Q. As a health professional, I appreciate many of the pharmaceutical issues you write about, especially when you provide scientific support in the form of published research. I sometimes learn about drug interactions that might be a problem and for that I am grateful.

That said, I strongly object to your continued reliance on anecdotes and home remedies in your newspaper column and website. As a scientist yourself, you should know better. You insult the intelligence of your readers when you tell people to put soap in bed to prevent leg cramps or eat raisins coated with gin to treat arthritis. If you would just stick to science The People’s Pharmacy would be a reasonably reliable source of information.

A. You are not the first health professional to castigate us about home remedies. Over the last 38 years we have heard from many physicians that home remedies are worthless and that only FDA-approved medicines are worthwhile.

We love science as much as anyone. We only wish that home remedies would be tested in a double-blind trial that could rule out suggestibility or bias. But even if all the home remedies we have discussed over the decades were purely placebo in nature, we still think they are worth discussing and here is why. Our mantra is that if they might help and won’t hurt and don’t cost very much, they are worth a try. Lots of people seem to agree with us.

Let’s take a few examples. As a health professional, what do you have to offer someone suffering from leg cramps? As far as we can tell, there are no FDA approved medications on the market to treat a Charlie horse.

Doctors used to prescribe quinine. It worked, but the FDA eventually said the danger was too great and banned this drug, first from over-the-counter sale and eventually even by prescription (except to treat malaria).

If putting a bar of soap under the bottom sheet near your legs prevents leg cramps, this has to be about the cheapest and least dangerous remedy for a painful condition. Hundreds of people have told us that they are pleased with the results of this simple approach. There is even an explanation and some research to support this remedy.

And if the soap doesn’t work, a teaspoonful of yellow mustard does the job for us. Again, inexpensive, safe, and for us, surprisingly effective! Others tell us the same thing. Not science, we grant you. But if a muscle cramp that wakes you in the middle of the night disappears within seconds of swallowing mustard, that’s a great remedy we don’t mind sharing.

Sometimes even a doctor gets with the program. Here is a message we received from a doctor’s spouse:

“My husband is a physician. When I told him about the ‘mustard cure’ for leg cramps, he laughed it off as just another old wives’ tale.

“Then when he had leg cramps during the night, I insisted on giving him a teaspoon of yellow mustard. Guess what? He is now a believer and has a small container of mustard on his nightstand!”

Until you have something better, cheaper and safer to offer, we are sticking with soap or mustard.

Here’s another odd suggestion: soy sauce for burns. Now we’re not talking about serious burns, but rather common household burns that we all suffer from time to time. Cold water is always the first step in easing such a burn. But after the cold water stops the initial tissue destruction from progressing, we think soy sauce or cold yellow mustard can also help. That’s because we have tried it and can attest that one minute the burn is painful and then next it stops hurting and doesn’t blister. We heard about this remedy from an Oregonian listener to our radio show.

We know this is not a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, but this story from Leigh caught our attention:

“I had read about soy sauce for burns here on The People’s Pharmacy website. While cooking I touched the heating element of my oven with the pad of my thumb. It was 400 degrees. I heard the sizzle and smelled the burning flesh and saw that the skin looked grey like ash.

“I put it under cold water then remembered the soy sauce remedy, I poured some on, let it sit and poured more on. The pain stopped. I left the sauce on and put a bandage over it, and continued preparing food.

“Hours later when I took the bandage off, the skin wasn’t even blistered; the next day the skin was just dry and cracked looking but never came off. I was amazed!”

Bleeding is another one of those situations where common sense can be just as valuable as a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Either you are bleeding or you are not bleeding. Your eyes will tell you. We first heard about using fine-ground black pepper to stop bleeding in 1996. The story came from Wendall, a woodcarver, who said that all his carving buddies used black pepper to stop the bleeding from nicks they picked up while carving.

