The following first appeared on AlterNet:
I am a great believer in modern Western medicine. Hundreds of years of study, observation and experimentation have brought us breakthroughs unimaginable even just a few years ago. You get sick, see your doctor, get some medicine if she prescribes it, rest up, get well. That is often the wisest course. But not always. There are times when a “home remedy” will do. The trouble is, it’s got to be a good home remedy, not some quack medicine. You don’t want to waste your time or money — let alone risk your health — on quackery, whether it’s homemade or not.
Just remember, as always, to use common sense. The home remedies below can be effective, but they are no substitute for serious medical treatment if any of these conditions worsen. If your symptoms are severe, or you suspect there is an underlying illness that could be health or life-threatening, call your doctor.
Here’s a list of 10 home remedies for annoyingly common conditions that actually work.
If duct tape can get stranded Apollo 13 astronauts home from outer space, it can certainly handle that wart on your finger. If you don’t feel like spending money on that stuff that burns or freezes your wart off, crack open the tool kit and try duct tape. It takes time (then again, so do those other treatments), but it is effective. Cover your wart every day with duct tape, and use a pumice stone to sand away the dead skin once a week. After about two months, no wart! Doctors aren’t really sure why it works. It might suffocate the virus that causes the wart, or it might just be the adhesive on the tape that does the trick. Another theory is that the tape irritates the skin, causing your immune system to respond and kill off the wart.
Mary Poppins had it right, at least for hiccups. A spoonful of sugar can be a big help sometimes. A study was conducted in 1971 on a group of 20 hiccup suffers, some of whom had been hiccupping away for up to six weeks. Each of the poor souls was given a spoonful of dry, granulated sugar. In an astounding 19 out of 20 patients, the hiccups stopped immediately. The conjecture is that the sugar in the mouth somehow adjusted the nerve impulses and caused the diaphragm muscles to cease contracting spasmodically.
3. Bad Breath
That odiferous fog coming out of your mouth is often a product of bacteria having a party on your tongue and in your stomach. Plain old yogurt can put a damper on the germ fest. The probiotic activity of the yogurt (or any cultured dairy product — kefir is another) will neutralize the bacterial activity and acid reflux that can cause bad breath. If your problem is not the stomach (or the pathway to the stomach), but rather on your tongue, then yogurt won’t help, since the yogurt doesn’t hang out long enough in the mouth. However, a good tongue scraper will definitely help. Rotting teeth, gum disease, liver or lung disease can all cause nasty breath, too, in which case you need to get to a doctor or a dentist, pronto.
4. Sore Throat
When it hurts to swallow, reach for the saltshaker. Most of the time, a sore throat is caused by inflammation, which is your body’s response to an infection. Inflammation causes swelling, and swelling causes pain. By adding salt to some warm water and gargling, the salt can draw out excess fluid in the swollen area, reducing the swelling and decreasing the pain. Use at least a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water. The effect is temporary, since your body is still dealing with the infection, but repeat as necessary until you feel better.
5. Tension Headache
It’s a stressful world, and when we are stressed out, we clench our teeth, and when we clench our teeth we get tension headaches. The muscle that connects our jaw to our temple gets inflamed and our head throbs. The solution? According to the New England Center for Headache, in Stamford CT, try a pencil. Don’t eat or chew the pencil, just place it between your teeth. It will relax your jaw muscles and your headache will ease.
Eczema is that red, scaly, dry, itchy skin condition that affects 35 million Americans. You can (and should) go to the skin doctor if you have a persistent and serious case, but for less serious cases, try oatmeal. Take colloidal oatmeal (that’s the finely ground oatmeal), make a paste out of it or pour it into your warm bath, and soak your eczema-affected skin area for 15 minutes. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties that, in addition to soothing the skin, will reduce the redness, which is a result of inflammation.
7. Nail Fungus
When a fungal infection gets under your toenail, the nail will become thickened, discolored, cracked and unsightly. The standard treatment for toenail fungus involves oral anti-fungal medicines which you need to take for up to 3 months. Other treatments include a topical anti-fungal cream (again, long-term treatment), or even nail removal. On the other hand, you can try mentholated vapor rub (like Vicks). There are no serious studies of this treatment, but extensive anecdotal testimony has shown that by applying vapor rub to the nail a couple times a day for about six weeks, the nail fungus problem is often cured. The nail will generally fall off and a healthy nail will regrow.
8. Motion Sickness
The initial symptom of motion sickness is generally an increase in mouth salivation, followed by mild nausea. The increased saliva is the body’s efforts to protect the teeth from the acid-laced vomit that is about to follow. A surprising cure for motion sickness is the olive. It seems that the tannins in the olive work to dry up saliva in the mouth, which in turn convinces the stomach it does not have to throw up. So, for that next long drive, bring along a jar of olives, just in case!
Next time you have a nagging cough from a cold, forget the cough syrup. Numerous studies have shown that over-the-counter cough syrups are minimally effective. Instead, try a couple teaspoons full of honey. [Editor’s Note: Raw honey is the best.] Some studies have shown that honey is at least as effective as dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in most cough syrups, and it costs a lot less. (Never give honey to young children under the age of one, due to the rare risk of infant botulism.)
10. Urinary Tract Infection
Cranberry juice can prevent minor urinary tract infections. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, which prevent bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall, which can cause infection. A couple glasses a day will do the trick. Make sure the juice is at least 20% juice (a lot of cranberry juice “cocktails” are less than this amount).