That Really Work
HONEY TO HEAL a wound. Cherries for gout. Cod-liver oil—blech!—to keep your eyes healthy. Your grandmother and her doctors probably swore by these fixes, and now science is catching up with them. Researchers have produced hundreds of studies in the past five years about the effectiveness of home remedies. But not all the old-time solutions really help. That’s why this list focuses on treatments with evidence to back them up.
Remember that even natural cures can interact with medications. If you take pills regularly or have a chronic health condition, check with your doctor before trying these.
AAge Spots TRY: Buttermilk
You can skip the expensive skin creams. This rich by-product of butter contains lactic acid and ascorbic acid. One study showed that this combination lightened age spots more effectively than lactic acid alone. Apply to the spots with a cotton ball, then rinse with water after 20 minutes.
Allergies TRY: Vitamin C
Vitamin C isn’t just good for the common cold; it turns out to be an effective natural antihistamine. In one study, 74 percent of the subjects who received a vitamin C nasal spray reported that their noses were less stuffy, compared with 24 percent of the patients who took a placebo. The study’s authors recommend getting two grams per day from food and/ or supplements.
B Back Pain TRY: Comfrey
This medicinal plant has been used for centuries to treat joint and muscle pain. A study of 215 patients found that applying concentrated comfrey cream to the lower and upper back reduced muscle pain. You can buy it in health food stores and online.
Blisters TRY: Petroleum Jelly
The rawness from blisters can be painful
enough, but chafing can irritate them further. Clean a blister with soap and water, and then reduce friction by applying petroleum jelly to the inflamed area and keeping it covered with a bandage.
Bug Bites TRY: Oatmeal
“Oatmeal has a long history—and equally solid biological basis— for its anti-itch effects,” says Adam Friedman, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC. You can find creams containing colloidal oatmeal in any drugstore, or you can make a paste by mixing equal parts oatmeal and water; apply it to the bite for ten minutes, then rinse.
Burns TRY: Aloe
“Aloe is a very soothing remedy for burns,” says Purvisha Patel, MD, a dermatologist and the creator of Visha Skin Care. One study demonstrated it was more effective than other treatments for seconddegree burns. Make sure you use pure aloe, not a scented version. If you own an aloe plant, simply cut open a leaf and apply the liquid directly to the affected area. For serious burns, you should still see a doctor.
C Calluses and Corns TRY: Aspirin
To create your own corn-softening compound, crush five or six uncoated aspirin tablets into a fine powder. Mix the powder thoroughly with one half teaspoon of lemon juice and one half teaspoon of water. Dab the paste onto the thickened skin, lay a piece of plastic wrap on top, and cover the plastic with a heated towel. Remove everything after ten minutes and gently scrub away the loosened skin with a pumice stone. Of course, you shouldn’t try this if you are allergic to aspirin.
Canker Sores TRY: Milk of Magnesia
Canker sores are ulcers of the mouth that can be caused by viral infections or injuries. To ease the pain, rinse your mouth with milk of magnesia or apply it to canker sores three or four times a day.
Constipation TRY: Ground Flaxseed
“It’s almost as if nature tailor-made ground flaxseed to relieve constipation,” says
Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “It is a
great source of both insoluble and soluble fiber, which add bulk to the stool and promote the growth of good bacteria.” Ground flaxseed is an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help soften stool and relieve constipation. Aim for two to three tablespoons a day as part of a fiber-rich diet.
Cough TRY: Thyme Tea
Thyme is a natural expectorant that relaxes the respiratory tract and loosens mucus. Studies have found that using thyme in combination with primrose or ivy relieves the frequency and duration of coughs. To make thyme tea, place two tablespoons of fresh thyme (or one tablespoon dried) in a cup of hot water. Allow it to steep, then drain out the herb. Add honey to taste.
D Diarrhea TRY: Blackberry Tea
Blackberries are rich in tannins, substances that can tighten mucous membranes in the intestinal tract. They have long been used as a treatment for diarrhea. Make blackberry tea by boiling one or two tablespoons of fresh or frozen blackberries or dried blackberry leaves in
one and a half cups of water for ten minutes, then strain. Drink several cups a day. You can also buy blackberry tea, but make sure that it contains blackberry leaves and not just flavoring.
