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Should We Give Up On Home and Herbal Remedies?

Is there any science to support the use of home and herbal remedies? Many health professionals like randomized controlled trials. So do we! Here are data.
Cold cherry juice in a glass and pitcher on wooden table with ripe berries in wicker basket

Many people think of herbs and home remedies as quaint, old-fashioned byproducts of prior centuries. Modern-day pharmaceuticals seem far more scientific. Commercials on television make medications appear to be the answer to virtually all our ailments. Is there a place for home and herbal remedies in the 21st century?

Evidence-Based Medicine vs. Home and Herbal Remedies

We frequently hear from people who say that their health professionals are scornful or dismissive of home remedies or “alternative” therapies such as herbs or dietary supplements. It’s not surprising. Such approaches are not taught in most schools of pharmacy or medical schools.

Pharmacists and physicians like to pride themselves on their scientific approach to healthcare. The phrase that has been embraced for the last two decades is “evidence-based medicine” (BMJ, Jan. 13, 1996). 

What is Evidence-Based Medicine?

It usually refers to a reliance on randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. These are the gold standard for proving drug effectiveness.

We’re enthusiastic about such research. It reduces psychological factors such as expectations or opinions. But it can be taken to extremes. A brilliant, tongue-in-cheek article in the BMJ (Dec. 13, 2018) was titled: 

“Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial”

The authors introduce their mischievous article this way:

“Parachutes are routinely used to prevent death or major traumatic injury among individuals jumping from aircraft. However, evidence supporting the efficacy of parachutes is weak and guideline recommendations for their use are principally based on biological plausibility and expert opinion.

“Previous attempts to evaluate parachute use in a randomized setting have not been undertaken owing to both ethical and practical concerns. Lack of equipoise could inhibit recruitment of participants in such a trial.”

The “researchers” go on to note:

“Although decades of anecdotal experience have suggested that parachute use during jumps from aircraft can save lives, these observations are vulnerable to selection bias and confounding. Indeed, in seminal work published in the BMJ in 2003, a systematic search by Smith and Pell for randomized clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of parachutes during gravitational challenge yielded no published studies.”

These scientists had a lot of fun writing this article. You will get a chuckle too. Here is a link to the full text in the BMJ.

Common Sense and Observation:

The point we would like to make about randomized controlled trials is that sometimes “biological plausibility and expert opinion” are all that is needed. Common sense and observation also play a role.

If your hiccups instantly go away after swallowing a teaspoonful of granulated sugar, that’s worth something. Ditto for leg cramps that cease shortly after a person swallows a teaspoon of yellow mustard. Do you need a randomized controlled trial if the pain from a minor household burn goes away immediately after dipping the affected skin in soy sauce?

Seeking a “Mechanism of Action:”

Many health care professionals reject home and herbal remedies out of hand. They don’t even ask whether there is any evidence for effectiveness. They insist upon a “mechanism of action” that they can understand. Many physicians assume that this is what they find with most pharmaceuticals.

Little do they realize that the mechanism of action for many commonly used drugs is not known. Do they then refuse to utilize these treatments?

How Does Abilify Work?

For example, the professional information on the widely prescribed antipsychotic drug aripiprazole (Abilify) reads:

“The mechanism of action of aripiprazole in schizophrenia or bipolar mania, is unknown.”

To be fair, this statement precedes an explanation of how it might work.

How Does Ashwagandha Work?

How different is that from the admission, in a description of a study of Withania somnifera (WSE or Ashwagandha), that:

“the mechanism of its efficacy requires more exploration”? (Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, May 2019).

By the way, that appeared in a report on a placebo-controlled trial finding that Ashwagandha alleviated depression and anxiety among people with schizophrenia. We suspect that some psychiatrists who would readily prescribe Abilify would not even contemplate recommending Ashwagandha.

Drugs Work Even if We Don’t Know Why: 

There are hundreds of medications for which the mechanism of action remains mysterious. Levetiracetam (Keppra) is an anticonvulsant. The official prescribing information states:

“The precise mechanism(s) by which levetiracetam exerts its antiepileptic effect is unknown.”

Ask any neurologist, though, and she will tell you that levetiracetam works very well to control epilepsy in many patients.

