Preventive Care - Preventive medicine

People usually think of medicine as something to be taken to make a person well after he or she has gotten sick. Preventive medicines are things a person can take when well to help prevent becoming sick.

Vitamins, minerals, and even herbal supplements, when taken regularly in the right amounts, can help prevent many different illnesses, conditions, and even minor symptoms. However, a well-balanced diet should contain most, if not all, of the vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain health. The key to taking vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements is knowing which ones to take. Before taking any kind of supplement, one should always consult a medical professional to know if it is safe to be taking the supplements, and the right doses, because some vitamins or herbs can be harmful in high doses. Lists of basic, well-documented helpful supplements can be found below.


Vitamins are organic (natural) compounds that are usually not made by the body, but must be acquired from food. They are necessary for the proper growth and development of the body and its continued well-being. Deficiencies of certain vitamins can lead to various bodily disorders.

VITAMIN A (BETA CAROTENE). One of the antioxidant group, this vitamin helps neutralize free radicals, which in turn can reduce the signs of premature aging, heart disease, strokes, cancer, and diabetes. It also can protect the mucous membranes, which shield the body from allergens and germs.

VITAMIN C. Vitamin C is known to help reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancers, such as colon and cervical. It also blocks histamines, which are present in allergic reactions, and reduces inflammation.

VITAMIN D. Vitamin D helps maintain desired blood levels of calcium and enhances calcium absorption. Proper calcium levels can help prevent migraine headaches and, later in life, can help prevent osteoporosis.

VITAMIN E. Another antioxidant, this vitamin is sometimes difficult to get in large amounts from food. It is well known to help reduce the risk of heart disease, and, like vitamin A, it can help prevent or lessen the effect of allergies.

Vitamins come in many different formulas, even children's chewable vitamins. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Vitamins come in many different formulas, even children's chewable vitamins. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)


Unlike vitamins, which are organic compounds, minerals are inorganic. Like vitamins, however, they are also needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of body tissues and bones. There are two kinds of minerals: macrominerals, which are needed in large amounts, and trace minerals, which are only needed in small amounts.

CALCIUM. Proper levels of calcium in the body are needed to maintain healthy blood and cardiac function, as well as a healthy nervous system. In addition, maintaining a balance of calcium in the blood helps prevent migraines. And it is essential for girls and young women to absorb adequate calcium now to prevent osteoporosis later in life.

COPPER. Copper helps prevent anemia by enhancing hemoglobin (red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body) formulation and stimulating the absorption of iron.

IRON. Iron is important in the production of red blood cells. Correct iron levels are essential for preventing anemia.

MAGNESIUM. This mineral works together with calcium to help prevent migraine headaches. It also helps relieve constriction in the lungs due to allergies and asthma.

POTASSIUM. This important mineral is essential to proper heart function. In extreme cases, a severe deficiency of potassium can lead to a heart attack.

SELENIUM. Along with vitamin A, selenium helps protect the mucous membranes, which are the body's first defense against germs, pollen, and other irritants.

ZINC. Zinc, like selenium and vitamin A, can help protect the body from allergens and germs. Recent studies have shown that zinc lozenges coat the throat and can help prevent people from contracting the common cold.

Herbal Medicine

Herbs have been used since the time of the earliest civilizations for their healing properties. Today, some traditional medicines are still made from herbs, while many medical practitioners both in the United States and worldwide use herbs in their practices. Furthermore, many Americans are choosing to make their own health choices by using herbal supplements to prevent and treat various ailments. As with any treatment, a person should check with a medical professional before using herbal medications to find out exactly how they should be taken.

Indigestion Medicine

Indigestion is not a disease in and of itself but a "catch-all" term used to describe various abdominal symptoms, such as heartburn, general discomfort, nausea, a feeling of fullness, and/or a bloated sensation.

Sometimes indigestion has an obvious and specific cause, such as the ingestion of a certain food or the consumption of alcohol. In that case, the best prevention is to avoid consuming that food or beverage. If indigestion does not seem to have an identifiable cause, however, one should check with a doctor; the symptoms could be the sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as an ulcer, gastritis, or gallbladder disease.

For those who are lactose intolerant there are many lactose-free foods that allow one to reap the nutritional benefits of dairy foods without the painful side effects. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
For those who are lactose intolerant there are many lactose-free foods that allow one to reap the nutritional benefits of dairy foods without the painful side effects. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

Herbal formulas that can prevent indigestion include peppermint and ginger, both of which can be drunk in the form of an herbal tea. These teas are commonly available in grocery stores, drugstores, and health food stores.

Traditional over-the-counter medications that combat indigestion include antacids and acid-reducing medicines such as cimetidine, ranitidine, nizatidine, or famotidine, and stomach-coating medications like sucralfate or the brand name product Pepto-Bismol. Recent studies have shown that travelers who plan to be in countries where the water supply might contain parasites or organisms that cause intestinal distress can minimize and even prevent these problems by taking Pepto-Bismol regularly starting a few days before the trip.

