Separating Fact from Fiction About Home Medical Remedies

Doctor with a jar of honey and a lemon

Some call them old wives’ tales. Others swear by them. Whatever side you fall on, there is no doubt that home remedies have been around for centuries. Are they the best solution for what ails people, or odd attempts at medicine that simply don’t work?

A recent article in the Everett Herald featured three Bastyr University experts and asked them to help provide scientific answers to some well-known home remedies. Here are a few examples:


Does Honey Help Sore Throats and Coughs? FACT

A spoonful of honey added to a mug of tea is an effective treatment for sore throats and coughs.

“Honey is a demulcent, which means it soothes irritated mucous membranes. It also offers antimicrobial benefits, a broad term describing substances that help fight bacteria and viruses,” says Kiran Khaira, ND, a naturopathic resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

A second option for a sore throat is gargling with warm salt water.

“The salt pulls the water out of your cells, which starves the virus or whatever other germ is aggravating your throat. I personally do it every four hours as long as I have symptoms,” says Neal Malik, DrPH, MPH, RDN, CHES, EP-C, assistant professor at Bastyr University California.


Is Toothpaste A Remedy for Pimples? FACT & FICTION

It's affordable, readily accessible and you may see some initial success, but toothpaste is still best used for teeth rather than skin.

“Toothpaste contains ingredients like baking soda and hydrogen peroxide that can help dry out acne,” says Bastyr University California Assistant Professor DeJarra Sims, ND. “However, there are also other chemicals in toothpaste, like alcohol and menthol that can cause over drying, irritation and possibly burning of the skin.”

If you prefer a home remedy rather than an over-the-counter treatment, Dr. Sims recommends using the raw materials in many toothpastes that do work. Make a paste from baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and apply directly to skin to dry out pimples.


Do Spicy Foods Cause Ulcers? FICTION

Feel free to dig into the salsa. Peptic ulcers are caused by the H. pylori bacteria and not spicy foods or stress as was previously believed. Antibiotics are now used to often successfully treat ulcers.

“If you have digestive problems already, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerated colitis, it could aggravate it. However, spicy foods do not give ulcers,” Dr. Malik says.

“Actually, there is a lot of research that shows spicy foods can be beneficial. They have powerful antioxidants and some studies are finding certain spices improve blood circulation, which potentially decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.”


Does Cranberry Juice Treat Urinary Tract Infections? FACT

According to the Mayo Clinic, more conclusive research is needed to pinpoint the degree of its effectiveness, but cranberry juice is useful in preventing urinary tract infections in women and helpful in treating existing infections in conjunction with antibiotics.

“Cranberry juice helps prevent the bacteria, E. coli, that causes most UTIs from multiplying and adhering to the walls of the urinary tract,” Dr. Khaira says. “Something that’s important, though, is to make sure you’re drinking cranberry juice with no sugar added. Sugar can actually make it worse.”

Some people find straight cranberry juice unpalatable due to its tartness. Dr. Khaira suggests cranberry concentrate in capsules as an alternative.


Is Chicken Soup A Cure-All? FACT & FICTION

Chicken soup is arguably the most commonly prescribed at-home treatment for colds and flus. There is no conclusive evidence that it's a silver bullet cure, but it provides many overall benefits.

“In general, hot liquids help you stay hydrated and any salt may make a sore throat feel better,” Dr. Malik says. “When we're sick, we need protein to help us heal more quickly and chicken provides that.”



To read the entire article, go to our Bastyr in the Media page.