The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 16, 2012

How the Non-Toxic Avenger Ruined My Relationship with Ibuprofen (and other drugs)

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.

Honey, Lemon, Bourbon cough syrup

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.)

OTC cold remedies

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?


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Joy-Mari Cloete
3 years ago

I drink water. I’ve long had a distrust of pills.

Karl Gondon
4 years ago

Aldi’s ibuprofen tablets are coated with natural ingredients for instance the color comes from beets.

4 years ago

I find it odd that companies are putting toxic chemicals into medications… even children’s sweets have moved to natural colours due to health concerns.

Personally, I have not been able to find any paracetamol or ibuprofen tablets without titanium dioxide and other nasty chemicals that are supposedly inactive… also when I had to take antibiotics I noted the tablets were using petroleum based colours that are there just to make them look pretty, and there is no need for them!

Beth Terry
10 years ago

Also, by the way, I am not drinking bourbon for a cold anymore. Because I’m not drinking period. :-)

10 years ago

I am currently recovering from my second head cold in two months :( and I hadn’t realized how bad my cold medicine is! I usually try to stay away from trad medicine (unless my headaches need something stronger), and for my first cold this year I took zinc lozenges and drank a lot of throat comfort Yogi brand tea. The tea helped the most, but I was still sick for over 2 weeks.

This time I decided to take OTC meds to counter the cold (I did NOT want to be sick that long again!) and…it’s been a week and I’m still sick. Plus, this time I was able to rest a lot more (I was on vacation the first time and did not want to slow down). So my highly unscientific research leads me to believe that it doesn’t really matter what I take–I’m switching back to tea.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  SarahSero

Totally agree. I am on my second cold this year also (could be flu, actually — the Kaiser advice nurse thought so when I called last night.) I think the most important things are rest and fluids. I’m drinking lots of herbal tea and other liquids, sleeping, and not taking any medication at all. Not even ibuprofen for the fever because I believe (and some Internet research last night confirms this) that fever is one of the body’s ways of fighting the infection. As long as it doesn’t get too high (103F for adults, according to a medical website I read), then it’s best to just let it do it’s thing. It will break when it’s ready. Don’t know if you had fever or not, but just thought I would add this bit since I’m dealing with it right now.

10 years ago

Mobile massage therapy is that some people either prefer to experience massage therapy in their own homes or they have mobility issues which make it difficult to get to a spa or a masseuse’s office. Also, some people choose mobile massage therapy as a form of entertainment and relaxation. For example, a group of friends enjoying a day off of work together might hire a mobile massage therapist to come to one of their homes and give each person a chair massage or table massage.

11 years ago

I only stop by this blog occasionally so I’m catching up on old posts , but I had to chime in on this one. I was not willing to give up ibuprofen (nothing works as well for me when I have a cold) so I use compounded asprin and ibuprofen. I get them made at a compounding pharmacy and it’s just the compound with a binder (I have them use lactose as I’m allergic to cornstarch) and a gelatin capsule on the outside. Three ingredients, no plastic in the medicine. The bottle of course…sigh. In California you have to get a prescription to use a compounding pharmacy but if you are willing to deal with the shipping (you may be able to request minimal packaging) you can get them from out of state without a prescription.

11 years ago

Got to say your other responders have the right notion, herbs and tinctures. We have used the astralagus based tinctures to fortify our immune system we great success along with goldenseal or echincea. But you should know when you can’t stop coughing, a low amount of lobelia will let you get to sleep coughless. If you get the mix wrong well lobelia won’t let you, it will make you vomit, so pay attention.
All of these things come in bottles with little amounts of plastic.
I will be contacting you to do an interview on my Radio show Toxic Trespass in Northern Calif. I like your approach and drive.

11 years ago

I think your statement that “we” can live without plastic is just fine. Not as individuals, though. Our society has to change, but we can do it.

Also, a lot of the ingredient in those drugs that I had to look up were related to them being tablets: agents to bind them together, then more to make sure they break up. Could you buy cough syrup to avoid those? And skip the Advil so your fever can heal you. Sometimes you have to suppress a cough so you can sleep and if honey didn’t work (too bad. It gives my kids several hours cough free) then you need something else.