E Eyestrain TRY: Cucumber
Lie on your back and place one cucumber slice (about one eighth inch thick) over each closed eye. Cucumbers contain antioxidants that studies have shown help decrease swelling and relieve pain. Replace the slices with a cooler pair every two or three minutes, for up to 15 minutes total.
F Foot Odor TRY: Lavender Oil
Lavender essential oil not only smells good but also has antibacterial properties that help kill germs. Before bed, rub a few drops of oil onto your feet and massage it in. Pull on a pair of socks to protect your sheets.
G GERD and Heartburn TRY: Globe Artichoke Extract
Compounds in artichoke leaves called caffeoylquinic acids stimulate the release of bile from the gall bladder, which helps relieve nausea, gas, bloating, and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn. Since the leaves are mostly inedible, look for artichoke extract capsules in health food stores or online.
Gout TRY: Cherries
People who ate about 20 cherries every day were less likely to experience flare-ups of gout, according to a study of 633 patients with the condition. Cherries contain compounds that help neutralize uric acid.
H Headaches TRY: Peppermint Oil
Peppermint essential oil cools the skin, numbing the pain of a tension headache as well as acetaminophen does, according to two small studies. Mix a few drops with olive oil to prevent skin irritation, then gently massage onto your forehead and temples.
Hiccups TRY: Sugar
A spoonful of sugar doesn’t just help the medicine go down— when it comes to hiccups (contractions of the diaphragm), it is the medicine. “Eating the grainy sugar crystals forces you to swallow harder than normal, and this resets your diaphragm” to stop the spasms, says Claire Martin, a nutritionist based in Oakland, California.
High Cholesterol TRY: Niacin
Studies show that taking niacin (vitamin B3) can lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol by 10 percent and triglycerides by 25 percent, and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 20 to 30 percent. Since high doses can cause gastrointestinal problems, liver damage, and glucose intolerance, ask your doctor before taking any supplements.
I Indigestion TRY: Fennel
Those tiny seeds that you often see in bowls at Indian restaurants are fennel. They contain carminative agents, which help expel gas from the intestinal tract. Chew a pinch of fennel to help prevent afterdinner belching.
Insomnia TRY: Valerian
Valerian, an herb, helps people fall asleep faster without the “hangover” effect of some sleeping pills. It binds to the same receptors in the brain that tranquilizers such as Valium do. Take one half to one teaspoon of valerian tincture or two valerian root capsules 30 minutes before bed.
J Joint Pain TRY: Green Tea
A potent antioxidant found in green tea called epigallocatechin3-gallate (EGCG) may put the brakes on the joint pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study in Arthritis and Rheumatology. Researchers suggest drinking two or three cups a day to reap the benefits.
K Kidney Stones TRY: Lemon Juice
The most common type of kidney stone occurs when oxalate—a compound found in foods such as spinach, bran, and french fries— builds up in urine and “sticks” to calcium, forming crystals. Drinking at least four ounces of lemon juice per day could help, researchers say, as citric acid can prevent the crystallization of calcium and oxalate that creates these stones.
L Lip Cracking TRY: Olive Oil
When you’ve got chapped lips, coat them with olive oil, a natural lubricant that will help soften and moisturize lips nicely. In fact, any vegetable oil will do.
M Memory Lapses TRY: Sage
A study in healthy older adults found that taking sage leaf extract capsules improved word recall and memory.
Menopausal Symptoms TRY: Hypnotism
A study published in Menopause found that women who had five sessions of hypnosis per week experienced 74 percent fewer hot flashes at the end of a 12-week study than did a control group. Even better, the women in the hypnosis group reported that the hot flashes they did have were less severe than before.
