Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Latest Research on Home Remedies: 12 Drug-Free Cures That Actually Work


It relieved a bee sting in minutes and reduced pain for more than five hours, according to one informal test -- better than eight other over-the-counter products and home remedies, including every sting cream and stick tried . Toothpaste's other "off-label" use? Zit zapping. Put a tiny dot on a pimple before bed. The pimple should be dried out and less noticeable by the next morning. But use only in emergencies. Toothpaste's fluoride can make acne worse, says Adam S. Stibich, MD, director of the Dermatology Clinic in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Dish Detergent

If you've been exposed to poison ivy, liquid dish soap could spare you from the red, itchy rash. When researchers swabbed the forearms of medical students with crushed poison-ivy leaves, then rubbed a patch with everyday dish detergent for 25 seconds before rinsing, they found that dish soap prevented a reaction in almost half the volunteers and reduced the inflammation and blistering in the rest by 56 percent. The soap works because it strips your skin of the plant oil that's responsible for causing the rash. But for it to work you need to wash within two hours of exposure, before the oil has time to bind to your skin cells, says Dr. Stibich, a coauthor of the study. He adds that any full-strength dish detergent will do the trick.


A minty herb that's long been known to quiet the occasional stomach upset, peppermint is now also seen as a powerful treatment for irritable bowel syndrome -- frequent bouts of pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation that strike as many as one in five adults. Peppermint-oil capsules bring significant relief to about one in three IBS sufferers, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Surprisingly, prescription antispasmodic drugs help only one in six. The recommended dose is three 0.2-mL capsules a day and it's safe to try on your own. But don't use it if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease or a hiatal hernia, since it can make their symptoms worse.


This gnarly root quells pregnancy-related morning sickness and vomiting, possibly because it blocks the serotonin receptors in the stomach that cause nausea, according to a review of six studies. It also reduces motion sickness, says Brett White, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University. He recommends steeping a slice of fresh ginger about the size of a pat of butter in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes, then drinking it an hour before you travel. Dried ginger is effective, too. You'll find tea bags or capsules in most health-food stores.

Camphor-Eucalyptus Menthol Ointment

Vicks VapoRub and similar topical cold remedies may be more effective than a prescription pill against the fungus that makes toenails thick, yellow, and unsightly: Thirty-eight percent of people who applied the ointment daily to affected toes were fungus-free in five to 16 months, according to a study from the Michigan State University College of Nursing, in East Lansing, compared to 35 percent for the pill. Experts recommend applying the ointment twice a day until the fungal nail has grown out and been replaced by a healthy nail.

Baking Soda

You know you can cook with it or use it to deodorize the fridge, but it's also an effective antacid -- just follow the instructions on the box. What's more, three international studies have concluded that baking soda is one of the best treatments for bothersome earwax. "It takes some time, but it's a safe way to get rid of packed earwax that is interfering with hearing," says Walter C. Johnson, MD, a specialist in internal and emergency medicine at Dewitt Army Community Hospital, in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Just mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons water. While lying on your side with one ear on a pillow, have someone drip the liquid into your upturned ear using a small spoon or an eyedropper. Wait one hour. Then flush out the dissolved earwax with warm water, using a bulb-shaped ear syringe. Caveat: Don't try this on children with tubes in their ears.

Baby Shampoo

Treat itchy, red, or crusty eyelids -- a problem for many contact-lens wearers -- by gently scrubbing the edges of your lids with a cotton ball soaked in diluted baby shampoo (three drops shampoo to six tablespoons of water). Then rinse the lids with a clean cotton ball dipped in warm water. Do this in the morning and at bedtime to help your eye feel better, says Dr. Rosen. If the eye problem doesn't clear up in a few days, see your physician. You may have developed an eye infection that requires a prescription for an antibiotic ointment.


Just a spoonful calms a cough better than over-the-counter cough syrup or no treatment at all, notes a Pennsylvania State University at Hershey study of more than 100 children ages 2 to 18. Honey soothes by coating the throat but may also help because it's packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and antimicrobials. Don't feed it to kids under age 1; their immature immune system can't battle a bacterium that's in some honeys. For adult-size coughs, a teaspoon or two is enough. If you're allergic to bee stings, make sure you don't have a honey allergy, too.

Witch Hazel

This clear astringent is an effective facial cleanser, treatment for insect bites, and cooling agent for inflamed hemorrhoids. Now research from Germany suggests witch hazel fights Herpes simplex virus type 1 -- the virus that causes cold sores. "Witch hazel's drying effect may break down the fatty outer envelope of virus cells, weakening them," Dr. Stibich explains. To apply witch hazel, dip a cotton swab into the bottle, then dab on your cold sore. Although the best dose hasn't been determined, it's safe to apply several times a day.

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