M Johnson
11 years ago

Organique by Himalaya makes amazing herbal, all-natural balms/rubs that work just as good or better than Vicks and they come in glass with a plastic lid. You could also make your own balm with beeswax and essential oils.

11 years ago

When half the family had whooping cough a few years ago, nothing worked, until my husband’s German work colleague put him onto killepitch, a german herbal digestive liquer. Worked like a dream, a teaspoon for each child before sleep. Have used it for dry coughs ever since. I figure it is a lot less harmful for the children to have a teaspoon of alcohol than the horrible ingredients in pharmacy cough mixtures.

11 years ago

Yes the nasty things in medicine…
For colds we drink elderflower tea with local honey and for a fever – yarrow and plenty of rest. It is more difficult while traveling and to be honest we aren’t quite sure how we are going to solve it, maybe by putting together a little herbal first aid kit.

11 years ago

Dark Chocolate – 70% caco or higher content. I can get Dove Dark (but they come in a big plastic bag) bites – 1.5 oz = about 5 pcs. I usually just try two, chewed quickly and at the same time just before I lay down to sleep for the night. On very bad nights I’ll take up to four.

11 years ago

My new recommendation for sickness: Read Super Immunity by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Lots of great information for preventing illness (from colds to more serious stuff later in life). He debunks a lot of cold/flu myths and offers suggestions for simpler/non-toxic remedies that are actually backed up by clinical studies. Zinc, Vitamin D, and elderberry extract (glass bottles) are a good place to start. He also includes some really good recipes. I’ll definitely be looking into Deanna’s book as well!

11 years ago

I have switched to doTERRA essential oils. With essential oils, you can toss every OTC product in your medicine cabinet. Use Thyme, lemon or Melaleuca oils for colds. Lavender oil eases pain, Peppermint oil reduces fever, melaleuca (tea tree oil) is antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal, lemon oil is great for just about everything. Frankincense oil can cross the blood brain barrier. I had a bad connection with a huge curio cabinet in my living room and put a 3/4″ gash in the top of my foot. I used Helichrysm oil to stop the bleeding and Lavender oil to stop the pain. My foot did not turn black and blue nor did it swell up. It looked fine by the next day and wasn’t sore (unless I hit it with something else) — I’m a little clutzy sometimes. Helichrysm oil stops bruising. So when I run into something, I just apply a drop on the spot and now I’m not black and blue all the time. The oils come in glass bottles but the caps are plastic. They are certified pure and do not contain any waxes, Parabens, petrochemicals, or other bad things — all plant based. You can apply them topically, take them internally, or diffuse them. Just be sure that the oil you use is certified pure therapeutic grade essential oil.

11 years ago

Thanks for the tip on the bourbon.

Oh yeah and the information about the plastic coated meds is disturbing.

I have always said the best medicine is sleep and laughter.

Amy :)

Astrid Walsh
11 years ago

Guys there are SO MANY things you can do to help you through a cold and some of them even grow in your back garden. Not a bit of packaging in sight! Herbs are not only effective but so much healthier than all those cold medications which generally work by suppressing the cold. All the symptoms of a cold are necessary for your immune system to fight infection…Coughing, phlegm and all that and ESPECIALLY fevers. If you don’t let yourself have the fever your body can’t fight the bugs. Anyway, check out Susun Weed, who has amazing advice or just google herbs for colds. Colds aren’t the worst thing in the world, they help keep your immune system functioning, help your body get rid of toxins and force you to get the sleep and self care that your body needs. Just drink lots of hot liquids and sleep. We don’t need pharmaceutical companies to get well! Enjoy checking out the herbs!

