Decoding the Drugstore Aisle

Decoding the Drugstore Aisle

By Megy Karydes

The drugstore aisle can be a confusing place to visit on days that you’re feeling well, let alone when you’re feeling ill. How does one know when to choose Tylenol over Aleve? Or Advil? And do we need to take a multivitamin daily and if so, which one?

Chicago Health spoke with two specialists to help you decipher what seems like a complicated code of shopping for supplements and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

For strengthening your immunity

“Taking a daily multivitamin helps supports your immunity and helps the body to absorb essential nutrients like B vitamins,” says Theri Griego Raby, MD, ABIHM, founder and medical director at the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern.

Bill Mattson, owner and pharmacist of Ballin Pharmacyin Chicago’sLakeview neighborhood, agrees with Raby that a multivitamin is a great way to stay healthy but cautions against choosing cheaper varieties.

If questioning which multivitamin is right for you, Mattson recommends asking your pharmacist and bringing along all other supplements and medicines you’re currently taking, both prescription and over-the-counter because some vitamins will react differently based on what’s in all the others. Also, one doesn’t want to exceed certain minimums of various ingredients.

For strong hair and nails

It goes without saying, but Raby repeats it because most of us need to hear it on a regular basis: The best thing each of us can do to maintain our health, including that of our hair and nails, is to consume a healthy diet. Rather than recommending something over-the-counter to help, Raby suggests meeting with your physician to discuss why your hair or nails are not strong since unhealthy hair or nails might be indicative of something serious like a thyroid condition. Once cleared by a physician, supplements that contain biotin are great for hair. Raby recommends 5,000 micrograms per day.

For heart and mind

“Fish oil is good for hair, skin and nails,” she adds, recommending it as a way for patients to consume Omega-3 fatty acids. Not only does it help improve one’s memory, it helps with cancer prevention, gastrointestinal issues, heart function and eye health. Not all Omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil are created equal. Raby suggests sourcing a medical-grade Omega-3 fatty acid. Three brands she recommends to patients are Swisse Wellness, Nordic Naturals and Carlson.

For allergies and asthma

“Use a neti pot with distilled water two times a day at least two weeks before the [allergy] season begins” says Raby. Another option is the herb Boswellia, which helps reduce inflammation for those who suffer from asthma. Raby recommends 300 milligrams, three times a day, about three to four weeks before allergy season begins. What if allergy season has already begun? Start anyway. “It’s better late than never,” she says.

For sinus congestion, Claritin, Zyrtec and plain Mucinex found over-the-counter can help loosen mucus.

For fighting the flu

At the onset of flu symptoms, Raby suggests homeopathic remedies like oscillococcinum. Increasing Vitamin C to 1,000 milligrams a day, twice a day for seven to 10 days can provide relief, according to Raby. For systemic relief of the flu, plain Mucinex is fine as an over-the-counter solution to relieve congestion, but Raby advises to steer clear of those which include pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient such as Mucinex D.

For headaches and migraines

Depending on the severity, Raby recommends a visit to your physician for a migraine as it may be indicative of something serious. If it’s the result of sinus congestion, try a neti pot with distilled water or an over-the-counter solution like Claritin or Zyrtec. Other natural options include a hot or cold compress, acupuncture, a natural decongestant or a natural antihistamine with cortisone.

For many ailments, Raby is quick to point out that the standard American diet is to blame. “Watch for inflammatory foods like sugar, alcohol and caffeine, all of which create chronic inflammation,” she says.

Mattson says that many of his customers seek out over-the-counter remedies when most of their ailments could be managed by changing their diet or lifestyle. However, he cautions against taking something over-the-counter simply because someone, like a friend, advised it.

“Some people will take anything Tom, Dick or Harry says worked for them,” he adds. “What worked for them may not work for you. Ask a pharmacist first.”

A sedentary lifestyle, such as sitting at a computer all day, not exercising and lack of sleep contribute to many aches and pains, so try to schedule some time to get active, and to get to bed at a decent hour.

The good news is that with lifestyle modifications, fewer visits to the drugstore aisle for over-the-counter medications will be necessary. And when they are necessary, it’s best to know what you’re looking for and why, says Mattson.

Community Calendar

From noon to 4 p.m. every Sunday during the month of September, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce is hosting Sunday Play Spot, a pop-up pedestrian plaza filled with activities for children and adults. Ballin Pharmacy pharmacists will be on hand to answer any questions on medicines you’re currently taking. Bring your medicines, prescriptions or over-the-counter products in a brown bag for review.

Published on September 3, 2014