Natural Cures That Really Work

Some DIY remedies you find online are surprisingly effective. Check out the ones to steal—and the ones to steer clear of.


butterflies-cranberry-juice
Terry Doyle
Will placing a tea bag on a cold sore make it disappear? Can you ease hot flashes with herbs? And does putting yogurt on your nether parts have a prayer of curing a yeast infection? It used to be that youd hear about these kinds of home remedies from your mom. These days, theyre touted on websites, blogs, and online forums. In fact, 61% of American adults turn to the Internet to find help in treating whats ailing them, a 2009 study reveals. But do these natural moves actually work … and, just as important, could they do more harm than good? Health asked medical experts to weigh in on the Internets most popular home cures.

The online claim: Yogurt can stop a yeast infection
Is it true? No
Yeast infections—and their symptoms, from intense vaginal itchiness to cottage cheese–like discharge—are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus candida. Because studies show that yogurt can promote the growth of healthier strains of bacteria in the stomach and intestines, people have long assumed it might also keep candida in check. And that rumor keeps circulating, thanks to the Internet.

Unfortunately, "no study shows conclusively that eating yogurt cures or even lessens the severity of yeast infections," says Michele G. Curtis, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Neither will douching with yogurt, or (yikes!) dipping a tampon in the stuff, freezing it, and inserting it—a remedy suggested on some websites. In fact, douching can cause yeast infections, Dr. Curtis says, especially if youre using yogurt; its sugars could actually help yeast grow.

If youre sure you have a yeast infection, based on a past experience, Dr. Curtis recommends using an over-the-counter medication, such as Monistat. But, she points out, "everything that itches is not yeast!" So see your gyno when in doubt: That itching might actually be bacterial vaginosis, for instance, which requires treatment with antibiotics.

The online claim: Black cohosh eases hot flashes
Is it true? Yes
Commonly known as bugwort or rattle root, this herb is derived from a plant called Actaea racemosa. While it may sound like something from Harry Potters wizarding world, this remedy is not all hocus-pocus: Some studies suggest that black cohosh may indeed reduce hot flashes, according to guidelines re-released last year by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "It appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect," says Philip Hagen, MD, coeditor of Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies.

In fact, the herb is often prescribed in Europe; its a key ingredient in Remifemin, a popular drug there, which is also available in the United States. While U.S. studies havent conclusively proven that black cohosh works, Dr. Curtis says it cant hurt to try the herb—just consult with your doctor about the dosage first, and stick with it for 12 weeks, she says. (Make sure youre getting black cohosh, not blue cohosh, which could potentially be harmful, she adds.)

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Liz Welch
Last Updated: April 07, 2011

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