11 years ago

Beth, at the top of your site it says “Think we can’t live without plastic? Think again. In 2007 I committed to stop buying any new plastic & I’ve almost succeeded!”
So five years later, you are still using plastic. Wouldn’t you say the question has been answered, and the answer is that no, you can’t live without plastic? Just saying that perhaps you should reconsider your banner and re-write it to reflect the reality. You have vastly reduced your use of plastic and that’s a good thing. Why not make that the focus instead of pretending something that isn’t true? After 5 years, saying “i’ve ALMOST succeeded!” is a clear admission that because of the system we are part of, plastic can not be avoided. What does that say about us and what should we do about it?

11 years ago

Many great suggestions here!

Beth, I admire your willingness to be YOU so publicly. I hope you feel better real soon!

My 10 year old had a fever for two days straight this past weekend. I gave her lots of water and chamomile tea. She is the only child I know who hates honey, so the tea was plain and she preferred it room temp or slightly warm. She either laid in bed or on the sofa with me nearby at all times.

I also gave her Ferrum Phosphate cell salts as often as she wished (1-800-Homeopathy brand comes in glass amber bottles with metal lids and the bottles were packed in cardboard boxes with cardboard inserts; no plastic that I recall at all). Calc Sulph cell salts helped her almost instantly with a sore throat that developed one morning. She looked it up in the Biochemics Handbook (available through same site) and self-dosed, which I encourage. Cell salts will not hurt her even if she takes the wrong one or too much. The beauty is she can learn on her own and it is a very fast “fix” when you get the right one. There are twelve cell salts, so it is easier than many other systems to learn.

We both took Vitamin D3 every day for support. She took 4,000 IU and I took 8,000 IU. We usually take D3 less often (1-4 times a week vs. every day).

We both took a homeopathic remedy I made, as well. I put 4 tiny grains of oscillococcinum and 1 larger grain of aconite (30c) in a 1 oz amber glass bottle (with glass dropper) and added filtered water. Shake until grains are dissolved. I squirted a dropper-full into her mouth every few minutes when her fever spiked above 101-102. Fevers are the body’s way of ridding itself of unwanted germs, toxins, etc. I was just aiming for her comfort and to aid her body’s efforts, not to suppress the fever.

I also practiced hydrotherapy with hot and cold water. Several warm-hot showers and baths. Alternate with a cool washcloth across the back of one’s neck while under covers. Wet sock treatment: Soak a pair of thin cotton socks in water, squeeze excess water out, and put them on. Cover with a pair of thick wool socks (dry). Go to bed or snuggle under covers on the sofa.

Aside from the brief sore throat, she never developed anything worse than a 102.something fever accompanied by a wicked headache. We stayed home again yesterday, except for a brief appointment I needed to keep, and she woke up happy and healthy and full of energy this morning. I am so grateful!

Meanwhile, my husband is out of town on business and came down with similar symptoms. I’m not there to help him and he is more likely to buy OTC items to get through his conference.

I have a travel kit with tiny glass vials of the 12 cell salts and various essential oils (lemon, peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, etc). I purchased the vials and fill them from my bigger glass jars. I made a respiratory salve and a skin healing salve. Tossed in some arnica montana (homeopathic remedy for pain) and cut-t-shirt pieces (wound care) and bandages. I store it all in a very small metal lunch box (think craft size). I use it at home and on the go. It even helped all three of us on a whale-watching boat trip that got rough last summer!

11 years ago

When I feel a cold coming on, I do a combination of lots of water, echincea (you could find it in glass bottle tincuture), red tea and extra sleep. I’ve heard salt water gargle is good too. I’ve never reached the chills and fever stage, at least for many years, so at that point, not sure what you could do.

11 years ago

Make yourself some ginger and thyme tea. Grate a half inch of ginger, put it in a tea ball with thyme and some cloves. I generally cook it for about 5 minutes. The ginger helps to relieve a sore throat and settles the stomach. Thyme helps to clear the lungs of mucous and cloves have anti-bacterial properties. This tea can be sweetened with honey once it cools down. If I want to create an artificial fever to sweat out the cold/flu I add a little cayenne pepper. You can also add lemon juice for a shot of vitamin C, only do this if you do not have a sore throat.

