During my more than 20 years as a practicing physician, I’ve collected many wonderful suggestions for home remedies from patients, other doctors, and friends. Today, I’d like to share several of them with you. Some of these remedies are simple, inexpensive fixes for things like the common cold that conventional medicine often cannot solve. Others are alternatives to commonly recommended medical treatments — such as the potentially harmful medication for toenail fungus — that can have toxic side effects that just aren’t worth the risk.
Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at some unusual — but effective — ways to deal with everyday complaints.
My patient Alicia shared this unusual blister treatment, which several other people have also mentioned. Pour a small amount of Listerine on a cotton ball, and apply it to the blister 3 or 4 times a day. Doing this will kill germs and dry out the blistered area, helping ease the pain.
Bug Bites and Stings
This category has several interesting solutions.
- Rub the inside of a banana peel on an itchy bug bite or painful sting to soothe itchiness and inflammation.
- Treat fire-ant bites and/or stings (fire ants do both!) by rubbing the area with any antiperspirant that leaves a white, chalk-like residue on the skin. It prevents the painful sensation of being on fire.
- Use an aluminum-containing roll-on deodorant on mosquito bites to relieve itching and swelling.
- For a bee sting, remove the stinger quickly, either by pulling it out with a pair of tweezers or scraping it loose with a credit card or similar hard object. Then mix 1 teaspoon of meat tenderizer with just enough water to create a paste. Slather the paste on the sting, leave it there for 15 minutes, and rinse it off with plain water. If the sting is still red, place an ice pack on the skin for about 15 minutes.
We all get minor burns from time to time. Here are a couple home remedies to try.
- Instead of using a special burn cream, apply a thin layer of ordinary toothpaste to the burned area. Bandage as you normally would. Clean the skin daily when you bathe, reapply toothpaste if necessary, and keep the burn covered while the skin heals.
- Apply a thin layer of mustard to the burned skin. It may sting a bit at first, but the mustard eases pain and reduces the likelihood of blistering and scarring.
Treat dry, cracked lips with a layer of raw organic honey. The antibacterial properties of the honey help with healing.
Here’s a method to help reduce the likelihood of getting a cold, and another helpful remedy for those who already have one.
- To avoid getting a cold, simply gargle with plain water 3 times every day.This is one remedy that has science on its side. In 2005, researchers in Japan found that the 3 daily water gargles reduced colds by close to 40 percent!
- If you have a cold, homemade chicken soup can boost your body’s own immunity and combat inflammation. Adding a pinch of cayenne pepper can ease congestion.
Constipation and/or Diarrhea
Whether you’d like your bowel movements to be more (or less) frequent, here’s one simple solution: apples or applesauce. Apples contain pectin, which softens stools. But apples can also help counteract diarrhea. If raw apples are not your favorite fruit, applesauce is a good substitute.
Coughs are always annoying, especially when they keep you awake all night. Here are two things that can help.
- For an effective homemade cough syrup, mix together the following ingredients:
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Adults can take 1 to 3 teaspoons, as needed, to control coughing. Keep leftover cough syrup in a closed container.
Craving for Sweets
Stir 1 teaspoon of baking soda into 8 ounces of warm water. Rinse your mouth with the solution, but do not swallow. Your cravings will disappear for hours.
Here’s an easy, nonchemical way to reduce heavy underarm sweating. Cut an ordinary potato (any type) in half and rub the cut side on your armpits. I’m not sure why this works, but many people report success with it.
Halitosis (Bad Breath)
Here are three easy ways to improve bad breath without using breath mints and sprays that often contain sugar, alcohol, or unhealthy sugar substitutes.
- Bad breath is often due to excessive dryness in your mouth. Make certain you’re drinking lots of water, not only to moisten the tissue inside your mouth but also to remove any small bits of food that may be lodged between your teeth.
- One of the easiest remedies for bad breath is eating a little plain yogurt, but be sure it does not contain sugar. The live bacteria in yogurt counteract the bacteria responsible for bad breath.
- Keep a bunch of ordinary or Italian parsley on hand. Chewing parsley after eating can naturally freshen your breath and serve as a mini-toothbrush.
I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on these three interesting ways to stop a garden-variety headache.
- Tension headaches often occur from unconsciously clenching the jaw. Try holding a pencil gently between your teeth. This forces your jaw muscles to relax and eases the headache.
- Another way to relieve headache pain is by pinching the spot between your thumb and index finger for up to a minute. You may have to pinch fairly hard, according to people who tell me this works.
- Similarly, pinching the area between your upper lip and nose for 5 seconds can relieve a headache. It may take several pinches to get the full effect, but this method is reportedly very effective for stress or tension headaches.
