I'm a Pharmacist, and These Are the OTC Medications I Won't Take

Here's why one expert avoids these popular medicine cabinet staples.

Charged with counseling patients on safety while dispensing medications, pharmacists are experts on the ins and outs of both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. As such, they're uniquely well versed in which products may cause side effects, trigger interactions, or advertise dubious health claims.

Of course, those insights come in handy not only while advising others—they also inform each pharmacist's personal health decisions. That's why we're turning the spotlight on the medicine cabinets of the pharmacists themselves. We spoke with Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD, a functional medicine practitioner and gut health expert, to find out which OTC medications she simply won't take. Read on to find out which four drugs Lukyanovsky says she avoids, and why these particular treatments are off the table for her.

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tums sore throat remedies

One medication Lukyanovsky says she won't take is Tums, a popular antacid used to treat heartburn, upset stomach, or indigestion. She says that's because "they are full of unfavorable additives and artificial colors that produce allergic reactions on my skin," and adds that they can "cause rebound heartburn."

Instead, she uses a nutraceutical known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), an anti-inflammatory herb sometimes used to soothe the symptoms of heartburn.

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Nexium and Prilosec

Nexium boxes at store

Nexium and Prilosec belong to a class of medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which work to treat symptoms of reflux by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach lining. Lukyanovsky cites a range of reasons for abstaining from these particular products: not only do they "not get to the root cause" of the problem, they also produce vitamin depletions and "need the correct weaning process to stop them."

She adds that researchers have noted an "increase in stomach cancer associated with the prolonged use of PPIs"—a risk she views as outweighing any possible benefits.

Magnesium-based laxatives

Milk of magnesia

Lukyanovsky also skips certain over-the-counter laxatives, "like milk of magnesia." She notes that like certain other OTC medications, these often contain artificial colors and flavors. Instead, Lukyanovsky recommends trying "cleaner options with magnesium supplements," citing magnesium citrate as an example.

Experts from Harvard Health Publishing share their own warning regarding magnesium-based laxatives.  "Don't take more than the recommended amounts of these laxatives, or use them long-term, because they can throw off your chemistry," they write. They warn that people with underlying conditions may be at particularly heightened risk of side effects. "Combined with an underperforming kidney or heart failure, saline osmotic laxatives can be dangerous," their experts say.

If you suffer from either of these conditions, speak with a doctor or pharmacist to learn about which options may be safest for you.

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Afrin nasal spray

Afrin nasal spray

Afrin nasal spray is a decongestant that's used to treat cold and allergy symptoms—and Lukyanovsky says she makes a point of side-stepping this particular product.

"Afrin nasal drops can produce a temporary effect of relief, but then cause more rebound congestion that's hard to kick," she warns. Though this symptom is listed on the label, many people are unaware that nasal spray can have this effect, and become caught in a prolonged cycle of rebound congestion and repeated treatment.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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