We’ve all been there. You don’t feel well, and you think maybe you should see a doctor… but you don’t. Perhaps your local clinic is closed for the night, or you can’t get someone to drive you, or maybe you’re just in the American health care system. There are plenty of reasons people choose to treat their injuries and illnesses at home. But, as regular SciShow viewers already know, some at-home treatments cause more problems than they solve… Ding!
In the comments of our episode debunking six popular home remedies, a lot of you asked us if there are any that do work. Well, ask, and you shall receive! Here are 6 home remedies that are supported by science. [ ♪ INTRO ] Prunes for Constipation If you’ve ever gone a few days without pooping, you know it’s not terribly fun to be constipated.
Luckily, it’s also pretty common knowledge that a combination of fiber supplements and water will usually fix the issue.
Keeping well-hydrated can soften your stool so it’s easier to pass, and fiber helps by making your stool bigger so it’s easier to push against. While more poop might seem like a bad idea if you’re already stopped up, more bulk in the colon actually stimulates your bowels to take care of business.
And that’s where prunes come in. While you could get extra fiber from a concentrated supplement, like I do, research shows that prunes are better at kick-starting spontaneous bowel movements. Fiber supplements often use some form of psyllium husk as the source of fiber.
But in a 14-week crossover trial — the kind where participants end up trying both treatments — a dissolvable psyllium supplement was less effective at treating constipation than simply eating prunes. During the prune-eating part of the study, the participants passed more frequent stools, and their stools were softer. Both of the options amounted to about 6 grams of dietary fiber per day, so the researchers think there’s something else in the prunes that increases their effectiveness. That extra something is probably sorbitol, a substance found in prunes which stimulates water delivery to the colon.
So if you’re stopped up, you might consider some dried plums instead of a powder or a pill.
But prunes cannot solve everything. They aren’t as effective if your constipation is due to irritable bowel syndrome, for example — and they can even make IBS symptoms worse. So if prunes don’t help you get things moving, it’s definitely time to check in with an actual doctor, not a YouTube video. Severe constipation can lead to much bigger problems, like hemorrhoids or fecal vomiting, which we did an episode on. You can watch our episode on what happens if you stop pooping completely if you really want to learn more about that.
It’s not pretty. Oatmeal for Dry Skin People have been using oatmeal for skin conditions for millenia. But unlike some ancient wisdoms, science actually supports using oatmeal in skin care. It’s perhaps most well-known for its moisturizing properties. That’s because oatmeal contains a lot of starches which attract and hold onto water.
When you put powdered oatmeal onto your skin, these starches help create a viscous layer that traps moisture to keep your skin hydrated. And that’s not all oatmeal does. In human clinical trials, it reduces itchiness and soothes irritated skin. Oatmeal contains a variety of components which basically shut down inflammation — an immune response that can make your skin painful, swollen, itchy and red.
For example, it has chemicals called avenanthramides in it.
These can soothe itching by reducing the amount of histamine released by your immune cells in your skin. And they, as well as other compounds in oatmeal, can act as antioxidants, fighting against the damaging, highly-reactive molecules that cause long-term skin damage. There is a slight catch, though. Researchers don’t just boil a pot of Quaker Oats to use in these studies. They use colloidal oatmeal, which is oatmeal ground to be so fine that it creates a special kind of gel when mixed with water.
It takes some fancy machines and super tiny sieves to make the stuff — things not found in probaby your kitchen. Luckily, colloidal oatmeal pretty commonly sold in pharmacies. And though you can’t really make true colloidal oatmeal at home, a good blender or food processor can grind oats well enough for a DIY oatmeal bath, which honestly sounds lovely right now.
Ginger for Morning Sickness Sure, babies are cute, but the process of bringing one into the world can wreak havoc on the body. In particular, people who are pregnant often experience nausea and vomiting.
Why are you making this even harder? While this is frequently referred to as “morning sickness”, it’s definitely not confined to mornings. And it tends to be worst in the first trimester, but pregnancy is just the gift that keeps on giving, as some people feel sick basically the whole time. Luckily, antiemetics — drugs that ease that feeling of queasiness — are totally a thing. But some studies have raised questions about how safe they are for a developing fetus.
And, you know, that’s kind of your number one concern when you’re pregnant. There is a safer alternative that you can pretty easily get, though, and people have been using it for centuries: ginger. Trials have found that ground ginger has an antiemetic effect, even in pretty small doses.
And that might be because it contains compounds that inhibit serotonin receptors in both your nervous system and in your gut. Since neurons with these receptors need to fire to trigger the vomiting reflex, inhibiting these receptors can quell that pukey feeling.
It doesn’t work 100% of the time, and head-to-head studies have found it can be less effective than the best prescription antiemetics. But there aren’t really any safety concerns with consuming ginger. Which is why even doctors often recommend trying candied ginger or ginger drinks to see if they help get your nausea under control before turning to a prescription. Garlic for Athlete’s Foot Fungi love moist, warm environments. And that is why tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, flourishes in that lovely space between all your toeses.
