Going to the doctor can be a hassle and an expense that simply doesn’t seem worth it when you have a mild or moderate problem. And it can be tempting to find alternative remedies for what ails you online, but beware.
“You have to be careful with home remedies because they’re usually not supported by controlled research,” says Dr. Raymond Casciari, retired chief medical officer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, California.
Methods like buttering a sunburn or smothering head lice with mayonnaise, for example, simply do not work. Feeding a cold, even when you’re overfeeding it vitamin C supplements, isn’t supported by science, either. And of course, chronic or life-threatening conditions are complex and should be treated only by a licensed clinician.
A few home remedies are backed up by research, however, and others have so much anecdotal evidence that they’re safe to trust, Casciari says.
Try these 6 do-it-yourself ideas to ease your discomfort — and the potential hit to your wallet:
1.) Chewing gum for heartburn
If you get a fiery feeling in your throat after eating a fatty meal, keep a stick of chewing gum handy. In three separate studies since 2001, scientists have directly measured a reduction in acid reflux in subjects who chewed sugar-free gum after a meal designed to give them heartburn versus those who didn’t.
“The saliva you secrete when chewing gum really has a calming effect on acid reflux,” says Casciari. That explanation also is supported by the researchers who conducted the study.
2.) Oatmeal or cucumber for skin irritation
Oats have anti-inflammatory compounds that are effective when applied directly to the skin.
“This is one of the better-known treatments for poison ivy or irritated skin,” says Casciari, and it also helps some people with itching due to eczema. Add a cup of finely ground oats to a warm bath.
A lesser-known remedy for sunburn pain is cucumber, but you’ll need a food processor. After turning a cucumber into paste, apply it to sunburned skin.
“It will have an immediate calming and cooling effect,” says Casciari, who says to leave it on just until it dries.
3.) Ginger for motion sickness
If you’re prone to motion sickness, ginger root can relieve your symptoms. In a small study published in the American Journal of Physiology, researchers induced nausea by spinning subjects in a large drum after a heavy meal and by injecting vasopressin, a hormone that can cause nausea. Ginger helped ease the nausea of the subjects who were spun but had no effect on nausea induced by vasopressin.
Even though the study was small, Casciari says this remedy works.
“I use ginger all the time because I tend to get air and sea sick, and I find it’s really effective,” he says. He suggests drinking ginger ale, eating a ginger candy, or dissolving a teaspoon of ginger powder in a cup of water or tea.
4.) Saltwater for sinus congestion
If you use over-the-counter meds for sinus congestion, you may be able to get the same relief for a lot less money. According to 2002 research in the Journal of Family Practice, nasal irrigation with a saltwater solution relieved the symptoms of sinus congestion and improved sinus-related quality of life.
To clear your sinuses with saltwater, use half a teaspoon of salt for every 8 ounces of warm water. You can use a neti pot or a squeeze bottle to pour the solution into your nostrils while leaning over a sink to catch the drainage.
5.) Apple cider vinegar for nail fungus or acne
“Apple cider vinegar is an interesting thing— it’s antibacterial,” Cascari says. While he says it has several applications, the most effective one may be for nail fungus. To treat fungus, soak toes or fingers in apple cider vinegar for 20 minutes twice a day until symptoms resolve.
You can also use apple cider vinegar to combat acne.
“It has astringent properties and kills the bacteria on your skin,” Casciari says. “It also shrinks down the blood vessels around the acne,” he adds, which makes the bump smaller. Soak a cotton ball with apple cider vinegar, and apply it to affected skin after washing.
6.) Tart cherry juice for insomnia
Consuming montmorency cherry juice increases melatonin levels in the body, according to a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition. Melatonin is a hormone instrumental in sleep regulation, and subjects in the study saw significant increases in sleep time and quality.
The most significant effect of the tart cherry juice, which was also found in a 2009 industry-funded study, was reducing the amount of time it took participants to fall asleep. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try drinking a serving of tart cherry juice that lists montmorency cherries in the ingredients. Hopefully, you’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time.