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Home and Herbal Remedies That Work:

Moreover, a surprising number of home remedies and herbs actually have scientific explanations. For example, gout specialists have been known to scoff at the idea that tart cherry juice might help this painful condition.

They prefer to prescribe drugs that lower uric acid levels in the bloodstream. A buildup of uric acid crystals is responsible for the joint pain and inflammation behind gout.

They may not be aware of a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study involving tart cherry juice (Current Developments in Nutrition, Feb. 25, 2019).  Tart cherry juice significantly reduced serum uric acid levels and inflammation.

Other research demonstrates that both sweet and tart cherries can inhibit the inflammatory compounds COX-1 and COX-2. These are the same enzymes affected by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and meloxicam. Studies have also found that cherry products can alleviate arthritis pain, ease exercise-induced muscle soreness and improve sleep (Nutrients, March 17, 2018). 

The Science Behind Home and Herbal Remedies:

We love science. That’s why we interview authorities with impeccable credentials. In Show 1079: What Is the Science Behind Fabulous Foods for Health? we talked to Tod Cooperman, MD, founder and president of ConsumerLab.com about olive oil. We also  interviewed Ajay Goel, PhD, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Research and of the Center for Translational Genomics and Oncology at the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. He is professor of medicine at Baylor University Medical Center. Dr. Goel discussed the science behind using turmeric as a medicinal food.

Another guest on Show 1079 was Malachy P. McHugh, PhD. He has been the Director of Research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma (NISMAT) at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City since 1999. He leads a multidisciplinary research team including orthopaedic surgeons, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, biomechanists, biomedical engineers, and athletic trainers.

Dr. McHugh is am impeccable scientist. Find out how his well-controlled studies demonstrate benefits thanks to Montmorency cherry juice at this link (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition May 11, 2015)  Better yet, listen to our interview with Dr. McHugh during the last segment of this radio show.  We think it is a thoughtful, scientifically sound discussion of cherry juice against inflammation.

Why Is Google burying Home and Herbal Remedies?

For reasons that are obscure to us, Google has determined that many websites featuring home and herbal remedies do not deserve visibility. They have virtually disappeared from Google’s search process. That includes a lot of content from The People’s Pharmacy. Read more about what has happened and what you can do about it at this link:

Is Google Censoring Drug Side Effect Information?

Do you Like Home and Herbal Remedies?

People who appreciate the science behind many home and herbal remedies will find our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies of interest. 

What do you think of home and herbal remedies? Are they worthless and a waste of time or have you found them helpful? Do you agree with Google that alternative health websites should be stifled? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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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.” .
Favorite Home Remedies

A collection of some of our favorite bits of kitchen table wisdom and home remedies in an easy to use digital health guide.

Favorite Home Remedies
  • Sackett DL et al, "Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn't." BMJ, Jan. 13, 1996. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7023.71
  • Yeh RW et al, "Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial." BMJ, Dec. 13, 2018. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k5094
  • Gannon JM et al, "Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial." Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, May 2019.
  • Martin KR & Coles KM, "Consumption of 100% tart cherry juice reduces serum urate in overweight and obese adults." Current Developments in Nutrition, Feb. 25, 2019. DOI: 10.1093/cdn/nzz011
  • Kelley DS et al, "A review of the health benefits of cherries." Nutrients, March 17, 2018. doi: 10.3390/nu10030368
  • Dimitriou L et al, "Influence of a montmorency cherry juice blend on indices of exercise-induced stress and upper respiratory tract symptoms following marathon running--A pilot investigation." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. May 11, 2015. DOI: 10.1186/s12970-015-0085-8
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In the late 1960s & early 70s, my husband and I had a physician who never wrote a prescription for us. The alternative methods he used would today be called “home remedies” but they worked! Today, he would be coerced to write prescriptions for his patients. We now understand that he was protecting his patients from the side effects of prescriptions. We follow his example and are not on any kind of prescription medications although the pressure for senior citizens to take them is enormous. It’s almost as if you are supposed to be medicated if you are over 60.

I use DuckDuckgo.com for my search engine because unlike Google, they do not record your searches. A quick search of Peoples Pharmacy returned multiple hits.