The condition can be caused by several fungal species, but in all cases, you know you’ve got a problem when your skin becomes scaly and flaky.
And athlete’s foot is super contagious — which is why you should always use shower shoes in the locker room! There are several over-the-counter treatments, but there might be good option already sitting in your pantry: garlic! [on FT] Usually, clearing up that gross toe fungus involves putting a medicated powder or cream on the area, waiting a bit, then reapplying until the fungus is gone. This kind of wash, rinse, repeat sometimes goes on for weeks.
But freshly-crushed garlic or garlic oil can work in a matter of days. Garlic cloves have been used medicinally for centuries, especially against infections. And they probably work so well because of sulfur-containing compounds like allicin and ajoene — which also happen to be responsible for that pungent, garlicky smell. These are made by a special enzyme when garlic cells are damaged, so chopping or crushing the garlic is important. You can’t just pull like just a whole clove in there, cross your fingers.
You gotta get this stink out. These chemicals work by inhibiting some of cellular machinery used by fungi and other pathogens. That ultimately means the fungi can’t build the things they need for growth and survival, so they die. In fact, isolated ajoene has been in topical athlete’s foot creams for years now because it’s so effective. So if you’re in a pinch, grab the garlic.
Just make sure to keep the crushed garlic you’ve rubbed on your feet separate from the stuff you prepped for your garlic bread.
Soy for Hot Flashes Plenty of things about getting older are not great. Along with creaky joints and less than reliable eyesight, if you have ovaries, you get to deal with menopause. Usually somewhere in the fifth decade of life, your body stops menstruating, and that’s accompanied by a bunch of hormonal changes. It’s basically puberty 2.
0., but with hot flashes: those joyful moments where you suddenly feel like you’re on fire and start sweating, even though there is no reason to feel that way. It’s thought that they’re caused by a decline in certain hormones, which is why hormone replacement therapy can help keep things cool. But, there are some long term health risks associated with that, so researchers are looking for alternatives. And they might have found one that you can take at home.
Soy isoflavones — chemicals found in soy products — are plant based compounds that structurally resemble the hormone estrogen.
Because of that, they can act like estrogen in your body. And clinical studies have found they tend to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes — especially when a particular isoflavone called genistein is involved. But, that’s not to say you should go chug a glass of soy milk the next time you feel flushed. Not only do studies vary in terms of dose and delivery method, most agree that soy isn’t a quick fix.
The benefit is gained after long-term supplementation, usually for months. And, soy isoflavones aren’t as effective as hormone replacement therapy. Still, if you’re experiencing hot flashes, adding more soy to your diet could help. And you can always talk to your doctor if it doesn’t do the trick. Lemongrass Oil for Cold Sores You may have heard that pretty much everyone has herpes, and in a way that’s true.
It’s estimated that about 90% of people have had a cold sore at some point in their lives, and they’re usually caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1. When not replicating like crazy and causing those painful blisters, the virus hides out in nerve cells.
And because of that, like with other herpes viruses, once you have it, you have it for life. So cold sores can’t be cured — but they can be treated. Antiviral drugs like acyclovir can speed healing, but they’re not cheap, and the virus can become resistant to them.
So you might try something else the next time a sore appears: lemongrass oil. Researchers have been experimenting with options for treating herpes viruses for decades, including many essential oils. That’s the fancy term for oils extracted from plants. Many of these can kill herpes viruses in a petri dish, like the oils from lemon balm, tea tree, and peppermint plants. But in a 2003 study, it was lemongrass oil that killed the most herpes viruses, and it worked at lower concentrations than the other eleven essential oils tested.
That might be because it contains a lot of citral, which is what gives it that lemony scent. And in clinical trials, citral and extracts from plants that contain citral have been found to reduce the severity and duration of cold sores.
Lemongrass oil has lots of other components too, any of which might be helping it kill herpes viruses. But there is a caveat: human trials haven’t been conducted with it specifically. So further research is needed to see whether it works as well on a face as it does in a petri dish.
Still, there’s enough evidence it might work that it could be worth a try if you have some around. And if it doesn’t work, well, like, you’ll smell nice though. Now, it’s worth reminding you all that I am not a doctor, so none of this should be considered medical advice and you should totally go see medical professionals if something is going wrong with your body even if you don’t feel like it, because you are me and you’ve got a lot of stuff to do. The 6 remedies on this list do have science supporting them — and that makes them a whole lot better than the ones we included in that other episode. But ultimately, if your condition seems to be headed south or you’re not happy with the results of your at-home treatment, go seek professional advice.
Because science has done amazing things for healthcare, and we should all take advantage of that remarkable work. And also thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! If you liked learning about these scientifically-supported home remedies, you might like our episode on home remedies that don’t work. And if you want to learn more about medical science from an actual doctor, you might like our sister channel Healthcare Triage. On it, Dr.
Aaron Carroll answers all sorts of questions about medicine, health, and healthcare. So check it out at YouTube.com/HealthcareTriage! [ ♪OUTRO ].