11 years ago

As far as homeopathic goes, I find fish oil to be IMMENSELY helpful with cramps. 4-5 capsules 2x/day of Nature Made brand (I hear it has the most benefits). My uterus used to feel like an erratic bread machine before the fish oil. Now I can focus on my priorities for the day.

That said, does anyone know of ingredients in fish oil that shouldn’t be ingested?

5 years ago
Reply to  Cait

Mercury, and other toxins that bio-accumulate in animal foods, particularly in their fats & oils.

11 years ago

@peaJayFish: There are a lot out there, and I’ve tended to combine bits of information from a lot of different sources over time. Suisan Weed and Rosemary Gladstar are probably the most influential authors in terms of European herbal medicine. Charles Kane is my go-to expert for desert Southwest medicinal traditions; he and I don’t agree on politics, but he is very good at combining biochemical studies with ethnographic information.

For Chinese medicine, well…I prefer to go to a practitioner. Chinese herbal medicine is integrated with traditional Chinese interpretations of the body and the origin of illness, and I do not feel comfortable with herbal recommendations that occur without reference to that traditional system for diagnosis. A good TCM practitioner (usually licensed as an acupuncturist) can be an amazing healthcare provider for long-term situations. If you have one nearby, which I don’t now!

I tend to be very conservative in my home-remedy approach, and I try to use only a few ingredients at a time, as unprocessed as possible. If I’m trying something new, I use it at a very low dosage by itself until I know how it affects me and other members of my family. Learning the most common traditional preparation techniques is important because different preparations can affect the chemistry (and thus effectiveness of the remedy). I do not try to use anything considered “heavy-duty” or potentially toxic unless I am certain I understand how to use it safely!

I use prescription medications when appropriate, too. Allopathic medicine is very effective at managing certain types of health challenges, and I would never argue that one system of medicine is the only one that works. For Bay Area residents, UCSF has a Mini-Medical School Program that features lectures by medical school faculty; it is fascinating. They also have many resources for Integrative Medicine (allopathy plus alternative medicine) online.

11 years ago

Lara S. if you are having cramps that badly every month, then I highly suggest you try Aleve instead of ibuprofin. YES it is still a drug, so not good for you. I am sure it contains all kinds of gross stuff in it too. BUT if you do find that there is no other alternative than the big guns, I recommend Aleve because:
–it is the over-the-counter version of Anaprox, which was prescribed to me for bad cramps before it became available OTC.
–you take FAR LESS of the drug for it to be effective. So, if you are going to be buying drugs, this switch would make less plastic waste in the long run, and less plastic contamination in your body in the long run.

But of course, you need to talk to your doctor and look up info on the drug to make sure it would be wise to try. Of course too, try whatever alternative things you can try–I have heard eliminating gluten, deep compression (like laying with something really heavy on your abdomen–it works for me!), and orgasm all work to relieve bad cramps. Yes, really! So, try things like that, but if meds are your only alternative, you might try Aleve.

Just my 2 cents. : )

11 years ago

WOW! lots of comments. Everyone has their special remedies.

So sorry to hear your dilemma. Most hotels will provide a hot plate or coffee maker so using that to boil water, making a tent with a towel and inhaling steam for 10 minutes could have helped. Another is using distilled water, clean salt, and using a small glass measuring device with a spout could have substituted for a Neti pot. I use the Neti at the first hint of sinus ‘tightness’. Also, using fresh lemons in warm water alkalizes your body which supports healing. Alcohol is poison to the body and only serves to further deteriorate it’s ability to heal. Lots of water with lemon is the best remedy.