Lactose Intolerance Medicine

Lactose is a sugar found in cow's milk that, in humans, requires an enzyme called lactase to digest. Some people do not produce enough lactase to break down milk and other dairy products and, as a result, they experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and excessive gas from eating these foods. Some studies show that as much as 70 percent of the world's population is somewhat lactose intolerant. (About 30 million Americans, mostly those of Mediterranean, African American, or Asian heritage, are believed to have some degree of lactose intolerance.)


There are a number of ways to ingest herbs, from pills to teas to rubbing them on the skin. Many herbs are available in health food stores and without a prescription. It is important not to self-medicate oneself with herbal supplements, however, before checking with a doctor. The herbs listed below have been shown to have useful properties when used with care and according to direction:

  • Aloe Vera: Helps prevent constipation by maintaining regular bowel function.
  • Angelica (also known as dang qui): Prevents arthritis and combats certain cancers.
  • Astragalus: Boosts the immune system.
  • Bilberry Fruit Extract: Bilberry contains compounds that help strengthen the capillaries and protect them from damaging free radicals.
  • Black Walnut: Fights athlete's foot and jock itch; helps prevent certain cancers.
  • Burdock: Helps prevent diabetes.
  • Cayenne (Red Pepper): Lowers cholesterol, which has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
  • Celery Seed: May help prevent certain cancers; regulates blood pressure; reduces cholesterol.
  • Cilantro (Coriander): Prevents infection in minor wounds.
  • Cinnamon: Controls blood sugar in diabetics, prevents stomach ulcers, wards off urinary tract infections, fights tooth decay and gum disease, and prevents vaginal yeast infections.
  • Coffee: Combats drowsiness, which can lead to accidents; prevents asthma attacks.
  • Cranberry: Cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract and bladder infections by making the urine more acidic.
  • Dill: Fights flatulence; prevents infectious diarrhea in children by inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria.
  • Echinacea: Fights infections and stimulates the immune system.
  • Fenugreek: Controls diabetes, reduces levels of cholesterol.
  • Feverfew: Helps prevent migraine headaches.
  • Garlic: Research indicates that garlic helps reduce cholesterol levels, as well as maintain normal blood pressure levels, both essential elements for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Garlic also helps prevent cancer and contributes to the longer life span of healthy skin cells.
  • Ginger: Prevents motion sickness. Also helps kill the influenza virus and helps the immune system wage war on infection.
  • Ginseng: Relieves stress, which is a factor in premature aging, heart disease, cancer, acne, allergies and other infections. Also regulates blood pressure and enhances immunity.
  • Goldenseal: This herb contains a compound called berberine that kills many of the bacteria that cause diarrhea. Berberine also helps the immune system neutralize the bacteria that cause colds and sinus infections.
  • Grape Seed Extract: This plant extract contains antioxidant compounds that can be beneficial in the same way as other antioxidants like vitamins C and E.
  • Green Tea: Green tea extract is a popular beverage that also happens to contain large amounts of antioxidants.
  • Guarana: This herb can prevent drowsiness and reduce the risk of heart attacks.
  • Hawthorn: Regulates blood pressure, which is helpful for preventing heart disease.
  • Licorice Root: Another plant extract with antioxidant properties.
  • Milk Thistle: Protects against liver damage from alcohol, hepatitis and chemical toxins. It is also a powerful antioxidant, which, like vitamins A and C, helps neutralize cell-damaging free radicals.
  • Oregano: Enhances digestion.
  • Peppermint: Aids digestion; soothes stomachs; freshens breath.
  • Pycnogenol: This plant extract is an antioxidant that helps maintain healthy cells, prevent collagen damage that can lead to premature aging, and neutralize the production of free radicals.
  • Rosemary: May prevent certain cancers; like peppermint, rosemary aids digestion.
  • Sage: Thought to fight diabetes by boosting the action of insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Tarragon: Helps prevent certain cancers and helps against the flu.
  • Tea: Prevents certain cancers; wards off heart disease by helping to lower blood cholesterol and regulate blood pressure. Tea also helps to rid the body of excess fluids.
  • Thyme: A natural antiseptic, thyme kills bacteria and fungi.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric is thought to protect the liver, fight heart disease, prevent ulcers, and help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
  • White Willow: "The Herbal Aspirin," helps prevent heart attacks and strokes, combat certain cancers, and prevent migraine headaches.

One way to prevent the symptoms of lactose intolerance is to cut down on the amount of milk consumed, to drink it only with food, or to consume other dairy products such as cottage cheese and yogurt that are already partly broken down (cultured). Alternatively, one can buy lactose-free milk and ice cream in health food stores and some grocery stores. Finally, several over-the-counter medications exist that contain lactase and help to break down the lactose in milk. Lactaid and Dairy Ease are two brand names of lactase preparations that can be mixed into milk to prevent the painful symptoms.

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