Several years ago we received this message:

“Black pepper works great to stop bleeding! I build cabinets. While moving a large cabinet on rollers across a gap in my concrete floor, the cabinet slipped back into the gap and onto my middle finger, just as I was standing up. Not only did it bust open, but the action of standing up almost ripped it in two.

“I bandaged the finger, but the next morning it was still bleeding. My cousin told me about your suggestion of black pepper on cuts, so I tried it. It stopped the bleeding. Thanks for this simple remedy.”

Not long after that story on our website we heard from L.J.D.:

“My grandmother used pepper more than 50 years ago. I can still remember her pouring it on me every time I got a cut that wouldn’t stop bleeding. We recently used it on my dog when we accidentally cut her nail too close to the quick. Completely cover the wound. It doesn’t burn at all.”

We doubt that pepper would be a placebo for dogs.

So, here is our bottom line. Common sense is the crucial element in using home remedies. A serious burn requires immediate emergency medical attention. Ditto for a serious cut that won’t stop bleeding. But if a home remedy works for minor ailments, why not consider it? The medications you prize as a health professional can be helpful, but most drugs have side effects and one must always weigh benefits against risks.

For those who like the idea of common sense, grandmother’s wisdom and practical home remedies, we offer our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. You might even be surprised at the scientific support you will find behind many of these approaches. There are hundreds of remedies and references to convince even skeptics like you.

Share your own favorite home remedy below so our health professional can learn from you.


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  1. mary

    To the HP professional, Joe and Terry,
    Still working on toes with the various suggestions. I am the one who did the LISTERINE soaks, lost the nails and thought cured without continuing well beyond. A big mistake. To begin again was difficult, but now I am at least able to show my feet without ugly embarrassment by merely spraying with VINEGAR everyday after the shower and many times before bed. Getting by until I become committed once more.
    It worked! Even the lazy method gave me a comfortable barefoot and sandal wearing summer. Cost minimal, danger to my liver –none.
    GIN SOAKED RAISINS—Works! Who cares ‘how’ when not dangerous and helps. No dangerous nsaids. Liver happy once again.
    SOAP IN BED–Works! Another harmless help that my liver likes a lot.
    [just sent the comment about menstrual cramps to daughter–would that ever be a blessing if it also worked in that way!] When I think of all the Midol and other pain relievers taken when young for cramps, before learning about Yoga stretches–my liver shudders.
    CAYENNE GARGLE–Sore throat: 1/2 tea. in 1/2 glass of water. Gargle 2x, spit out the germs–then gargle and swallow.
    Relief, again inexpensive. No chemicals.
    MUSTARD FOR BURNS-like a miracle!
    I could go on and on. Anyone who thinks these things are dangerous is foolish at best. My motto for years has been ”If something could help and will definitely not hurt [the body] then it is definitely worth a try”.
    THESE are just a few of the helps I have learned from Joe and Terry, and my gratitude is endless. Thank you! Without you? Many more doctor visits, no doubt dangerous prescriptions, dangerous side effects.
    OH- and: I too am/was an HP–an X-ray Tech. While new and working in a 12 doctor clinic I was called upon to be in the room for some examinations. There I saw a very well respected doctor prescribe a prescription for an ailment. Next week patient back with new ailment—-another RX…and this went on till this man was actually dying, yet no one able to figure out the cause. His wife took him to Mayo Clinic where was learned he was taking 12 prescription medications and that was what was killing him!
    Appears he had a reaction to the first one and rather than removing it, another was added for each bad reaction that followed. This man lived to a ripe old age after being taken off all those poisonous drugs.
    Perhaps an extreme case? But is it really?

  2. HL

    I absolutely believe in the power of home remedies for ailments, as well as the placebo effect. If a bar of soap helps ease your night time leg cramps, they YAY! It didn’t cost you much to try it out and it didn’t harm your health the way an RX med might have. If it didn’t work, you can always wash with it.
    That being said, I have also had RX meds help for other things when in dire need – as long as it wasn’t for long term. Everything has it’s place but western medicine is not the be all end all answer to every medical question.
    If you do not subscribe to alternative medicine – don’t use it. But don’t put down others that do, and have found success in them.

