WHEN YOU’RE FEELING under the weather, you want fast relief. You can find it pronto thanks to 24/7 pharmacies and grocery stores. But in the spirit of thriftiness, consider these tried-and-true home remedies for minor health woes.
(A note of caution: If symptoms persist, visit a medical doctor. If you are concerned about a home remedy’s potential reaction with prescription medication, check with your doctor or a pharmacist.)
Problem: Canker sores
Home Fix: Honey. In a Saudi Arabian study, researchers divided subjects with canker sores into three groups. One group was given honey to apply to the sores. The other two were given a topical corticosteroid, a paste that acts as a barrier. The honey users reported fewer days of pain and faster reduction in size of the sore than the other two groups due to the anti-inflammatory properties in the sweet natural goo, researchers concluded.
Home Fix: A tennis ball. Sew a 6-by-6-inch square of cloth cut from an old T-shirt into the back of your pajama top to form a three-sided pouch. Insert a tennis ball into the pouch before you go to bed. The ball will keep you from sleeping flat on your back, which causes your tongue and soft palate to collapse to the wall of your throat and vibrate.
Problem: Foot odor
Home Fix: Vinegar. Soak your feet in a tub filled with one part vinegar and two parts warm water.
Home Fix: Cherries. Cherries (fresh or dried) are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin, a hormone that affects the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep patterns, says Dr. Mark Moyad, an alternative medicine expert at the University of Michigan Medical Center and author of The Supplement Handbook (2014, Rodale).
Problem: Chapped lips
Home Fix: Olive oil. It’s rich in anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. And the fat in the oil moisturizes. Rub it on three times a day to protect and soften chapped lips.
Problem: The common cold
Home Fix: Hugs. Hugging someone might help you avoid catching a cold. In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, subjects were exposed to the common cold virus (yes, participants agreed to this). Those who received regular hugs were much less likely to develop cold symptoms than others in the study who didn’t receive daily hugs. Researchers say hugs reduce stress and, in turn, strengthen the immune system.
Home Fix: Two teaspoons of sugar. Swallowing the coarse granules stimulates the irritated nerve triggering the spasms, calming the diaphragm.
Home Fix: Ginger ice chips. Make a tea using fresh-shaved ginger. When it cools, strain the liquid into ice cube trays. Smash the frozen cubes and suck on the ginger chips to soothe an upset stomach.
Problem: Low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides
Home Fix: Exercise. “Working out boosts your HDL (good) cholesterol levels, lowers triglycerides and may lower LDL (bad) levels as well,” says Dr. Jordan Metzl, author of The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies (2012, Rodale). Many studies have shown the positive impact of exercise on lipid profiles in both men and women. And it seems that any kind of exercise is beneficial, from walking to high-intensity interval training to weightlifting.
Problem: Poison ivy rash
Home Fix: Brewed tea. Dry out weepy poison ivy rashes by dipping a cotton ball into strongly brewed black tea and dabbing the rash. Let dry.
Problem: Sore throat
Home Fix: Fresh garlic juice. Squeeze the juice from six garlic cloves into a glass of warm water (not hot water). Mix and gargle with the solution twice a day. Within three days, your sore throat should be gone thanks to the antimicrobial properties that destroy the pain-causing bacteria. Also, the warm solution soothes inflamed throat tissues.
Problem: Bad breath
Home Fix: A lemon, yogurt and a toothbrush. Lemon juice’s acidity destroys bacteria causing the foul odor. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into a cup and gargle. (You can dilute with a little water if the tart flavor is hard to get past.) Follow that up by eating a small serving of probiotic plain yogurt. The natural lactobacillus bacteria found in yogurt replaces the smelly bugs. During the day, you can freshen your breath by brushing your tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush to rid yourself of reeking food particles and bacteria.
Problem: Cough due to a cold
Home Fix: Dark chocolate. Not milk chocolate, but the more bitter dark chocolate contains the compound theobromine, which has been shown to be more effective than codeine against coughs — without the drowsiness and constipation symptoms. A few small pieces should do. If dark chocolate will keep you up at night, you can soothe your cough with two teaspoons of honey.
Jeff Csatari is author of the book Uncommon Knowledge, releasing in October from the publisher of Men’s Health.