From defeating allergies to knocking out colds, check out these easy ways to support your health without opening the medicine cabinet.
Home remedies can run the gamut from duds to downright dangerous.
Take activated charcoal, for example. Eating foods with it was trendy for a few years until health experts warned against home use. Not only were there no reliable studies to support the claims that it could improve digestion, rid the body of impurities, and lower cholesterol, but medical experts found that it prevented the absorption of key nutrients and medications.
But there are some home remedies that actually work. Here are five worth considering.
If you’re curious about trying a new home remedy, check with your health care provider, says Michelle Ogunwole, M.D., specialist in internal medicine and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. This is especially true if you have a chronic condition or take regular medications.
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Home Remedy #1: Honey for Colds and Flu
At the first sign of cold and flu season, consider making a beeline for the honey section of the supermarket. In a 2020 BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine review, researchers looked at 1,800 people with upper respiratory infections and symptoms like cough and congestion.
Honey improved their symptoms better than options like cough suppressants and antihistamines. In some cases, having honey even shortened a cold’s duration by a day or two.
Honey may help fight off certain flu strains, as well. Researchers in one Archives of Medical Research study found that when honey was applied to flu cells, it slowed down their replication.
Home Remedy #2: Neti Pot or Nasal Saline Spray for Allergies
It might seem too good to be true: All the sneezing, throat clearing, and throbbing sinuses that come with allergies can just get rinsed away.
But using a neti pot with distilled water or buying a simple saline spray can really help, says Sebastian Lighvani, M.D., an allergist at New York Allergy & Asthma and Lenox Hill Hospital. A 2018 study suggests saline sprays help reduce inflammation and irritation caused by allergies.
“I’m a big proponent of using saline as a rinse,” Dr. Lighvani says. “It’s relatively cheap, widely available, and can be used throughout the day during allergy season to flush out allergens like pollen and to reduce symptoms significantly.”
Home Remedy #3: Epsom Salt Bath for Muscle Pain and Stress Relief
In terms of physiological function, magnesium is a powerhouse. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the mineral:
- Regulates the way protein is synthesized in the body
- Affects muscle and nerve function
- Controls blood sugar
- Helps manage blood pressure
But your body has a harder time absorbing magnesium as you get older. Researchers in a 2021 Nutrients study found that magnesium deficits can contribute to several age-related chronic disorders like heart disease, bone fragility, and muscle pain.
A pleasant way to boost your levels is with an Epsom salt bath, which contains magnesium sulfate that absorbs though the skin as you soak. Clinical studies on the benefits of Epsom salt baths are hard to find, but the Cleveland Clinic reports that integrative medicine experts commonly recommend them for muscle pain and mental stress.
According to Cleveland Clinic, a 15-minute warm soak in the salts helps relax muscles after a good workout. It may also help release headaches or migraines. For stress relief, experts say the combination of the warm water and the magnesium act as a mood stabilizer.
Tip: Look for products that are 100 percent magnesium sulfate.
Home Remedy #4: Melatonin for Sleep
There are many supplements derived from herbs and roots that can help with sleep, according to Tiffany Mullen, M.D., a functional medicine physician at Vytal Health in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Those include options like chamomile, lemon balm, and valerian root. But the one you’ve likely heard about is melatonin. It is a naturally occurring hormone released during our sleep-wake cycle.
“Melatonin supplements come in regular-release and sustained-release formulations, so depending on whether you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, there are options to treat both of these types of insomnia with melatonin,” Dr. Mullen says.
Research published in PharmacyToday in 2018 suggests low doses of melatonin can help older adults with insomnia. Doses of 0.3 milligram to 1 milligram mimic normal circadian rhythms, helping you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling refreshed. The report states that higher doses may have adverse effects for older adults.
Home Remedy #5: Deep Breathing for Pain
If you have debilitating or chronic pain, home remedies aren’t likely to be as helpful as a trip to your doctor, who can come up with a pain management plan. But if it’s a mild headache, aching joints, or sore muscles, try some deep breathing exercises.
Findings in a 2018 research review in Frontiers in Neuroscience supports the theory that a slow, focused breathing session can have notable effects on your autonomic and central nervous systems. These play a role in your stress response. Deep breaths might ease muscle tension and headaches.
It can also help reduce emotional pain. In a 2020 clinical trial, researchers studied 38 patients who had undergone knee replacement surgery. They found that deep breathing helped regulate the patients’ emotional response and reduced anxiety. The findings were published in the Annals of Medical Research.
One Important Note About Home Remedies
With remedies that involve herbs and supplements, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential interactions, says Dr. Ogunwole.
“Often, people who are on medications might not think about how other meds might affect them, especially something that’s over-the-counter or is promoted as natural, like herbal remedies,” Dr. Ogunwole says.
Something as ordinary as an allergy medication could even react poorly with certain other medications or supplements, she says.
“Lifestyle changes can be meaningful, and it’s always a great idea to make choices that support your nutrition, energy, activity, and sleep,” she adds. “But just have a chat with your doctor along the way to make sure you’re staying safe and healthy.”
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