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Show 1340: Were the Old Wives Right?

The best way to find out if the old wives were right about a home remedy might be to give it a try. Do you have a favorite?
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Were the Old Wives Right?

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This week’s episode begins with an interview. We talk with Dr. Craig Hopp of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health about why doctors so often dismiss home remedies as old wives tales.

Then he describes how we could evaluate remedies without randomized controlled trials. Natural products may offer leads for new drug development. For some minor conditions, though, experimenting with home remedies makes sense. Do you have a favorite hiccup remedy, for example? Doctors don’t have a lot to offer in that regard. Parents may prefer natural cough remedies rather than OTC medicine for children. Have you found one that works? Email us [radio@PeoplesPharmacy.com] or call 888-472-3366 between 7:10 and 8:00 am EST on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

Are Natural Remedies Still Relevant?

A hundred years ago, the pharmacists’ pharmacopeia of medicines still had many botanical products listed as standard treatments for common ailments. By the end of the 20th century, almost all of these had fallen out of favor. Doctors learned in medical school that there was no evidence to support their use. In contrast, drug manufacturers conducted large randomized controlled trials on their synthetic products. Many people are unaware that some manufactured medicines are derived from natural products. However, many cancer therapies, as well as cromolyn for allergies and metformin for blood sugar control, got their start with the old wives’ plants.

Some common problems are annoying, but not serious enough to inspire a visit to the doctor. What do you do for occasional heartburn? What about a mosquito bite? A lot of people have a favorite remedy for a cold. Do you?

How Can We Tell If the Old Wives Were Right?

Of course, you wouldn’t want to use a treatment without some evidence. But you don’t have to have a rigorous experiment with placebo arms and double blinding to gather evidence for some approaches. One of our favorite remedies, ground black pepper on a cut to stop bleeding, is supported by nothing more than our experience. Have you tried it? Does it work for you?

If you have ever experienced a muscle cramp, either while exercising or later, interrupting your sleep, you probably welcome a home remedy that quickly stops the pain. We have tried several and found a number that work for us. Swallowing a teaspoonful of yellow mustard is easy and effective; sipping vinegar is more challenging but works just as well. We’d love to hear what you do to relieve a muscle cramp.

Do Home Remedies Work?

Most home remedies are not very fancy. Perhaps you’ve always heard that gargling with salt water will soothe a sore throat. You won’t know how well it works for you until you try it. When we have a troublesome cough left over from a cold, we like to sip a cup of thyme tea, flavored with lemon and honey. Another way to put the power of thymol to work against a cough is to smear Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet before getting into bed. Be sure to put on socks so you don’t mess up the sheets or slip on the bathroom floor.

What Did the Old Wives Suggest for Nail Fungus?

We started writing about readers’ remedies for nasty nail fungus years before the FDA approved expensive prescription drugs to treat this problem. The remedies certainly do not work every time–but then, neither do the medicines. The success rate of clearing nail fungus is modest for most.

Criteria for Home Remedies to Try:

We’ve already mentioned Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet for a cough. The nurse who told us about this suggested three criteria for a remedy worth trying:
1)   It might work.
2)   It won’t hurt.
3)   It doesn’t cost very much.

This Week’s Guest:

D. Craig Hopp, PhD, is deputy director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).  In addition to serving as deputy director, Dr. Hopp continues to oversee the administration of the product integrity policy. This involves evaluation of proposed study materials to ensure they are safe and properly characterized. He also focuses on large-scale projects such as research on drug-natural product interactions, the innovation and technology research center, and the Consortium for Advancing Research on Botanical and Other Natural Products (CARBON) program. Dr. Hopp uses his expertise and experience in the field of natural products to help shape research priorities at NCCIH. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/about/staff/d-craig-hopp

The photo of Dr. Hopp is by Lisa Helfert.

Craig Hopp discusses natural remedies

Craig Hopp, PhD

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, May 8, 2023, after broadcast on May 6. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.

Download the mp3

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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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