If you’re troubled by indigestion, try one of these home remedies.
- Combine 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of ginger juice, and 2 teaspoons of raw organic honey. Mix well, and drink it after a meal.
- Or you can add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of warm water, and drink it before a meal.
- Combine 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 4 ounces of water for instant relief from heartburn, especially if it’s due to eating a high-fat meal.
Get rid of gas with one of these simple tricks.
- Chew chopped-up bits of ginger root. If that’s too spicy, try drinking a cup of ginger tea or taking 500 mg of a ginger supplement. Ginger is an excellent anti-inflammatory that’s loaded with healing properties, so you’ll be doing your overall health a favor, too.
- Another solution is to take activated charcoal tablets, which absorb intestinal gas. You can find these supplements at most health-food stores. They can also help after you’ve eaten something iffy and aren’t feeling well. Just follow the dosage instructions on the product you choose.
If you’ve ever been awakened by leg cramps during the night, you know how painful these can be. My patient Carl shared a simple remedy with me. It’s a bit odd, but he and several others say it works well.
- Place a bar of soap — wrapped or unwrapped — under the sheets near your legs, and say good-bye to leg cramps.
- Another solution that some people find helpful is taking a potassium supplement (99 mg) before bed.
Lower Back or Foot Pain
A tennis ball is all you need to relieve lower back or foot pain. Use the tennis ball to massage and relax muscles that are deep and hard to reach or require a lot of pressure to loosen up. Just sit in a comfortable chair, put the tennis ball on the floor, and roll your foot or lower back over it, using as much pressure as feels good. You can also lean up against a wall or lie on the bed, put the tennis ball between your lower back and the wall or mattress, and roll around on it to relax those muscles. It’s like a getting a massage without leaving home.
My patient Jenny shared this clever trick for getting splinters to come out when they’re deeply embedded and difficult to latch onto. “When I was little, I would run around on the back porch without wearing shoes, and I would get a lot of splinters,” she explained. “When they were too deep to get with tweezers, my mom would tease them out with hydrogen peroxide. Just pour peroxide on the area where the splinter is located, and let the bubbles lift it toward the surface so that it’s easier to pull out.”
Sties are common and painful eye problems that trouble some people regularly. If you’re one of them, try this: Warm a slice of raw potato, and hold it against the affected eye for a few minutes. Like a warm compress, it will draw out infection and ease inflammation and pain.
Sinus infections and seasonal allergies are common this time of year. If you are suffering from a stuffy nose due to either one, try one of these remedies.
- Irrigate your nasal passages with saltwater. You can buy premade saltwater nasal rinses at most pharmacies.
- As an alternative, make your own saline rinse, using 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt and a pint of lukewarm distilled or filtered water. Mix well to dissolve the salt. For inserting the solution into your nose, you will need to purchase a bulb syringe, usually found in the baby-products section of the store. To apply, fill the bulb syringe with solution, lean forward over the sink while tilting your head slightly backward, and gently squeeze the bulb to release the solution into your nose. Some experts recommend tilting your head to the side, but I find it easiest to tilt it backward — the choice is up to you. It may come out the other nostril or your mouth, which is perfectly normal. You can repeat the process several times daily. Some patients report that adding a teaspoon of baking soda or a few drops of baby shampoo to the saltwater makes it more effective. If you choose one of these options, be sure to mix the solution thoroughly before use.
If you’ve ever had toenail fungus, you know how difficult it can be to treat. Many physicians prescribe oral medications, such as Lamisil or Sporanox, but those remedies can have very serious side effects, including liver damage and life-threatening allergic reactions. Here are two much safer ways to eliminate toenail fungus. Just remember that it can take months to heal infected toenails, so be consistent and persistent.
- Apply a liberal layer of Vicks VapoRub to the infected toenails after bathing and before going to bed at night. You may want to wear a pair of thin socks to protect your sheets.
- Alternatively, use tea tree oil, a natural antiseptic, in the same way as Vicks VapoRub, by applying it directly to the infected toenails. Tea tree oil, which can be purchased at most health-food stores, is fairly strong smelling, but it is effective if used twice daily.
Urinary Tract Infection
If you read my earlier newsletter on urinary tract infections, you know that I recommend treating them with a supplement called D-mannose rather than with overprescribed antibiotics. If you’re uncomfortable while waiting for the D-mannose to provide relief, try drinking 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda mixed in 8 ounces of water. This will make your bladder less acidic, and it will also inhibit bacterial growth responsible for the infection.
Home remedies can be highly effective, but like most things, what works for another person may not help you. So I encourage you to try various approaches to find one that fits.