I agree with most other commenters that home and herbal remedies often have as much to offer as pharmaceuticals. Censoring information seems to be a giant step backward for nearly all concerned! All is not well at Google. Here is link to long article in Wired magazine re: Google: https://www.wired.com/story/inside-google-three-years-misery-happiest-company-tech/

Of course these alternative remedies should be considered. The work of the Graedons is just the right thing needed to help sort it all out! The arrogance of Doctor World pushes on, even as they are periodically wrong, throughout history.

I found you, Joe, on Opra when you wrote your first book and talked about Tylenol. Then I saw you again on her show when an employee of hers took anti-biotics and was not herself, did not know what direction she was going, or recognize her own clothes. You said something about 350,000 people having a problem like this with this anti-biotic, if I remember correctly.

I had a Hep B shot because of my job, and had Hep A few months later. Because of this my immune system went down. It was candidiasis. I was ill for 5 yrs, even scatter-brained, etc. You saved my life that day on Opra: because of hearing you I walked into a natural health store. The owner sold me “The Yeast Syndrome” book. I got so well that my Pharmasist quit, and went into natural medicine. Today, I am 78 years old, have a few problems but am pain free, no meds, take vitamins, swim, walk, and am fairly healthy–thanks to you who gave me the start to go natural, at age 55.

Is there any way to contact Google about this matter? Perhaps if enough searchers complain to them about this kind of censorship they may change their ways. If not, I suggest we all search for natural remedies, people’s pharmacy, examine.com, etc on Bing or ABCsearchengine or GoodGopher or other search engines.

Graedon’s Pharmacy has been an incredible asset to me in learning about health issues. I do not wish to run to the doctor with every ailment I experience, and I can often find very helpful, sensible solutions to health problems. You provide an amazing public service for which I am so grateful.

A lot of the efficacy of herbal and alternative medicine and treatment is based on personal education and calculated trials of experience. Sad to say, there is much less science behind it. I do believe a lot of it has to do with Big Pharma and/or its associates controlling the playing field.

I often find many doctors smugly negate the use of anything out of their typical arena of control and knowledge. There are a growing number, however, who are willing to examine the evidence. Evidence can be bought too and it’s worth noting that Big Pharma often is involved in self-testing its products. It’s where we are but thanks to more sites and articles educating the public, things are changing. I always tell others to explore things with an educated mind and to realize that in the world of anything relatively new beware of scammers and scoffers.

From my observation with my husband’s pain it seems that the medical professionals only offer a drug which has the same side effects that we are doing our best to avoid (stroke, heart attack). They offer us nothing from xrays, drugs, surgery whereas I can keep searching in natural pharma for solutions and save ourselves the trouble of nonsense solutions. I keep searching.

What is the giant “Google” doing censoring what people search for as well as stifle access of information through their site? As each day passes, more and more decisions are based on the persuit of the dollar. Threats that can be made by powerful monied groups, individules and other interests that stand to lose income fron informational knowledge. We are being blinded from truths because of the fear of discovery. In particluar, the drug industry. Here is a group who, at all costs must stifle any and all contradictory information with their poisons. All one has to do is look at the litany of side effects associated with the most often hyped and scribed to get a clue of why such info must be stifled.

They have the insurance companies convinced that their poisons are the “proper and standard” course of treatment, hence the income. The next step is to bribe the front line by whatever means necessary to prescribe said poisons. Since doctors are trained in such a way that any substance other than the manufactured poisons is malpractice suit producing actions, stick to what produces no conflict with the “standards of practice”. The hypocratic oath, “do no harm” is trashed for a “safe and flourishing practice.” Threats based on loss of sales is good business so companies create smiling face commercials that convey the perception that “life is great”…. Ask any patient on “Abilify” to get a true picture of how life becomes a fast track to hell.

I”ll take my chances on natural remedies and finding a true medical practitioner who understands that there are many ways to restore a better life without attacking the body and assisting the body to restore itself. Big pharma CAN’T do that with their “products”. Their mantra…” Elininate all avenues but ours!” Money, money, money!!!!

