three day pads, three pantyliners, one night pad, carry bag and laundry bag), $95
New Moon Pads offers cloth menstrual pads designed and handmade by a work-at-home mom in Canada. 3-pack of Classic Pads in “Full Moon”, $32
Reduce landfill-bound waste in your bathroom by choosing reusable options for personal care. Doctors advise not putting anything inside your ear (including cotton swabs) and instead cleaning ears by letting warm water inside the ear, then cleaning inside with a towel. For removing makeup, applying toner and even removing nail polish, try these reusable cloth options.
Replace disposable cotton pads with this organic set from S.W. Basics of Brooklyn. 8 rounds with laundry bag, $22
Remove makeup or apply toner with hemp and organic cotton reusable facial rounds, made in California. 12 pack, $26.50; Etsy
Get squeaky-clean with Face Scrubbies Crochet Face Cloths, handmade in Pennsylvania. 8 pack, $8; Etsy