Home remedies that work (and those that don’t)

grandma's chicken soup

Anyone even remotely familiar with illness will know how the sweats, spots and snots are often the least annoying part of the experience. Instead it’s the overzealous friends and family surrounding your bedside, pushing their long-established home remedies that triggers the true misery.

“My aunt always made me eat an onion before bed and now I can walk again!”

“Rub some cod liver oil on those spots, it never failed me!”

“Two words my friend. Steam and bath”

It begs the question though, is there any truth to what they say, or is it, simply put, a load of codswallop?


Myth 1. Coffee cures headaches

Everyone knows the pain of a morning headache (if not, then lucky you); whether it’s down to a bug, a build-up of stress, or simply a reminder of good times past. Fortunately, many people swear by the power of coffee to put their headaches to bed as they climb out of theirs.

Surprisingly scientists have shown that there is some truth to this statement, demonstrating that the high levels of caffeine found in regular coffee act as a vasoconstrictor in the brain. In plain english this means that it causes the blood vessels to shrink slightly, relieving the excess blood flow that leads to some kinds of headaches, including migraines. There’s still good news if you’re not a coffee fan though; tea, dark chocolate and various headache medications also contain high caffeine levels and have a similar effect. The water content of tea and coffee also helps to address dehydration, a common source of headaches caused by heat exposure, exercise and one too many the night before.

Verdict: Coffee in bed – Good for your head


Myth 2. Chicken soup cures everything

A common go-to as soon as the first signs of a blocked nose start to appear, chicken soup has long been held up as the holy grail of home remedies. Sore throat? Chicken soup. Fever? Chicken soup. Broken leg? Ambulance (then chicken soup), the list of ailments it can cure is supposedly endless but is there any truth to it?

It might come as a shock to many but the answer is yes… well, probably. A study into this exact phenomenon looked at whether the researcher’s soup recipe had any significant effect on cold symptoms when compared to just drinking hot and cold water. Like all scientifically valid soup recipes, this particular one was handed down from his Lithuanian grandmother, and contained everything you’d expect – in fact, you can find the recipe here if you so desire.

It turns out that something in the soup inhibited neutrophils (a kind of white blood cell tasked with infection control) from making their way up the body towards the throat. This stopped them from triggering the inflammation that leads to the runny noses, sore throats and many of the other inconveniences associated with colds and seasonal bugs – relieving the symptoms.

What actually causes this effect is still a bit of a mystery to science. Some think it’s the combination of chicken with vegetables, others cite the garlic as the key factor. Whatever it is, it works. More importantly though, it’s delicious.

Verdict: Always listen to Grandma


Myth 3. Kitchen = Burn Ward

Imagine the scene, you’re cooking up the meal of a lifetime, balancing pans, plates and the weight of expectation as you move around the kitchen. Turning around your arm brushes a pan on the countertop, still hot from frying potatoes, burning your skin. As you hold your arm under a running tap you look around the room and remember something about egg whites being good for burns…

Make a note, DO NOT USE EGG WHITES FOR BURNS; not only are they slimy, but they also have the potential to deliver a rather unfortunate case of salmonella straight through the skin and into the body. The same principle applies with other commonly suggested foods including butter, sour cream and even cut vegetables. You should also avoid all oils (even coconut oil) as these can act to keep the heat in, making a burn worse.

If you do have an insatiable desire to slather yourself in some kind of food, it’s probably best to pick honey, suggested to increase the healing time of minor burns. Just make sure to wait until the pain has subsided before applying anything to the affected skin. We recommend running the burn under a cold tap for at least ten minutes, then applying a cold, non-food based object such as an ice pack through a piece of cloth for another half an hour. If the burn is serious you should immediately seek medical help.


Verdict: Keep it in the fridge


Myth 4. Arnica will reduce bruises and muscle pain

It’s thought that practice of using the vibrant yellow flower Arnica for pain relief stretches back at least 200 years, having roots in the country villages of Germany. Normally found as an extract in creams or as an essential oil, many swear by its ability to reduce the appearance of bruises, target muscle aches and, when diluted, cure sore throats.

While arnica does contain some natural anti-inflammatories it’s also fairly toxic if applied or consumed without being heavily diluted. Unfortunately, as a result of this, the actual concentration that makes its way from product to person is so small as to be clinically immeasurable  – that’s right, you could replace arnica with literally any other ingredient and have exactly the same luck.

If you fear bruising after a knock, you should try and minimise the blood flow around the area for a while. Using the tried and tested RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) tends to work well in these instances – if it’s good enough for your phone it’s good enough for you.

Verdict: Save yourself the money


Myth 5. Toothpaste cleans up acne

Not only does toothpaste leave your teeth spotless, it also has the same effect on your face… supposedly. The reality is that the ingredients in most toothpastes, namely hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and/or baking soda, do dry out pimples, but also dry out and damage surrounding skin too.

So the answer is that yes, you could use toothpaste to treat spots, in much the same way you could use a sledgehammer to open a tin of beans. – either way it’s going to lead to some mess, and besides, there are much better remedies already out there. If you find that acne doesn’t resolve itself then over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid based treatments are far more effective, plus they help to prevent breakouts in the first place.

Verdict: A small yes followed by a big flashing NO


Myth 6. Ginger relieves nausea

Classically used to relieve the symptoms of morning sickness during pregnancy, ginger has a long history in treatment – stretching back at least 5,000 years to ancient China. As it happens, it transpires that the Chinese were onto something and numerous studies have shown ginger extract to significantly reduce feelings of nausea.

Certain chemicals found in the stem of the plant are thought to inhibit molecules involved in the nausea response. This also means that it can be taken to help with motion sickness, as well as other temporary nauseas. However, if nausea presents itself without any explanation or persists you should put down that pack of ginger biscuits and seek medical advice.

Verdict: Ginger tea all round!


What to do when the home remedies don’t work

Should the chicken soups, ginger teas and mugs of coffee fail to soothe your symptoms you should go and seek the advice of a medical professional, either seeing your local GP, walk-in centre or calling 111 to find out the correct cause of action to take. Alternatively, you can now use the Qured app to deliver a doctor to your door within 2 hours. Armed with remedies more powerful than ultra-white toothpaste, it’s the smart way to get seen quickly and affordably. Download the app or get in touch today to find out more!

Photo credit:  Nathan Dumlao