The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1142: What Is the Science Behind Home Remedies?

People often assume that home remedies are just old wives' tales with no evidence behind them. Learn about the science behind home remedies Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.
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What Is the Science Behind Home Remedies?

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Over the years, we have heard about scores upon scores of home remedies for everything from arthritis to warts. Some make sense intuitively, while others seem silly. Most have never been subjected to scientific scrutiny. Is there any science behind home remedies?

We may never know the full answer to that question, but occasionally we learn years later that there are scientific explanations. Several years ago, as we began to learn about transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in cells, a number of seemingly unrelated and otherwise inexplicable home remedies began to fall into place. Why does a spoonful of yellow mustard stop muscle cramps so quickly? How does pickle juice work for the same problem? Could a bar of soap under the bottom sheet really help prevent nighttime leg cramps?

What Is the Science Behind Home Remedies?

One of the appeals of home remedies is that you can do your own experiments at home. One mother wrote to us about testing the efficacy of putting Vicks VapoRub on the feet to calm a nighttime cough. Both her twins had bad colds, but she had only enough Vicks to treat one of them. The other twin coughed all night, while the treated twin slept soundly. The following night, having acquired more Vicks, she treated the other twin and left the originally-treated girl untreated for that night as part of a natural experimental control. Once again, the child who had been treated didn’t cough, and the untreated one did. It’s too small to be considered a scientific experiment, yet she proceeded scientifically in a spirit of inquiry.

N of 1 Experiments on the Science Behind Home Remedies:

It is always interesting to read about home remedies. What you really want to know, most likely, is “Will it work for me?” The only way to find out is to conduct an N of 1 experiment: try it. The N stands for the number of people in the trial–just you. You’ll get more information and your story will be more believable if you try to control as many factors as possible.

You may not end up with an explanation, but you’ll know whether or not the remedy is reliable for you. We have discussed a number of remedies that work for so many people that we feel we can count on them even though we still can’t explain them. Coconut (in cookies or on its own) seems to be good for stopping diarrhea. Soy sauce on a burn seems to ease the pain and reduce the redness. Do you have favorite home remedies that you rely on?

Here are a few studies you might find interesting on ginger, cinnamon and thyme.

What Are Your Questions About the Science Behind Home Remedies?

On this live show, we welcome your questions about home remedies. You can reach us by email at, or call between 7 and 8 am EST on Saturday, November 10, 2018: 888-472-3366.

This Week’s Guests:

This week, we revisit briefly some interviews we have done previously with renowned experts.

Bruce Palmer Bean, PhD, is the Robert Winthrop Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. He helped develop HotShot.

Tieraona Low Dog, MD, is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements, herbal medicine and women’s health.  Her latest book is Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. For more information, see her website:

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have Barrett’s Esophagus, and it may seem counter-intuitive, but I have found that eight ounces, four each of water and organic (I use Lily Of The Desert) oral aloe vera juice as diluting agents, accompanied by one to two tablespoons of organic (Bragg is good) 0.05% Apple Cider Vinegar helps ease my esophageal pain by correcting my hydrochloric acid levels in my stomach. Some believe that taken daily (but not more than twice a day) one hour before breakfast and/or dinner, this potion can also help with constipation, hair retention, and weight control!

Yellow mustard also helps with controlling esophageal pain and controlling acid levels. I take about one teaspoon when I start experiencing pain, and it usually works within five to 10 minutes! Remember to not brush your teeth for at least half an hour after taking the apple cider vinegar treatment because of tooth enamel wear implications. Instead, I just swish a couple mouthfuls of warm water around in my mouth for about 20 seconds with each mouthful. Try to use an organic toothpaste without too much abrasive effect for best results. Some tooth cleaners are very harsh!

does anyone know the best natural cure for a fast heart rate? thanks mike

Twice I used black pepper on a bleeding finger and both times it stopped the bleeding IMMEDIATELY. One was when I was on a cruise. My finger would not stop bleeding from chapped hands. My table mate reminded me that I told her about the black pepper. She applied it and the bleeding stopped. It does not burn as people around asked.

I found that soy sauce applied to a burn prevented any pain or swelling.

When I was in the second grade I developed a terrible illness where I could not keep any food or liquids down. After about two weeks I was really weak and very skinny. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong. New neighbors moved in (with the grandmother with them) and she told my mother to put a mustard plaster on my abdomen. My mother smeared yellow mustard over a cotton dish cloth and folded it and put it on my abdomen. I immediately stopped throwing up and I could eat and drink after that and I got well!

I have since used this several times when I was throwing up and it worked immediately. I even had a kitten that kept throwing up and I put a little mustard plaster on his little tummy and held him and he quit throwing up.

There is a certain arrogance that the scientific community (of which I have been one for 56 years) has about home remedies. If a remedy is not produced by Big Pharma with FDA approval, it is not worthy of application. Those remedies that are officially approved are those MDs will prescribe and/or recommend because it covers them against liability.