We can’t be prepared for every situation and so we learn from our experiences and are better prepared the next time. Thanks so much for sharing your trials and tribulations and for your stated intention to be true to your cause. You are heroic in my book Beth.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  Darris

Hi Darris. No alcohol for me. :-)

11 years ago

Many fantastic herbal remedies in these comments – which is what I was going to recommend (especially ginger!) – so I’ll limit my comments to what I haven’t seen mentioned yet:

Thieves oil is amazing, especially for prevention. I’ll let this website explain:

@ Nanci Baldwin: I have had crazy allergies my whole life. Discovering the neti pot has been wonderful, but when a bad attack occurs (stinging nose, watery-burning eyes, want to kill someone attack), I can get near-immediate relief from turmeric (get the real organic stuff in bulk, not from a small grocery store jar) mixed in honey (local, raw) – just eat it. Within minutes, the stinging starts to abate. Then I wash my face with cold water and sit with a cool washcloth over my eyes for awhile. It’s not a 12 hour remedy, but works long enough to let you get something done, or get to sleep, etc.

@ Lara S: I have also had bad mentrual pain for the last 2 years, to the point where midol or pamprin with added advil did nothing for me. What works? Stinging nettle and chicory. You can make it like a tea, but I make it in my french press like coffee. Relieves the pain WAY faster and more effectively than any OTC med EVER did! On really bad days, I’ll also heat up my cotton rice-filled sock (only thing I use my microwave for) and place it on the cramping area. By the time the sock is just starting to lose heat, the nettle-chicory is starting to work and I can go about my day again! : )

@ Kathleen: Great comment! Do you recommend any particular herbal remedy book(s)?

@ Beth: Tracey’s essential oil kit will be an AMAZING gift! And again, great post! Take care of yourself; we all adore you!

*If using essential oils directly on the skin, always use a “carrier” oil (almond, olive, jojoba, coconut, any really). Essential oils are concentrated and most will “burn” skin.

!! I also boil my water and let it cool to body temp for neti pot use.

11 years ago

I’m a wuss when it comes to pain and illness. If I ever am remotely puny, I do take meds, and sometimes with little regard to the packaging if the pain or problem is signfiicant. ( Above a 6 on the pain scale of 1 to 10).

Yes, I use my netty pot and yoga inversion poses to knock my congestion loose. Even then, although helpful, the alleviation is brief.
I make teas…all kinds, depending on the need.

I sleep whenever my illness is the sort that rest will help. I go to the chiropractor ( which has often helped me kick a sinus issue quickly) and schedule massages for certain problems, instead of popping pills or other meds made with or wrapped in plastic.
That said there are certain things that modern medicine does very well, for which, as of yet, I haven’t found an equal….like my emergency asthma rescue inhaler.
(I would have died on two separate occassions without that thing. )

Although I do minimize my plastic at many turns. (I have reduced my plastic consumption by 60% this year…and I am consistently trying to get my use of the stuff even lower,) I realize that there are times when a little plastic is going to be the cost of being well.

I guess I am writing this to say…don’t beat yourself up for not being 100% plastic free yet. We’ll all get there eventually. Until then, take care of yourself the best way possible for now….continue to do what you do (research your options and get the best choices for you), and get the companies to offer healthy choices in alternative packaging.

You are one of my heroes Beth.
Hope you feel better soon.

knutty knitter
11 years ago

Usually just the odd asprin is all I take for a cold and even that is only if there is a significant headache. Other than that there is a brand of mentholated sweets that are horrible but effective if necessary and thats about it. Some of those herbal suggestions sound interesting – might have to try those.

viv in nz

11 years ago

At least once a week there’s someone surveying the masses, asking if anyone has a Tylenol, Advil etc. I proudly (and with a smile on my face) tell them “nope!” we don’t have anything of the sort in our home, let alone along with me at work. Staying well is definitely the best bet, but sometimes sick happens. Kleenex is my weakness… I go full force Puffs with menthol & lotion when I am dealing with any sort of a nasal issue. When healthy, it’s TP

Speaking of which, I read elsewhere this week that recycled TP contains BPA via receipt paper in their “mixed sources”. FML…

Sharyn Dimmick
11 years ago

Any kind of ginger you can tolerate will work: ginger tea, candied ginger, ginger chews.

