Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.
From changing your own motor oil to installing a new garbage disposal, these tough economic times are prompting more of us to become do-it-yourselfers. And, for an increasing number of people, the DIY movement includes treating your own minor health problems with home remedies.
Instead of running to the doctor or ordering a prescription for every little ache and pain, many people are turning to Grandma’s cures to make them feel better.
“There’s something about home remedies that’s comforting. Maybe it’s just that they’re done with such loving care and it’s the placebo effect that makes it work. Whatever it is, some people swear by them,” says Dr. Raneth Heng, BI, a physician at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.
While some old-fashioned treatments need to be filed under “old wives tales,” others have endured the test of time and are validated by science and physicians.
Here’s a look at eight home remedies that may be just what the doctor ordered – but, without the doctor.
Salt water gargle for sore throat
“Gargling with tepid salt water not only helps soothe the actual cells in the lining of the throat but it also helps to reduce swelling in the (throat) tissues and keeps the muscles in the back of the throat warm and limber and loose so you can swallow more easily,” says Dr. Christen Benke, BI, an osteopathic physician at Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Margaret Elizondo, BI, a family physician at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, recommends gargling with a quarter teaspoon of salt in a half cup of very warm water several times a day.
Although plain warm water may feel comforting on a scratchy throat, the salt makes it “closer to what our own body would have in it. It’s like an electrolyte solution,” she says.
Saline nasal rinse for allergies/congestion
Saltwater nasal irrigation is a safe, cheap and effective remedy for chronic nose and sinus inflammation. Though there are several methods of nasal irrigation, one of the most popular is the neti pot, a small pitcher that looks like a cross between a teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp. To use the neti pot, fill it with water and a buffered solution, then tilt your head over the sink, place the spout into your top nostril and gently pour the saline solution into that nostril. The fluid will flow through your nasal cavity and into then out of the other nostril. Repeat on the other side.
“The over-the-counter neti pots are really helpful. The saline solution breaks up mucus and thins it out and lets it drain rather than being stuck in there,” Elizondo says. “Plus, it’s a safe thing to do. It’s better than using a decongestant spray, which can become addictive after a few days.”
When you buy a neti pot, it usually comes with a packet of sodium bicarbonate to mix with water to use as a rinse. However, Benke has her own recipe for a neti pot saline rinse. She recommends 2 to 3 heaping teaspoons of pickling salt (not table salt, which contains additives); 1 teaspoon of baking soda; 1 quart of tap water. Shake it up and use it in the neti pot. It stores for about one week.
Chewing gum for heartburn symptoms or after abdominal surgery
Chewing gum for one hour, three times a day, after abdominal surgery can significantly hasten the resumption of normal bowel function and reduce the time patients spend in the hospital. Gum helps stimulate intestinal activity without putting anything in the stomach before it’s ready.
Chewing gum may also help relieve some heartburn symptoms, which result when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus, a disorder called gastroesophageal reflux. Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, which helps neutralize acid in the esophagus. It’s recommended to chew gum for about 30 minutes after eating.
Dr. Raneth Heng, a physician at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, warns gum chewers about swallowing air, which can create abdominal pressure and discomfort. Also, she says mint gum should be avoided because peppermint is a known natural relaxer of the esophageal sphincter, which can contribute to heartburn.
Chicken soup to ease cold symptoms
While Grandma’s Jewish penicillin won’t prevent a cold, it can reduce symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.
“Chicken soup is the perfect combination of everything you need when you have a cold,” Benke says. “It’s warm and steamy when you breathe it in, which helps liquefy the mucus in your nose and helps it drain. The salt broth restores electrolytes, and the liquid prevents dehydration. The chicken is nice, lean protein and a good source of nutrients. And the noodles are made of dough, which is a carbohydrate to give you energy.”
Yogurt with live cultures to aid tummy aches and intestinal distress
Certain bacteria in the intestines prevent disease-causing bugs from settling in. These friendly bacteria are in live-culture yogurt and kefir, as well as in supplements. According to a report by the American Society of Microbiology, probiotics may help relieve diarrhea, improve digestive problems and help eczema in children and urinary tract and vaginal infections. They may also improve digestive problems and irritable bowel syndrome and offset side effects from antibiotics.
Heng recommends daily yogurt consumption for anyone with a sensitive stomach or with continual constipation or diarrhea problems. For people who are lactose intolerant, probiotic capsules can be taken.
Honey to ease coughs
Buckwheat honey, a dark type of honey, compared favorably with the drug dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrups, according to a Pennsylvania State University study. One to two teaspoons of honey was taken 30 minutes before bedtime.
Honey may be a sweet, safe alternative to over-the-counter cough medications, which the FDA claims pose unacceptable risks to children under age 2. Honey should not be given to children under age 1 because it can cause infantile botulism, a rare but potentially life-threatening health problem.
Cranberry juice for urinary infections
“I have patients who tell me that if they catch the symptoms of a urinary infection early and drink cranberry juice and lots of other fluid, they can fend off a full-blown infection,” Elizondo says.
“Cranberries are very acidic and make the urinary tract less hospitable for the growth of bacteria there.”
However, for the remedy to be most effective it must be taken as a preventive measure or at the first inkling of a urinary problem. “For the person who’s prone to getting urinary tract infections, drinking cranberry juice on a daily basis before symptoms start may be a good idea,” said Benke, who recommends drinking sugar-free cranberry juice in which cranberry juice is listed as the first or second ingredient. Drink lots of water in addition to the juice.
Ginger for nausea/motion sickness/morning sickness
Last spring a study at the University of Rochester in New York found that ginger capsules can help relieve the nausea caused by chemotherapy. Several other minor studies have shown that ginger can help reduce morning sickness during pregnancy and also help relieve the nausea that comes with motion sickness.
Timing is important, when it comes to nausea prevention. Start taking ginger three days before chemo treatment and continue for a couple of days afterward. Same thing when traveling. Take it before you get on the boat or in the back seat of the car. Heng recommends raw ginger, ginger tea or ginger capsules if you don’t care for the spicy taste.
Don’t count on ginger ale or ginger cookies to be of benefit, however. Most of the sodas and sweets contain only flavoring, not real ginger.
ADD A HEALTHY DOSE OF CAUTION
Unless Grandma had a medical degree, it’s best to take these precautions when using her home remedies:
• Don’t hesitate to call your doctor before proceeding with a home remedy you’re considering, even if it was suggested by a trusted friend or relative. Be especially careful when using a home remedy on a child.
• Don’t be tempted to double up or add to a home remedy. More is not always better.
• Know the potential side effects of any remedy and be on the lookout for signs of a bad reaction.
• Contact your doctor if you notice negative side effects or if the medical condition isn’t improving.
– R.J. Ignelzi
San Diego Union Tribune. Tuesday, February 16, 2010. Section E. Pg. 1 & 5.