Herbal remedies ARE scientifically tested through eons of documented observation. As a Chinese herbalist, I can attest that I have observed the results of application of Chinese herbs over 35 years of practice, and the results are consistent WHEN ARTFULLY and CORRECTLY APPLIED. This is why it is advisable to consult a professional herbalist when venturing into the realm of mixtures that are taken for some more serious conditions. Applying soy sauce to a first degree burn isn’t as dangerous as using cinnamon for promoting circulation. Taken over time, cinnamon can raise BP, while the soy sauce applied over time can yield salty skin. The more serious the issue, the more you may need professional guidance to help you through the maze of even complementary medicines.

I believe that you are being too charitable about the reasoning Google has employed to limit access to home and herbal remedies. Not that I fault You-as scientists you wish to keep your responses to provable data. I don’t have that restriction to worry about.

“When it walks like a Duck, Quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck-you can be pretty sure, IT’S A Duck! Google makes billions of dollars in revenue from those WHO PAY to advertise their product, service. You pay more, your item rises to the top of the search engine. Home remedies pay-NOTHING; same applies to Herbal remedies, as they can’t be patented.

Your wonderful site and others of like mind, show that sometimes it is not necessary and perhaps problematic to use the drugs that the Medical/Pharmaceutical Industry deems standard. In other words,”You PAY-You Play..You don’t-You won’t!

Your journalism and open forum format are essential. What better testing is there than this kind of community who shares unbiased, fact based, personal experiences? My quality of life is impacted by your efforts and all those who contribute.

And this news about Google is particularly concerning, please let us know what we can do to get your content at the top of searches and not buried.

We’ve used a lot of your reader’s recommendations and, overall, we’re pleased. Some work and some don’t, but we didn’t spend a lot of money and there weren’t serious side effects! As a Native American family, my husband’s grandma was a medicine woman so we use a lot of herbal medicines and tinctures and they work.

Based on reading I’ve done, ( including on this very site ), much of the “scientific evidence” for many drugs is shaky at best. Effectiveness is often marginal at best and not every one is responsive, Oh wait! Isn’t that the biggest complaint about alternative therapies? Obviously, once again the REAL problem is someone in the medical machine is losing out on some potential big money

I lived in Europe and found doctors often recommended home remedy type fixes: tea tree oil to help prevent kids from getting lice, black tea compresses for pink eye etc.. These remedies were used nicely in conjunction with pharma medicines too. Wish Google and the US medical system didn’t seem so profit/pharma driven. (ugh!)

Scientists said there were no such thing as germs, doctors scoffed at washing hands.
Scientists claimed dogs could not reason.

If herbs had a quarter of the side effects as the prescribed drugs do, they would be banned.

So much for what is better.

The medical industry has pooh poohed vitamins and alternative medicines for decades. They refuse to see that vitamins and herbs are chemicals just like you find in foods and can have the same nutritional effect on a human body. Chemistry is chemistry. Recent case in point is that I’ve been on a good diet and recently was in the hospital where I had all healthy meals. On the next to the last day tests indicated that my magnesium levels were way out of spec? Why……….if I’ve been eating properly? So they supplemented me with a magnesium drip which is just like me taking a tablet in the morning. What’s the difference?

Research will never be fully done on herbal medicine alone, except in other countries since there is no profit in it for the US. Turkey tail mushroom was used with chemotherapy and improved the immune response per an NIH study, but no singular study was done on Turkey tail mushroom on its own.

I guess I am fortunate with my doctors. When I need to see a new doctor I lay it out to him/her: I believe in traditional Chinese medicine which includes acupuncture and also homeopathy. I was raised with a homeopathic doctor when a child in Germany. Herbal remedies and herbal teas still are very popular in Germany and have taken a foothold here as well. I have refused and discussed treatment suggestions and always ended up with alternative methods. My doctors know that I will check with my TCM doctor before I take any chemical drugs. I am almost 84 years old and do not take any prescription drugs.

I guess I am also lucky.

No one has the right to suppress needed information from reputable sources. Freedom of speech covers that.
Look at the garbage they do allow!

Drug companies have a strong profit motive that makes them unreliable when it comes to presenting a true picture of side effects. The People’s Pharmacy is a very reliable source of extremely helpful, researched scientific information. It is invaluable in the search for the truth about drugs and remedies. Google must not suppress or censor this information that can be life saving to those who are researching their own health solutions!!!