11 years ago

Disclaimer: I’m studying to be a holistic health educator, so I’m passionate about this, but I’ll try to be brief. (OTOH, if you want a million other ideas, just ask :P)
What works for me: Chinese medicine. There are so many community acupuncture clinics in the east bay, that it’s affordable for everyone. Herbs are optional, but they’re worth it if you want to prevent a cold. They do usually come in a plastic bottle, but one little plastic bottle can help me prevent 10 colds.
Also, Gaia has lots of syrups and tinctures that come in glass bottles. I give my daughter the elderberry and acerola mixture daily all winter long, and it seems to help.
But there’s a reason that sleep and warm liquids are the universal recommendation. 1) They help. 2) Your body really just needs to go through it’s process when you’re sick (though Chinese medicine can accelerate the process)
I was really struck by your (common American) attitude that every symptom required a medication. Every symptom is your body trying to heal itself. A cough keeps infection from setting into the lungs. A fever helps you fight infection. Trust your body and give it what it really wants!

11 years ago

Oh… almost forgot…

I’ve also seen reports that dark chocolate is good for coughs.

Have no clue whether these reports are true or not, but if you ever needed an excuse to eat chocolate… :~)

11 years ago

OK… in terms of coughs… my mother was once traveling in Russia and had a terrible cough. She was at a restaurant and the waiter brought her some sort of hot pepper vodka (sorry – that’s as specific as I can get as to what it actually was.) Anyhow, he told her to swallow an entire shot in one swig. She swears it stopped the cough instantly… but who knows, maybe she was just too drunk to care!

My other thought on coughs is that they are often, though not always, caused by stuff draining from your sinuses. So the neti pot should help as well as piling up pillows to elevate your head & chest while sleeping.

And speaking of neti pots… Don’t know if you follow the news for the paranoid or not, but I’ve seen several reports of people dying because they used tap water in their neti pot and apparently there’s some brain eating amoeba that can sometimes survive the chlorination of tap water and if it gets into your sinuses it can kill you.

My allergist scoffed at the reports, but I’m now boiling my water (and letting it cool) before using it for my sinus rinse!

p.s. I totally LOVE the willow bark idea. I’m gonna have to see if I can find some.

11 years ago

We just went through a cold/sore throat/cough here (daughter, then me, then husband). 1 to 2 days each. We stopped it before it turned into something nastier using a couple drops of lavender essential oil (one that can be taken internally – glass bottle) mixed with a tsp of honey, 3 times a day. After breakfast, lunch and right before bedtime.
Slippery elm powder (1tsp in a cup of boiling water – found in bulk, with the spices) helps soothing sore throat, but does not treat anything.
Vit D (glass bottles) every morning. A good night sleep and healthy meals.
This is a summary of what works for my family :)

11 years ago

@Beth: That’s actually the store I was thinking about. Glad to know they’re still there.

Eucalyptus essential oil can cause a painful skin rash for some people (me, sadly). I usually infuse thyme and rosemary in olive oil for cooking, then add a bit to a basic skin salve when we need a chest balm. It may smell a bit like Sunday dinner, but it seems to work as well as Vicks, and doesn’t burn as much. It’s the only part of our cold treatment regime my toddler tolerates without protest…

11 years ago

Ginger is great for nausea (I used it a lot while pregnant). I bought crystallized ginger in a glass bottle in the spice aisle. The ingredients are ginger and sugar. The taste is horribly strong. My husband likes it, but I used to repeat to myself, “tastes better than vomit,” as I swallowed it. I never heard of ginger as a cough remedy, so that’s very helpful! The ginger pieces in our local bulk bins are WAY bigger than the ones I used, but I think they’re the same thing.

nancy baldwin
11 years ago

Here’s a link to a medical salve. I’m sure you can add any essential oils you want. This looks like something you should try Beth. No plastic involved!

11 years ago

Somebody mentioned Vicks VapoRub, which reminds me that I once bought an all-natural vapor rub. It was basically essential oils (probably rosemary, eucalyptus, and some others) in a base of plant fats, and maybe beeswax. It came in a plastic container, though. Maybe next cold season I’ll try to copy it.

Sharyn Dimmick
11 years ago

Aspirin is derived from willow bark, so willow bark probably works just fine. If your lungs are involved in the illness, ginger is good for the lungs — might brew some ginger tea or carry some paper-wrapped ginger chews. They are good for nausea and motion sickness, too, so you might want them in your travel carry-on.

