Every day my patients tell me about new home remedies. Thanks to my diverse practice, these treatments are multicultural and varied. Some have withstood the test of time and science, and some have not. How do I respond? Most often, I respond that if it's not going to kill you, go ahead and try it. However, note that many of these common home remedies have not gone through rigorous scientific study; that we need to exercise caution and common sense; and especially that we should never rely on a home remedy for a condition that requires medical care. The common cold, being so, well, common, has been the subject of a great number of home remedies. There is still no cure for the common cold, but these might make symptoms easier to tolerate: *Drink plenty of fluids in order to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated drinks, as they are dehydrating. *Gargling with salt water can relieve a sore or scratchy throat, and salt-water (saline) nose drops can open up congested sinus passages. *Yes, chicken soup can help relieve cold (and flu) symptoms. It helps with hydration. It speeds up the movement of mucous; which helps to relieve congestion, which in turn limits the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining. Hypothetically, it may even act as an anti-inflammatory, which helps to temporarily ease symptoms. *Cold viruses thrive in dry conditions, and a humidifier will add moisture to the air. *Beware of intranasal zinc products. They are extremely popular, but some have been found to cause permanent damage to the sense of smell. The FDA has issued warnings against several zinc-containing nasal cold remedies. *Although vitamin C and echinacea are also extremely popular, the jury is still out on whether they actually help. The good news is that they won't hurt! What are we to do about wrinkles? *The biggest step is to avoid exposure to the sun's UV rays, a primary cause of wrinkles. *Lotions with alpha hydroxy acids remove the dead cells on the surface of the skin. The theory is that they encourage the growth of collagen, which fills in the wrinkles. Aloe vera is one source of malic acid. Try cutting off a piece of the plant and applying the oil to the skin. *Fresh papaya is commonly used as a meat tenderizer, and rubbing a piece onto the skin can help clear away the top layer of dead cells. *Americans spend a fortune on face creams. One interesting homemade face cream combines three vitamin E capsules, two tablespoons of plain yogurt, and one half-tablespoon of lemon. Coconut oil, pineapple and turmeric are popular ingredients as well. *Staying well hydrated and consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids are commonly believed to help improve skin cells. *Exercise improves the circulation; smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol do not. For dry skin or eczema, oatmeal is frequently used. A cup can be added to a warm bath, or it can be sponged on in cheesecloth or a handkerchief. For skin care, finely milled oatmeal is best...but for eating, go for the thick cut! Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids will help those with high cholesterol, along with omega 3 fatty acid supplements such as fish oil and flax seed oil capsules. (Of course, to control cholesterol I urge my patients to lose weight if necessary, to exercise, limit alcohol, avoid tobacco, and to pursue a low-cholesterol diet.) Rubbing tea tree oil into the scalp can lessen dandruff. This oil acts as an antiseptic and antifungal. Shampoos with tea tree oil are easy to find, or try adding a few drops to a tablespoon of olive, safflower, or other cooking oil and applying before shampooing. Green tea, another home remedy for dandruff, has anti-inflammatory properties, which soothe the scalp and slow down the rapid growth of skin cells. Two green tea bags are steeped in a cup of hot water, cooled, and the tea is allowed to soak on the scalp for up to an hour. For dry and dull hair, warm up any cooking oil and massage it into the scalp. Mayonnaise has been recommended as a conditioner. To enhance the shine, a rinse of one tablespoon of apple cider in a cup of water can be used. To improve discolored nails, try a mixture of lemon and baking soda. Do not use nail polish, and do not smoke. For fungal infections, rub tea tree oil or a medicated vapor rub onto the nails. Insomnia may affect up to one-half of older adults. One commonly used home remedy is lavender. Lavender oil can be used in a reed or other type of diffuser in the bedroom, or a few drops of oil can be put on a fabric that does not come into direct contact with the skin. Chamomile tea can also be quite relaxing. A well-tested cure for urinary tract infections is cranberry juice or cranberry tablets. However, avoid cranberry products if you are taking a blood-thinner such as Coumadin, as cranberries can thin the blood further. If symptoms persist, contact your doctor. If you are suffering from indigestion, heartburn or nausea, try mint. It's great to drink as a tea. Ginger can provide relief from diarrhea, heartburn, dizziness, nausea, flatulence, and gas. It is frequently used to treat morning sickness and motion sickness, and sometimes even arthritis pain. Chamomile is also used as a digestive aid, as well as to treat heartburn or abdominal cramps. Last but not least, those in need of a little romantic pick-me-up might try ginseng, considered an aphrodisiac for thousands of years. Be careful not to take too much - it can cause headaches and insomnia. It is clear that current medical science is not close to offering realistic or simple solutions to all of the issues that afflict us. That opens the door to alternatives - some helpful, and some not. Check with your doctor first. Doctors may or may not be educated in every area of this vast field, but it's a good place to start. Good health to you all! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: Oct. 10, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 26