  3. Joshua R.

    What a great article. Good for you for speaking out about this. It still amazes me when people are so hateful towards home remedies, despite knowing little to nothing about them. Just…weird.

  4. ShAr

    Dill pickles also word for horrid leg cramps.

  5. Dori

    Ok, doc, I use soap to relieve leg cramps because it works. I use aloe vera on normal burns because it works instantly and completely. I love my new doc because as an MD he has moved beyond the scope of big pharma and provides treatments that WORK, (but now the pharmacist is questioning if he knows what he’s prescribing!!! No big profit for her in the more natural products either.) The majority of you professional pill pushers are brainwashed so thoroughly that you don’t even recognize there just might be a better and cheaper way. People’s Pharmacy, rock on!

  6. AMR

    Dear Joe:
    For my leg cramps, ya know, the screaming kind, I use mustard. Sometimes I have to take more than 1 teaspoon. Sometimes the cramps stops immediately, sometimes it takes longer. I tried the bar of soap; doesn’t work for me. I used black pepper to stop the bleeding of a cut finger: worked like magic. And, yes, anyone who had a old grandma, knows sometimes she was right!

  7. Bill

    Of course professionals poopoo any home remedies! They don’t want to lose business. Everyday I read or hear about recalls or warnings about prescription meds. Also, how a lot of seniors are over medicated. Sometimes meds are a last resort but if something natural heals, why not utilize these “home remedies”?
    I can vouch for the soap for cramps! I have been cramp free at night and even rub soap on a cramp whenever needed. Many non-believers have taken my advice and love the results. I use many of your recommended home cures and a few I have known. Thanks for an alternative that is safe and affordable!

  8. Cindy M. B.

    The idiotic “healthcare professional” that wrote you should be glad s/he’s not here with me; I have a mouth and a temper and I’ll use ’em!!!!! How freakin idiotic.
    So we have “official” (Rx) drugs that Big Pharma has spent millions on and then spins furiously to hapless patients so they can recoup their profits — despite multiple horrible side effects and possible drug/food interactions, despite the fact these drugs might well send you to an early grave, and at the very least will make you ape-crap crazy when you try to get off them….
    And then we have “home remedies” like soap under the sheet, pepper for bleeding, honey for wounds, mustard for burns…. simple stuff, no side effects, little cost, and hundreds of people swear by them. And OF COURSE nobody’s “PROVEN” they work, because they can’t make money off ’em!
    Furthermore, this so-called “Healthcare Professional” has most likely got free lunches, kickbacks and who knows what-all else for promoting and prescribing those Rx meds. And then, Peoples Pharmacy, he or she DARES to call YOU on the carpet???!!!?? Man oh man, I think you were much too benign in your response!

  9. Mary

    I wish I had seen the info that Vicks Vapo Rub on my feet could stop or reduce a cough sooner.
    I coughed so hard it is possible that is why I now have a hernia in my lower abdomen.
    Some nights now I will put some Vicks on just a small part of my foot below the toes and I will rarely cough.
    If that is placebo effect, I will take that any day over a heavy-duty cough.
    Many cough products raise blood pressure and most are ineffective.
    Vicks is/does neither.

  10. lou g

    As one that has used remedies from People’s Pharmacy, I strongly disagree with the so called Health Professional (HP). AS he/she didn’t state as to being a doctor, I’ll use HP.
    HP could be anything in the health profession, with little medical training. I’ve used, and have posted results previously, grape juice with Certo, and very much believe it’s helped with arthritis. I’ve been using the 5 or 6 almond treatment whenever I get heartburn, and it does work. I seldom take Zantac anymore. Finally, I’ve tried the soap for leg cramps and it worked.
    So to HP, I say: regardless if you’re partly right, it is proven that mind over matter seems to help when people are sick. If we believe these work, and we continue to visit our doctors and they say there are no ill effects, but we’re doing well, what’s your reply? I’ve told many of my doctors about using home remedies. However, unlike you, those that are skeptical have told me if I think it helps, continue, until I realize it doesn’t work, or I get worse. Others have thanked me, especially in the case of heartburn, to say they would try it. Would you care to comment on all our comments, HP, and refute all of us?