11 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

Candied ginger from the bulk bin definitely works for nausea.

5 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

Fresh and dried ginger each have distinct, helpful properties. I carry dried ginger in capsules, which you might be able to buy plastic-free at your favorite herb shop or bulk herbs section in a well-stocked store.

But the number one way I have sidestepped colds and flu for *years* (after getting so sick each winter I lost weeks and weeks, and even developed a penicillin allergy, thanks to being on it for months at a time), is **elderberry*.

Take the syrup (glass bottle, plastic cap) every hour or two at the first sign of impending illness. You can also just take the plain juice. It’s astringent but not bitter, or add a little bit of honey.

Elderberry has proven anti-viral and immune boosting properties, and provides a gentle lift to the spirits, too. Always welcome when feeling a bit under the weather.

The other thing to consider is eliminating likely allergens from your diet, so your respiratory system is less prone to inflammation. Eliminating gluten and dairy changed my life tremendously – I’ve gotten over missing them, since I don’t miss the hay fever, chronic sinus infections, annual bouts of bronchitis, etc. that they brought with them.

11 years ago

Yes, willow bark has worked for me for both fever reduction and pain. Tracey’s right–it’s bitter. It’s also not as fast or abrupt in its action…when I’ve used it for headaches, the pain gradually tapers away instead of that sensation of sudden relief. I don’t have stomach upset with it, however, and the pain relief seems to last longer. It works better than ibuprofen or aspirin for cold symptoms, for me.

I was surprised at how well the cherry bark worked for cough suppression, even nasty, deep, chesty ones. Sometimes people don’t leave medicinal teas to brew for long enough–my minimum brew time is five minutes, and I’ll often leave the materials in the cup to continue brewing as I sip it down (small sips quick helps with the bitterness).

Steam is also surprisingly effective; coughing tears the mucous membranes so they can’t moisten intake air as effectively, which triggers more coughing. Even putting a warm wet washcloth over your mouth and nose can help break a coughing spell. A heating pad draped over the chest also seems to help.

11 years ago

Omg, Zinc. We have discovered zinc. Doc recommended it. Zinc lozenges just at the start of the cold, as directed. My favorite brand sadly comes in plastic bags, but my husband prefers the brand that comes in a foil roll. I find that if its not a real cold but an allergy, vitamin C works, but if its a cold, it’s zinc. I also tend to do the herbal cold tea thing, with raw honey. I make a habit to travel with tea and zinc. Also, sometimes those Kombucha drinks help. Folks use elderberry syrup for coughs, and that comes in teas and lozenges too.

11 years ago

Herbs will take care of all your everyday health needs. Headaches, colds, etc.

Tracey TieF
11 years ago

Fever = flu!

When I blow my plastic vows travelling, it’s on homeopathics for colds and flus for my children.

But I am going to make you a little emergency essential oil first aid kit. I carry chamomile (sleep, soothing, stings, swellings)
peppermint (food poisoning, fatigue, sterilizing, breath)
lemon (anti fungal/viral, congestion, babies and children, bad tasting water)
lavender (sleep, cuts & scrapes & burns, anti viral, flus)
vanilla (because I adore it and it helps if I smell funny)
basil would be good for you to clear the upper respiratory system
I also carry white willow bark in a small baggie instead of aspirin. Take with honey – it’s BITTER!

Love & Decongestion!

11 years ago

Ok… so we don’t really use any over the counter medicines.

I have from time to time bought cough drops, but otherwise we use homeopathic remedies. There’s a really great homeopathic liquid (can’t remember offhand what the name is) that comes in a glass bottle (it does have a plastic lid) that works AWESOME. We found it when we were out of town and needed something for our baby that had a horrible cough…. so you would easily be able to get it while out of town :)

To be honest, I don’t take anything for a fever and I’ve never given my kids anything either. A fever is the body’s way of fighting off whatever you have going on… we load up on plenty of water and rest. Also, our personal experience is that we’ve found by letting a fever run its course we get better faster without lingering symptoms (Obviously, we monitor fevers very closely and would take the proper steps to lower it if need be.)

