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.

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