So, two weeks ago, I was out of town staying in a hotel with friends and looking forward to a much deserved vacation, when I started to feel the tell-tale signs of a cold coming on. My face hurt, my head throbbed, and by the second day, I had a sore throat. I’ve written before about plastic-free traveling as well as plastic-free cold remedies, but I wasn’t prepared for the eventuality of both happening at the same time. Crap. What was I going to do? My neti pot was at home. So were most of my cloth handkerchiefs. And I had no idea how to get soup or cough remedies without plastic in this unfamiliar place.
At first, I tried to manage the symptoms without plastic. I drank a lot of water (due mostly to my friend’s helpful nagging.) I found a glass jar of honey and some lemons at the local grocery store. And I found Woodford Reserve bourbon–which comes with a wood/cork stopper instead of a plastic cap or BPA-lined screw cap–at the local liquor store. I combined all three ingredients with hot water and tossed it back. Yummy. And effective…for about 20 minutes.
I tried valiantly to get through the cold naturally and without plastic, but when I started having fever and chills, I realized I needed to start calling in the big guns. I bummed Ibuprofen tablets from my friend until her bottle was almost empty. Then, I ended up having to buy more–for myself and to replace what I had used. I was okay for a few days until the real coughing started. One evening, before a dinner show at another hotel, with only a hotel gift shop for help, I bought a pack of N’Ice cough drops in a plastic blister pack. I thought those would at least keep me from coughing through the show. But the next day, my friends confessed that I had been keeping them up all night with my coughing…even though I had moved to the couch. When my coughing became so violent it triggered my gag reflex, I knew it was time to give in to the biggest gun of all: Maximum Strength Mucinex DM (in another blister pack.)
The Mucinex knocked out the coughing completely and gave me a little Dextromethorphan high as an added vacation bonus. I resigned myself to the extra plastic I would have to add to my tally. But it wasn’t until I got home and read Deanna Duke’s new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, that I realized the plastic wasn’t just in the packaging…it was in me too! As well as a host of other nasties.
The Non-Toxic Avenger Strikes
The Non-Toxic Avenger follows blogger Deanna Duke’s (aka Crunchy Chicken) journey to rid her home and body of toxic chemicals, including many of the chemicals found in plastics (e.g., phthalates, BPA, lead, cadmium, flame retardants, and others.) She relates the steps she took to get her chemical body burden tested at the start of her project; all the ways she de-toxified her food, personal care products, and home; and the results of her follow-up body burden testing after making those changes. It’s a serious topic, but Deanna writes in her usual irreverent style, in a way that’s engaging, even if some of the information is alarming.
After my experience with over-the-counter cold medicine the previous week, I was particularly interested in the book’s section on medications, included in Part 5, “Going a Little Bonkers.” Deanna writes:
As I was researching phthalates, I discovered that they were also found in medications where they were used as an inactive ingredient to produce enteric coatings, otherwise known as the coating that protects your stomach. Since my aspirin wasn’t enteric-coated, it wasn’t a problem, but I made sure my newly purchased white ibuprofen didn’t have a coating as well, which was harder than it sounds. Most products on the market have a cellulose coating and/or contain polyethylene glycol (PEG). Furthermore, brand names like Advil can contain parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), Motrin has artificial colors and PEGs, and generic brands have artificial colors and PEGs…
Oh dear. I looked up the inactive ingredients in the cold medicines I had relied on the previous week. I found parabens, PEGs, SLS, artificial colors, and some plastics used in extended release tablets:
Advil caplets: acetylated monoglycerides, colloidal silicon dioxide, corn starch, croscarmellose sodium, methylparaben, microcrystalline cellulose, pharmaceutical glaze, pharmaceutical ink, povidone, pregelatinized starch, propylparaben, sodium benzoate, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearic acid, sucrose, synthetic iron oxide, titanium dioxide, white wax.
Walgreens ibuprofen caplets: Carnauba Wax, Cellulose, Corn Starch, Fumed Silica Gel, Hypromellose, Lactose, Magnesium Stearate, Polydextrose, Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Red Iron Oxide, Sodium Starch Glycolate, Stearic Acid, Titanium Dioxide.
N’ice cough drops: Acesulfame Potassium, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus), FD&C Blue 1 (CI 42090), FD&C Red 40 (CI 16035), Isomalt, N&A Cherry Flavor, Flavor, Water (Purified), Tartaric Acid.
Maximum Strength Mucinex (extended release): carbomer homopolymer type B; D&C yellow #10 aluminum lake; hypromellose, USP; magnesium stearate, NF; microcrysalline cellulose, NF; sodium starch glycolate, NF.
What’s the solution?
The best way to avoid toxic chemicals in medications is to just stay well, as I wrote in my post, Healthy Bodies Are Good for the Environment. I certainly had not been getting enough sleep in the last weeks of January, as I had been staying up all night working on the last minute edits to my book. And I’m sure my diet had suffered as well. Still, even the healthiest people catch colds.
In the future, I will remember to pack the OTC cold and pain medications that I already have, so I at least don’t have to buy new products in plastic packaging. And as for the nasty ingredients, I’ll try and find products without artificial colors, preservatives, and other undesirable chemicals and take them as little as necessary.
What do you take for colds and fever? Have you found any medications with few artificial and petroleum-based ingredients that actually work?