Oh, and my favorite plastic free (and chemical free) remedy for sicknesses is my chiropractor/husband ;)

11 years ago

Willow bark tea is a gentle and safe alternative to ibuprofen, and is the original source for the active ingredient in aspirin. There are other herbal alternatives to OTCs out there for pain relief, and they can actually work better. It takes some research and some time spent figuring out what will work best for you.

Adding ginger, mint, or passionflower leaf to a lemon-honey tea can help with persistent coughing (and nausea). I’ve used wild cherry bark in combination with willow bark and honey to make a very effective cough syrup (cherry bark is a traditional cold/cough remedy). Adding pine needles, thyme, bay leaf or oregano to a steaming kettle and breathing in the vapor can really help with congestion.

There are several different places to buy medicinal herbs in bulk in the Bay Area; since I don’t live there anymore, I generally have to buy mine by mail from Mountain Rose Herbs (except for what I grow myself). It’s not 100% plastic-free, but at least the materia medica is.

Not every herbal medicine claim is accurate, but I try to remember that up until the 1940s, medical schools taught herbal medicine as part of their pharmacological arsenal. Most OTC formulations started out as herbal preparations that have been reduced over time to a single, industrially-sourced, active ingredient.

11 years ago

OMG. I am definitely NOT reading that book. I still haven’t recovered from “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” which totally made me afraid of my couch. Seriously, I’m starting to think the only safe option is to get a time machine and go back to the 19th century… of course then I’d probably die from some infectious disease…

Anyhow, my non-toxic cold remedies include…

Zinc lozenges… get the non-candy variety, and suck one every few hours starting as soon as you notice the first symptoms coming on. They taste HORRIBLE, but it generally helps to nip it in the bud (or nip it in the butt, as I used to think the saying went.)

Honey – putting it in tea is great, but what REALLY works is to take a full spoonful right before bed… and don’t eat or drink anything… or brush your teeth afterwards. Studies have show it to be more effective than commercial cough syrup.

And the biggest one of all – STAY HOME AND SLEEP! Not only will this help you recover faster, you also won’t spread your germs around to lots of unsuspecting people.

Oh… and the best way to avoid getting sick in the first place is to wash your hands frequently and don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Sharyn Dimmick
11 years ago

I have not used ibuprofen for years since I found out that high doses destroyed bone density (oops). I was laid off from a job with children a little over eighteen months ago and I have not been sick a day since, which is a dramatic difference. If I have a fever I go to bed, drink hot fluids, put on warm clothes and sweat it out. If I had a life-threatening fever, I would reach for aspirin, or put myself in a cold tub to bring the fever down. I eat plenty of organic vegetables and sleep when I am tired.

Lara S.
11 years ago

My biggest problem by far is menstrual pain. I take about 8 to 10 ibuprofen tablets each month and I still get some pain, but I absolutely can’t live those days without any painkillers. The pain is really strong.
I’m going to try to find a more natural ibuprofen, maybe if I buy it in drops, in a glass bottle? I hope I find something! Thanks for the information!

Mary Katherine
11 years ago

Wow, I had no idea that medicine had plastic in it! Thanks so much for the info. That’s disgusting! I knew it was bad, but not that bad… The only times I ever take medication is when a doctor says I have to, when I get migraines or when I get cramps so bad I can’t walk. For colds I use a neti pot. I also take Umcka Cold Care. It’s cherry flavored cold medicine. It’s all natural, buts its still in a plastic bottle. That’s the best I’ve come up with, other than tea and sleep.

11 years ago

Essential oils. The caps are plastic. The bottles are glass. (At least what I buy) However, a bottle of eucalyptus lasts for many colds, so you’re not discarding plastic every time you, or you hubby, or your children, or your neighbors, are sick. It’s a step in the right direction, anyhow. Because let’s face it, we’re gonna catch something sometime. =)