To my scientific mind, time-tested home remedies that work again and again among a diversity of population are safer and more reliable than those produced by Big Pharma whose tests are often biased and flawed in their favor.

I have had a problem with severe inner thigh muscle leg cramps for years. I read an article by a veterinarian regarding the use of calcium in farm animals and, as a result, bought some OTC Calcium/Magnesium pills. If I take one of these pills every couple of weeks I get no cramping at all. I discovered this cure about 5 years ago, and it still works!

Actually, we would be ashamed if we were trying to pass off home remedies as real science, but we try hard to make the distinction clear. And when a scientific explanation–like TRP channels–becomes available, we think that is exciting and we like to share it.

One of Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s very salient points is the issue of nutrient depletion by prescription drugs. I plan to buy her book for a more specific follow-up of that point. In the meantime I searched using the search strategy, “prescription drugs AND nutrient depletion” and came up with a top “hit” of:

It has an eye-opening table of drug —> nutrient depletions that I will be comparing what Dr. Low Dog has in her book. As well as look at the workflow Dr. Low Dog recommends in dealing with issues discovered.

A related Dr. Low Dog concept is, of course, the need of a patient to research for self the potential relevant of nutrient depletion for every prescription (and perhaps non-prescription drug) they are currently taking and again for each addition and subtraction of same.

I have decided that is something that requires a dynamic search strategy that should be included in the “medication reconciliation” done when a patient comes into my internal medicine clinic for a visit. That can be done using the above table, Dr. Low Dog’s book, Mac software (Bookends, DevonThink, DevonAgent, Tinderbox), a physician-centric, very customize-able Electronic Medical Record program, Welford Chart Notes (a Windows program) AND, of course, the very intelligent search engine,

Thank you Peoples Pharmacy and Dr. Low Dog. I now see the importance, at long last, of checking for Drug – nutrient depletion issues and a way how to do that for my internal medicine practice and even a way to customize this and similar Peoples Pharmacy defined issues for ALL continuously to research on their own independent of seeing a physician, thereby bringing to their physician questions like, “Here is what I found on researching the prescription drugs (…other contemplated healthcare interventions) I am taking (experiencing…etc)”.

In addition once systematized into a Macintosh computer running windows software this approach could be used generically in STEM / STEAM education of youth to catalyze the generation their own hypotheses about health issues, thereby learning how to apply existing evidence for their own and others’ health care using a scientific approach.

I am enjoying your show on home remedies, I personally tried soy sauce for burns. I burned my hand while cooking and began to run it under cold water, it was then that I thought of using soy sauce. I knew it was recommended for burns. It worked beautifully, the burn pain died and there was no blistering. I highly recommend it, the burn also healed quickly. I have had many burns on my hands (klutzy cook) nothing has worked so well.

I hear you, Donna. I am a klutzy cook as well. Soy sauce has saved me several times!

I’ve used 1Tbsp of plain yellow mustard each of the last four times I woke up with horrible muscle cramps in my leg and/or foot. Each time, the cramps subsided in 3-4 minutes.
I’m a grateful believer in this home remedy!

Listening to Dr. Bean’s hypothesis this morning explains why when I can catch leg and foot cramps early enough I can concentrate on making the cramping muscles relax and the cramps stop. If the cramp is full blown, like when it awakens me, my little pea brain can’t dwell on anything except the number 9.5 pain. But then the mustard or pickle juice can usually stop that.

Thanks so much for your show and its information.


I was taken off one of my beta blockers and put on 3 cups (36 ounces) of hibiscus tea and my blood pressure is lower than on the med.

FYI. READERS Digest Oct 2018 & or Nov had big list of items that were addressing this issue that there are a lot of old doctor’s remedies that are now supported by scientific studies

I am a big fan of trying a home remedy. I had a constantly returning wart on my middle finger. Any OTC remedy I tried worked for a short time. Finally, I cut a banana peel to cover the wart and wound duct tape around it to prevent any air getting in. I left it on for two days. When I removed the tape, I could see the “threads” or veins of the wart. It was drying up. It fell off a day or two later and has never returned. That was almost 20 years ago.

All I know is that yellow mustard works great for burns. I recently badly burned the inside of my thumb while taking a hot pan out of the oven. I ran cold water over it first, then slathered it with mustard. As the mustard dried, I’d add more. Then I wrapped it with some gauze, and replaced it later in the day. The next day i had a large blister covering the entire area, but I wrapped it again with mustard/gauze. By the following day the blister was gone (the skin eventually came off) and I had no residual effects from the burn. My husband was amazed. The initial pain lasted only about 2 hours.

I, too, used duct tape for a plantar wart on my little toe and put a bandage around that. It had been frozen off twice before. It has not returned in 20 years. My doctor was very fascinated.

Let the scientists satisfy themselves about these remedies. I don’t need their imprimatur in order to accept a solution that works.

Mustard does help with cramps.

If a home remedy works for me, I don’t need scientific proof to convince me. I’m satisfied if the results are positive for me.

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