MEDICAL MINUTE -- Expired drugs, whether prescription or over the counter, can be bad for your health. They can either degrade and become more harmful for a consumer or they can degrade and be less effective. Pharmacist Cynthia Coffey recommends cleaning out your medicine cabinet every six months to a year. She says expiration dates are put on products for a reason. After that time, they can never guarantee potencies. The antibiotic tetracycline, for instance, can cause a deadly skin infection if taken beyond its expiration date. Nitroglycerin tablets lose their effectiveness when repeatedly exposed to sunlight or moisture. The moisture in a bathroom or steam from a kitchen stove can also cause drugs to degrade. "So, I really recommend that you keep them in a tote in a nearby closet or someplace that is out of reach of children, and something that is not in direct light and doesn't then have extreme temperature changes," Coffey said. When disposing of medications, don't flush them down the toilet where they can contaminate the water supply. Check with your pharmacist about proper ways of getting rid of them. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on daily vitamin and mineral supplements. But some experts argue there is no scientific proof that vitamins are effective at extending life or preventing illness. Doctor George Blackburn of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston prefers his patients focus on nutrition and eat recommended allowances of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. But he does say a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement can't hurt.
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