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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Karl Gondon

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


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

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


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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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 more »


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.


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… Read more »


Hi 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… Read more »


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… Read more »

M Johnson

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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… Read more »


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

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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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.


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… Read more »


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?


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


@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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »

Beth Terry

Hi Darris. No alcohol for me. :-)


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… Read more »


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… Read more »

knutty knitter

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


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… Read more »

Sharyn Dimmick

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


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… :~)


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.… Read more »

nancy baldwin

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!


@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…


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.


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

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.


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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

Tracey TieF

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… Read more »


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… Read more »

Kathryn Grace

Fortunately, I have never found ANY cold medicines that don’t make me feel worse. I use plain aspirin, and when I have deep bronchitis, slather on the Vicks Vaporub. Both now seem to come only in plastic bottles, and the latter is petroleum based, so I avoid them as much as possible. I drink lots of homemade hot ginger/lemon/honey tea, grating the ginger from a fresh piece of the rhizome. I use fresh lemons and honey in glass jars with metal lids. That is actually the best medicine I’ve ever found for a cold or flu. Slowly licking a honey-coated… Read more »


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… Read more »

Sharyn Dimmick

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… Read more »

Lara S.

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!


I like to use tinctures that come in glass bottles like Wellness formula. Some of their products are tablets that come in plastic bottles, but I really like the tinctures.

Mary Katherine

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.