  11. RLB

    Back in the recent dark ages The doctor came to see you when you were sick. You came under Quarantine when you had a communicable disease. There are more illnesses that come from a doctor’s office than into it.
    Here is a pretty sane idea or set of ideas. Go to a doctor when you are sick or have an obvious infection. Let how you feel determine whether to believe your lying eyes or a 25k lab report. Save all your lab reports for comparison. You might note that the limits constantly change.
    What was good last time may be high this time. Avoid being placed on chemical life support unless you look forward to being a zombie. Avoid statistics at all cost—they can be manipulated to support any point of view. Don’t be bullied into doing or taking anything that you do not feel comfortable with. Above all, take charge of your own health. It is your most valuable possession.
    Do some research outside the FDA. Follow the consensus on your medical condition. There are many valuable sources that are valuable for research. Note that they usually will have a disclaimer that their information is not to be used in place of a doctor. That of course is where you come in.

  12. Donnie

    Home remedies work better and are safer then drugs, in many cases. Cheaper, too. But, that means lost profits for the medical establishment, so they reject remedies that people can use on their own. Drugs, doctor and hospital visits cost big bucks, so if a home remedy works well, it is common sense to use it.

  13. VFC

    I am an RN and can tell you that I really appreciate the home remedies that The People’s Pharmacy writes about. The remedy just might work and even if it doesn’t, it probably won’t hurt you. Over 40 years I have seen that traditional medicine & science just does not have the answer to all the multiple ailments that impair our quality of life and if there’s no RX for it, docs just ignore it. Patients often have to figure out some things on their own, especially something that will not actually kill you.
    Science & the FDA have vetted many drugs and devices that either do not work at all, all the way to kill you. There is room in this world for science and home remedies.

  14. Carlee Paddock

    The human brain seems to be wired in a strange way. We are not easily open to new (or old) ideas if they are different from what we have learned and accepted as “truth” either through education or because we have come to accept a particular ideology.
    I have noticed that sometimes I will pooh pooh a new approach to treating a health issue that I might be dealing with until I’ve been exposed to it for the 2nd or 3rd time. I suppose this is a protective, survival mechanism. It keeps us from straying too far out of the mental box we’ve constructed for our perceived safety, but it can also keep us hemmed into such a narrow view that our natural common sense becomes disabled!
    I am extremely grateful to Joe and Terry Graedon for combining both their common sense approach along with their scientific knowledge. They seem to take the doctor’s oath, “First do no harm” more seriously than most doctors. Their remedies are my first line of defense for any health challenges that are not life threatening and some that are. They provide sane solutions where in many cases the medical establishment does not. Thank you Joe and Terry!

  15. nb

    I will try the home remedy every time over going to the doctor. However, when those remedies don’t work the doctor is called. Main stream medical treatment has become astronomical and all too often Insurance companies only pay for generic prescriptions and many of them are not the same as the original. Plus some doctors don’t listen when you tell them about the problem. Thank you for your advice and direction and thank you to all who tell us of their experiences.

  16. William (Bill) Harrington

    Re. the use of lack pepper for a cut. Any woodsman will tell you moss packed on a wound will stop bleeding. Almost any powdery substance, such as flour, can be used as long as there are no foreign substances in it. Why has no one mentioned styptic pencils, a shaving cut is the same as a paper cut or a knife cut, as long as the cut is not deep or long. Jay H. said it best, PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES CAN’T MAKE MONEY ON THESE ITEMS.

