By Ann Carey Tobin, M.D.
There are many safe and natural remedies located in your cupboards, refrigerator and garden. The following questions and answers address the therapeutic application of many of these household items to everyday ailments.
Q: My doctor told me acidic foods will make my heartburn worse, but my mother insists her natural cure of apple cider vinegar works wonders. Should I give it a try?
A: While it does not work for everyone, I must admit that I have had a number of patients hail the virtues of natural apple cider vinegar for prevention of gastroesophageal reflux, or heartburn. One of the more common approaches is to mix 2 teaspoons of natural apple cider vinegar with 2 teaspoons of raw honey in a glass of water and drink it before each meal. Lifestyle changes and attention to diet are also effective at preventing the burning discomfort or bad taste in the mouth associated with heartburn. Eat small frequent meals, chew your food slowly and thoroughly, maintain an upright posture while eating, do not bend over soon after eating and do not lie down within two hours of a meal. If you wake with heartburn, placing the head of your bed up on six-inch blocks can be helpful. Stress can directly precipitate the familiar symptoms, so attention to stressors in your life, and working to manage them, is important. Do not smoke, limit alcohol and avoid caffeine. Common offending foods include those that are fried, hot, spicy, acidic, tomato based and chocolate. If prevention is not successful then symptoms may be treated with equal parts of baking soda and water, which is also a time-honored treatment for indigestion, a condition often associated with heartburn. Peppermint tea can be very useful for many gastrointestinal ailments, although it may aggravate heartburn in some individuals. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), best used in chewable tables, can provide rapid relief. Slippery elm and chamomile are other herbs that can be soothing.
Heartburn that continues to bother you two or more times a week may signal a more serious problem. Please be evaluated by your health care provider for persistent heartburn or indigestion.
Q: I do not want to take drugs for occasional diarrhea. Do you have any suggestions?
A:Again, it is important to attend to basic lifestyle and dietary factors. Stay well hydrated with plenty of clear liquids, such as non-caffeinated teas, broth and diluted juices, and avoid milk and milk products. It is also best to avoid raw fruits and vegetables, sugary foods, whole grains, bran, spices, caffeine and alcohol. When you are able to tolerate food, add small frequent feedings of soft foods. A safe and effective over-the-counter remedy is Kaopectate, which is a suspension of absorbent clay. Carob powder mixed with some applesauce, and perhaps a little honey, can also be very soothing. Replacing the friendly bacteria “washed out” by diarrhea is a good idea. This is done with the use of probiotics, such as acidophilus.
Diarrhea that is associated with fever, blood or mucus, or which is persistent, chronic, or recurrent in nature, should be evaluated.
Q: My neighbor gave me an Aloe vera plant, stating it was useful to have around. What do I do with it?
A: Congratulations on acquiring one of nature’s best healers. The clear gel of the leaves is an excellent remedy for minor burns (without blistering), such as those received in the kitchen or from the sun. It can also provide relief for mosquito bites and other irritated or inflamed areas of the skin. Aloe is frequently used in natural skin care products for its moisturizing properties. To use your plant, cut off a lower leaf near the central stalk, split it lengthwise and squeeze out the fresh gel. Some people can experience prolonged wound healing, or an allergic response to topical use.
Aloe vera juice, in small doses, is a popular remedy for gastrointestinal irritations. You can purchase various products or make your own formula by mashing a little of the fresh gel in some juice. Be careful, as aloe can be an uncomfortable laxative at higher doses. Use as directed on the product label, usually about one teaspoon after meals.
Your natural home remedy collection for skin conditions should also include witch hazel and tea tree oil. Witch hazel is cleansing and refreshing and tones the skin. It can provide relief from insect bites, poison ivy blisters, sun and windburn, muscle soreness, hemorrhoids and other anal irritations. It acts as a disinfectant for minor cuts and abrasions. Tea tree oil is frequently used as a home treatment for minor fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, yeast infections, acne, canker sores and other minor infections of the mucous membranes, bee stings and lice. Some people can be sensitive to the oil, so a test patch on the skin before use is recommended. The oil needs to be diluted when used on mucous membranes or to cleanse open wounds. It may burn if it contacts the membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth, and it should not be ingested.
Q: What can I do for head congestion?
A: If your sinuses are full and postnasal drip is a persistent problem, and/or your throat is aching, my favorite safe, simple and natural remedy is salt water. Most of us are familiar with the virtues of saltwater gargles to ease the pain and swelling of a sore throat. Salt water is also beneficial as an irrigant and decongestant of the sinuses and nasal passages. In a clean one quart glass container combine 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure bicarbonate soda (baking soda) with one teaspoon of kosher salt and fill with water, mixing well (this solution can be stored at room temperature for up to one week). Stand over the sink or in the shower and gently snort the solution up one nostril, while covering the other nostril. Let drain and repeat on the other side. Continue until you feel relief and repeat two or three times a day. Alternatively, a Neti pot or bulb syringe may be used. However, do not put the used syringe directly into the quart storage container.
Another home remedy is ginger and garlic tea. Grate a one-inch piece of peeled ginger root, place it in a pot with two cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the tea simmer for five minutes. Add one teaspoon, more or less, of cayenne pepper and simmer another minute. Remove from the heat and add two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, honey to taste, and one to two cloves of mashed garlic. Drink as desired. n
Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Please consult a medical practitioner regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical conditions.
Ann Carey Tobin, M.D. is a board certified family physician, with fellowship training in women’s health and integrative medicine. Her integrative medicine practice, Partners in Healing, is located in Delmar. She can be reached at 518.506.6303, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.partnersinhealing.byregion.net