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Cornmeal vs. Antifungal Drugs for Nail Fungus

Cornmeal makes great muffins and biscuits. We're not sure how someone came up with the idea of soaking feet in cornmeal mush for nail fungus. Does it work?

Nail fungus is one of those problems that has a high gross factor. When people go barefoot or wear sandals with their nails showing thickened brown or blackish nails, it is not a pretty sight. This reader tried prescription anti-fungal medications with disappointing results. It’s hardly any wonder he was looking for something less toxic:

Q. I read in your column some time ago about using Vicks VapoRub for toenail fungus. I’ve been struggling with this ugly problem on my two big toes for a number of years.  At one point, the nails even came off.

Had I known about Vicks then, I would have applied it directly to the nail bed, but I was unaware of this approach at that time.  Anyway, I’ve taken two courses of oral antifungal drugs. First, itraconazole (Sporanox) and then fluconazole (Diflucan) for three months. This medicine made me sick (probably killed all the good flora in my digestive tract).

The nails haven’t gotten any better. For awhile, it looked as if the nails were growing out healthy and the margins at the cuticle line were clear.  Then when the nails grew out to about halfway, it’s like the yellow nastiness has started spreading back towards the cuticle. I would prefer not to take any more oral medications for months on end and risk serious side effects. Is there anything besides Vicks that I could use on the nails directly?

A. We understand your reluctance to start another course of oral antifungal drugs. Fluconazole can cause:

Fluconazole Side Effects:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Digestive tract upset (stomach pain, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting)
  • Skin rash (including a very dangerous skin reaction called Stevens-Johnson syndrome)
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities

Itraconazole can cause similar side effects as well as:

Other Itraconazole Side Effects:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pains
  • Depression
  • Low potassium
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fluid retention

Home Remedies for Nail Fungus:

Home remedies never get the same kind of scientific scrutiny that drugs do, but they are also less likely to cause such serious complications the way oral medications can. We have collected a number of interesting alternative approaches for dealing with nail fungus. One of the most fascinating is corn meal mush. Here are some stories:

Corn Meal Mush:

“When examining me my doctor noticed that I had nail fungus affecting toes on each foot.  He recommended that I make a batter by mixing cornmeal and water, let it sit for an hour, and then using a shallow pan, soak my feet for an hour.  He told me to do this once a week for a month.  If the fungus was not gone, I was supposed to apply Vicks Vaporub once a week for a month.

I did the cornmeal therapy for three week and the fungus was gone. I don’t know why it works, but it’s cheap, harmless, and it worked for me.” Larry

 “My husband, for the first time in decades, is having success growing healthy toenails using the cornmeal paste remedy suggested by another listener. He had used the Vicks VapoRub suggestion but to not real avail.” S.O.

“I have soaked my feet in horticultural cornmeal for years.  It’s the only remedy that controls my toenail fungus besides making my feet feel as soft as a baby’s bottom.” P.O.

“My left big toenail turned dark and got too thick to cut with toenail clippers. I soaked the foot, while watching TV, in very warm water with about a one-half cup of cornmeal (never measured). I noticed a difference after a couple of soakings and after six or so and several weeks, the toenail began to lighten up from the bottom. It has grown out thin again and the darkness is gone.”  E.W.T.

“My husband used regular cornmeal as a soak for his fingernail fungus. Cover the bottom of a container with corn meal; add enough WARM water to cover fingers/toes and let soak 30 minutes. Put the affected appendage in the mixture and soak for 1 hour. Repeat once/week. It worked for him in a couple of months!” Smokecamp

“I had some very serious doubts that this would be effective, but because there’s very little risk I tried it. I have had a fungal infection on my heels for at least 10 years — it made the skin very thick, rough, and scaly with cracks. I have tried numerous treatments but the problem always returned as soon as treatment stopped.

“I slathered my feet in cornmeal paste a few weeks ago and guess what? The skin is totally normal now. Of course, it took some time to see a difference, but as of now, I’m a believer.” Sydney

Share your own favorite nail fungus remedies below. If you would like to read more about other approaches you will find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies of great value.

Revised: 8/11/16

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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