  17. RLB

    This is a head-to-head that will never be resolved. Traditional medical practitioners are trained to religiously support the rule of better living through chemistry. Believers in homeopathy support Hippocrates’ statement to let food be your medicine. Those of us who have been around for a while have seen and used many home remedies that worked and still do. The old bathroom pharmacies; Vicks, Bag Balm, Honey, sugar, Raleigh’s Liniment and the multitude of wild herbs that were harvested and dried by mothers and grandmothers kept generations feeling better. The habit of disregarding a theory because it doesn’t fit a particular mind set is narrow minded. Try it. Maybe it works.
    As for the so called research and blind trials. Most a set up to fail. Using, for example, 400IU of synthetic vitamin E or 400IU of vitamin D2 is a joke. If trials are are set up using the FDA RDA’s, they will fail every time. Science used to open peoples minds, Unfortunately, since science became a religion, it has closed them, Nothing is harder to open than a closed mind.

  18. Jay

    As trained scientist you know that anecdotal information is not necessarily true.
    While many of the treatments you constantly promote are very benign (soap for leg cramps) and worthy of a trial, you never seem to discuss the fact that nutritional supplements are not required to contain what is on the label, the only time the FDA checks on a nutritional product if there is a report of toxic reaction to a product. This is a ” buyer beware”situation.
    At least there is post marketing survalience on prescription medication.
    Jay, You are absolutely correct (and we have said this on many occasions), dietary supplements, vitamins, herbs and other such products are NOT well regulated by the FDA. In fact, we would go so far as to say that the FDA has turned its back on such products. As a result, the marketplace is pretty much a wild west environment where buyer beware is the appropriate mantra.
    Post-marketing surveillance by the pharmaceutical industry has not been very well monitored either, but at least there is a system in place for voluntary reporting to the FDA’s MedWatch program. Although people can report adverse reactions to dietary supplements there as well, manufacturers have little incentive to submit reports. Bottom line, we agree with you and we have frequently written about this problem.
    Other countries, such as Germany, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc are much better at monitoring dietary supplements. Too bad the U.S. is so far behind.

  19. Jay H.

    Here’s the thing about ‘home remedies’ and ‘anecdotal stories’…
    Back in the ‘dark ages,’ which is to say, my grandmother’s day, folks learned about the healing properties of substances in two ways–by watching what animals did when they were in distress, or by trial and error (much like big pharma does now), testing different substances on themselves and their family members. Listening to ‘anecdotal tales’ of what other folks had tried expanded their ‘database’ of first-hand experience with this type of testing.
    The fact that it didn’t cost a gazillion dollars or require teams of über-brainy PhD’s to determine that foxglove was useful for treating some types of heart conditions, or that boiling willow bark makes a tea that reduces fever and headaches, doesn’t make the treatments less effective. They didn’t have to know that the foxglove contained digitalis or that willow bark was a natural source of aspirin to know that it worked. (Incidentally, these substances are still used today.)
    The Quechua natives in Peru and Bolivia didn’t have a scientific name for the substance that occurred naturally in the bark of the cinchona tree. They didn’t need a team of white-jacketed scientists to know that it had antipyretic, antimalarial, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties; they just drank a brew of the bitter-tasting quinine to control malaria and were grateful for it.
    My point is that people have been unearthing natural treatments since the first caveman plopped a handful of mud on a bee-sting. And yeah–folks experimenting with herbs and drugs sometimes overdosed or experienced unexpected side-effects, but guess what? I’ve worked in pharmaceutical research for over 30 years, and I’ve seen more people be injured by, or even die from, iatrogenic (treatment-induced) adverse events than ever required emergency care from ingesting gin-soaked raisins!
    And I’ll let you in on a badly kept secret; do you know why no one will ever perform clinical trials to test the efficacy of simple home remedies to “prove” their value? Because THEY CAN’T MAKE MONEY ON IT. That’s why DMSO has had such limited clinical testing, even though it’s been a mainstay in veterinary work for decades and is used for cryoprotection when storing and transporting human organs for transplants. It’s too inexpensive to produce, and they can’t ‘tweak’ a molecule and patent the substance as a proprietary product. And if a company can’t make money on a substance, they certainly don’t want you to choose–and use–the cheaper product over the high-priced one that they market.
    I’m not against pharmaceutical intervention; it has it’s place and as a last resort it can save your life. But with all of the crippling side effects found in the modern drug arsenal it just makes sense to tap into good ol’ grass-roots wisdom and try EVERYthing else FIRST. Gin-soaked raisins aren’t likely to kill you; some of the NSAIDS and DMARDS out there just might.