I recently fired a doctor because he absolutely refused to consider that there might be something he doesn’t know. He insisted that TSH was the gold standard for diagnosing thyroid problems, and comprehensive thyroid panels were not necessary. He wanted EVIDENCE, STUDIES, etc. I offered to buy him a book that was written by doctors who cited hundreds of studies about this subject, and he refused to accept that because he was “too busy.” He was “too busy” to do the research himself, as well. After three meetings in which he refused to budge, and so did I, we agreed that this was never going to work, so we bid each other goodbye. And he claimed to be an INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE doctor, associated with a University. Pathetic. I never did find out what “integrative” meant to him, but in my experience it means integrating the “conventional” medicine model with natural medicine including lifestyle, diet, etc.

There is a website, http://www.examine.com, which states on its landing page, “Nutrition and supplement information based on science”, and reports only those results obtained by randomized clinical trials on HUMANS.

It is my go-to site for information on supplements, and I have found it quite useful. I do not have any financial interest in Examine.com. I just appreciate the work that they do to bring unbiased information into view.


Examine has also been hit hard by Google. Go to this article to see what has happened:


Quoting the people at Examine.com:

“A slow death …

We’re finally posting this after a recent search-engine update, but past updates weren’t any gentler. Over the past 2.5 years, Google has decreased traffic to Examine.com by roughly 90%.

Examine.com’s SEO traffic is way down.
Let’s be clear: Google owes us nothing. They are a private organization, they can do whatever they want.

And obviously I’m a little biased — I’ve been working on Examine.com for over eight years now.

But I would argue that we provide more reliable, nuanced, and honest information than anyone else out there. If Google’s goal is to organize information and help people find what they are looking for while protecting them from scammers, they should see in us an ally for many health topics.

The latest update was roughly a month ago, and it essentially wiped us out.”

If MedShadow, PeoplesPharmacy and Examine have been hit, then we think it is clear Google is censoring quality website with excellent health information. Where’s the outrage? Why has the mainstream media ignored this travesty?

Follow the money folks.
1. If the pill companies can’t create a patentable product, they want possible health solutions banned from consideration by the medical community and not available for consideration by the public. Watch for CBD to be controlled and disappear as Pharma patents a set of constituents of CBD to control that market, as the more deadly pain medications are more regulated. Hence, we see home remedies and plant health assistants disappearing from public access.
2. Pill companies help Google stay in business by paying for ads. They exert strong financial pressure in their advertising payments to Google and have no doubt used that pressure to deny the public access to drug side effects information.

As Facebook and Google bow to Pharma’s pressure, perhaps another media service will arise to meet the needs of the public for health information, research and options. We are thankful for your fine work and the access that NIH provides to all manner of health research.

Google should not be sensoring any thing to do with drugs we have a right to know

If it weren’t for the People’s Pharmacy, I wouldn’t have learned Tagamet for warts. I had several on my feet. One had entirely taken up the nail bed of my big toe, and another was starting to do the same on the other big toe. They are GONE. I had one starting on my thumb recently. I went back on Tagamet for less than 2 weeks and it’s gone.

We need every tool and treatment method as options for sustaining best health possible. The more natural the substance, the better our bodies can accept it. That makes us question a lot of Big Pharma products and ask “Do we really need this as our best answer or are there better alternatives?” It is not all one-sided. Some people respond to natural- based items better than to synthetic ones. Our clue is with the types of foods we consume. The more natural the original food item, the easier most are on digestion and related health outcomes. Still, some people can be allergic so it pays to keep in mind exceptions. Maybe for one person NORVASC is the only appropriate known answer, while others may be better on hawthorn berries to address similar issues. I hope I gave a good example.

Patients need to be armed with as much information as they can to make the most informed decisions possible. Everything has a side effect. Every decision will result in an outcome. We have to weigh all risk factors.

The simplified reason people scoff at “alternative” methods is….patience. They overlook the safety factor of drugs, for the “quick fix”. Supplementing takes longer to achieve the same results without the side effects. The FDA promotes “safety” in drugs. Yet, how safe is a drug that lists “death” as a possible side-effect?
Shame on you, Google! We need more natural articles, not less.

In my experience many home and herbal remedies work – some do not. In my experience many pharmaceuticals do not work and actually cause additional symptoms because of side effects – some do work but they still cause side effects.

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