N Nausea TRY: Ginger
Ginger can help alleviate nausea caused by chemotherapy, morning sickness, or motion sickness. “Although we do not yet understand the exact method that allows ginger to be effective at reducing nausea, it is thought it may work by obstructing the serotonin receptors in the gut that cause it,” says dietitian Erin Palinski-wade, RD, CDE. It also may prompt the body to release enzymes that help break down food. Sip some ginger ale or tea, or chew some candied gingerroot.
Neck Pain TRY: Pressure
With your thumb or your fingertips, apply steady pressure on the painful spot on your neck for three minutes. Research shows that this simple acupressure technique helps loosen tight muscles to lessen pain.
O Osteoporosis TRY: Soy
A review of several studies conducted at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, found that people who ate foods rich in soy had healthier bones and a reduced risk of fractures. Scientists are still trying to figure out which active compounds may account for the protective effect, but good sources of soy protein include soybeans, soy milk, miso, tempeh, and tofu.
P Psoriasis TRY: Capsaicin
Capsaicin is what gives cayenne its heat. Research has shown that applying capsaicin cream helps lessen the itching of psoriasis.
R Razor Burn TRY: Avocado
Avocado is rich with vitamins and oils that soften and hydrate skin to relieve the tenderness of razor burn. Apply mashed fruit or avocado oil directly to the irritated skin.
S Sinusitis TRY: Eucalyptus Oil
Give your congested sinuses a steam treatment. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a pot of water, boil, and remove the pot from the stove. Drape a towel over your head and shoulders, then lean forward so it forms a tent over the pan. Keep your face about 18 inches above the water as you breathe deeply. As the vapor rises, it carries droplets of oil into your sinuses and loosens congestion. Studies show that the main ingredient in eucalyptus oil, cineole, can help people recover faster from acute sinusitis.
Sore Throat TRY: Horehound Tea
Horehound, a plant in the mint family, can reduce the swelling of inflamed throat tissue. It also thins mucus, helping you clear it from your throat. To make the tea, steep two teaspoons of the chopped fresh herb in one cup boiling water for ten minutes; strain and drink.
T Tooth and Gum Pain TRY: Clove Oil
“Oil of cloves can sometimes soothe an inflamed tooth,” says Saul Pressner, DMD, a dentist in New York City. Clove oil has bacteria-slaying properties and also a numbing effect. Mix a few drops with olive oil to avoid irritation, then swish it in your mouth.
U Urinary Tract Infection TRY: Cranberry Juice
A study of 373 women with a history of urinary tract infections (UTIS) showed that those who drank a glass of cranberry juice daily had a 40 percent reduction in the number of UTIS compared with those who drank a placebo. While other studies have been mixed about the effect of cranberry juice on UTIS, scientists think a compound in cranberry juice can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.
V Varicose Veins TRY: Horse Chestnut
Horse chestnut seed extract improves blood vessel elasticity and seems to strengthen the valves inside veins, thanks to an active ingredient called aescin. Take a 250-milligram pill of horse chestnut seed extract twice a day for three months.
Vision Problems TRY: Cod-liver Oil
This oil is a rich source of omega-3 fats, which increase blood flow to the eyes and decrease the risk of developing glaucoma and possibly macular degeneration. Take one teaspoon daily.
W Wounds TRY: Honey
Since ancient Egyptian times, people have used honey as a salve for wounds. Pure honey contains the enzyme glucose oxidase, which causes a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic. Honeys range widely in their antibacterial potency, however. For best results, scientists recommend manuka honey, from New Zealand, which contains an additional compound that increases its effectiveness. Apply honey directly to a wound every 12 to 24 hours and cover it with sterile gauze.
Warts TRY: Duct Tape
Although doctors aren’t sure why it works, one study found that putting duct tape on warts and replacing it every six days was 25 percent more effective than freezing them—and much cheaper.
Y Yeast Infection TRY: Sea Salt
Sprinkle a cup of sea salt in a tub of warm water, then take a nice soak to relieve itching and pain.
Z Zits TRY: Tea Tree Oil
In one study, a 5 percent tea tree oil gel was as effective as a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide lotion in limiting acne outbreaks—with fewer side effects.