  20. Pat

    I was pregnant with my first child over 30 years ago. When the time came for him to birth, I had a long difficult labor. When I became pregnant with my second child, someone suggested I drink raspberry tea. I figured I was drinking tea anyway, why not make it raspberry tea. When this baby was ready to birth, I labored two hours, she popped out easily, and I was on my feet the next day. (This represented the start of my interest in herbal remedies.) Now my daughter is a health professional and she “poo-poos” this story, saying it’s anecdotal. But when I spoke to my daughter-in-law recently -she’s getting ready to have a baby- she says raspberry tea is on the list of dietary items her doctor has recommended. So some doctors do come around. Long live Grandma’s home remedies!

  21. axapost

    Good for you!! common sense and caution win!

  22. AA

    Thank you Joe and Terry for your common sense mantra. We, in my family, appreciate it immensely.

  23. Julie713

    I’ve often read that the first line of defense for burns is to put cold water on them. Although that seems logical, in my experience the first thing to do is run for the aloe plant and spread fresh gel on that burn as fast as possible – including on severe burns. After applying the fresh aloe, put some ice (and benzocaine) on the area if you want to because aloe doesn’t lessen the pain.
    I’ve had some pretty severe kitchen burns over the years since I like to cook and bake. After trying a number of recommendations, I learned that if I smear fresh aloe on the burn within a minute, there’s almost no evidence that a burn occurred by the next day. No blister, no scar and minor sensitivity. It’s miraculous. Again, this is FRESH gel from a living plant.

  24. Rick

    I’m opposed to some taking such a negative view to things that actually work for others. Some get brainwashed through the process of obtaining an education and others just never develop common sense. The brainwashing that takes place is real and it flows into many elements of society which we are then subjected to.
    I am an educated person and have and as much science as the best in the business, but I can tell you that I have an open mind to other things in life. Science is critically important, but it is not necessarily the answer to everything.
    I know some of the best, but I can tell you there are many of the finest brains out there that have no common sense. Furthermore this is true in all professional and walks of life. It takes a well rounded individual to be a true success in life. If the shoe fits, wear it.

  25. Blake M.

    The problem with requiring controlled studies for approval and legitimacy is that it requires tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and no one is going to spend that kind of money at a product which is readily available in cheap. When people say “it hasn’t been proven to be safe and effective”, my answer is it hasn’t been tested at all. In our system the true test is not whether it is safer effective, but rather does it make money.

  26. Art

    The answer to that should be fairly obvious. Healthcare professionals, especially MD’s have been trained almost exclusively in Allopathic Medicine with a strong bias from the Big Pharmaceutical Companies and Medical Device Manufactures. Most MD’s traditionally, have had very little training in Pharmacology, and much less (if any) in Natural, Homeopathic, or Aryuvedic and other Eastern forms of medicine, but that’s changing now, I would think.

  27. Renee

    I’d rather rely on the advice and testimonials of The People’s Pharmacy and it’s readers than every piece of published research and double-blind, placebo controlled study floating around out there. As we’ve all heard, those are not always guaranteed to be reliable and fact-based either. If home remedies are relatively inexpensive, found in our own households or in nature, then who are you, dear writer, to complain? Don’t knock it until you try it!

  28. NM

    I can also attest that the soap remedy helps with cramps. But not just leg cramps. When my daughters are suffering from menstrual cramps they tuck a bar of soap in the waist band of their pants and it works like a charm to alleviate what has been, in the past, debilitating cramps. They have shared this with their college friends who have also had success.

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