Want to Skip the Doctor? Try This
Your guide to home remedies
From long stints in the waiting room to steep co-pays, there are lots of reasons to avoid the doctor’s office whenever you can. Try these expert-approved at-home measures to stay healthy—and use the time and money for something you’d rather be doing, which is to say, anything else.
To quell queasiness
It has been shown to calm nausea from pregnancy, motion sickness, and the aftereffects of surgery. (One study even found that it helped cut nausea from chemotherapy by 30%.)
Rx: Try 250-milligram ginger-root capsules (Zingiber officinale) four times daily for relief. (If you're taking ginger for relief from motion sickness, start using the capsules before you travel.)
To tame tennis elbow
Exercise with a rubber bar.
A flexible red rubber device called a Thera-Band Flexbar ($16.95) more effectively treated this common repetitive strain injury than routine physical therapy, researchers at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York found. The 12-minute workout involves twisting your wrists while holding the bar out in front of you, contracting and lengthening the affected muscles and tendons. (For a demonstration on the moves, check out the video at Thera-Band Academy.)
Rx: Aim for 3 sets of 15 repetitions twice a day.
To lower your blood pressure
Savor chocolate and music.
What pleasurable prescriptions! Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure, thanks to antioxidant-rich compounds called flavonoids, which help the lining of the blood vessels expand and contract to improve blood flow.
As for music, the combination of mellow, repetitive tunes and slow abdominal breathing can also decrease blood pressure levels, researchers at the University of Florence found.
Rx: Enjoy 1 ounce of dark chocolate (about a third of a bar) a day. And you can also listen to music with slow and regular rhythms—think classical, Celtic, or Indian (such as raga)—which helps you slow your breathing; aim for four to six in-and-out breaths a minute.
To calm menstrual cramps
Turn up the heat.
Heat can relieve cramps (the old hot-water-bottle routine actually worked!), possibly by relaxing uterine activity. In fact, according to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology, adhesive warming patches, which work for at least eight hours, can be as effective as pain meds like ibuprofen.
Rx: Apply a patch—try ThermaCare HeatWraps ($7.49)— at the first sign of pain.
To ease stress
Stop and smell the basil.
It’s a source of a floral-scented compound called linalool, which can lower the level of stress-induced immune cells in the bloodstream and reduce the activity of genes that shoot into overdrive in stressful situations, a recent Japanese study found.
Rx: Take a whiff of fresh basil when you’re feeling stressed. Other sources of linalool: oranges, grapes, lemons, mangoes, and lavender.
To alleviate backaches
According to a yearlong study from West Virginia University, patients with chronic low-back pain who practiced yoga felt significantly better than those who got conventional treatment (such as physical therapy or medication).
Rx: Look for an Iyengar yoga class, which emphasizes proper alignment by using props like blocks and blankets for posture support, and practice the poses twice a week. To find a class near you, go to Iynaus.org.
To head off headaches
Try fish oil.
According to research from Brown University Alpert Medical School, fish oil can lower the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that can trigger inflammation and cause migraines and other types of headaches.
Rx: Look for fish oil capsules that contain EPA and DHA (two omega-3 fatty acids), and take about 750 milligrams of EPA and 500 milligrams of DHA a day. (Tip: Freezing the capsules or taking them with meals can reduce burps.)
To arrest rheumatoid arthritis
Sip green tea.
Studies have shown that compounds in the brew reduce inflammation and joint damage.
Rx: Aim to drink three to four cups daily; steep for 4 minutes to best release green tea's healthy compounds.
To sleep well
Make your mantra "I must meditate."
A therapy program that included meditation worked for insomniacs at Stanford University Medical Center who practiced simple mindfulness techniques like focusing on the breath and bodily sensations; subjects were sleeping better within six weeks.
Rx: Find a meditation program near you, then practice daily.
To reduce your cholesterol
Eat more fatty fish.
It's packed with omega-3 fatty acids. And cutting down on butter and saturated fats, and eating more of certain types of fish (especially wild salmon, anchovies, fresh tuna, trout, and sardines) can lower your total cholesterol levels as well as boost your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Rx: Eat fatty fish about twice a week; aim for about 12 ounces. If you don’t like fish, try other foods that are high in omega-3s, such as flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts, walnut oil, and soybean oil.
To knock out knee pain
Do exercises to make the thigh muscle stronger.
You should aim to strengthen your quadriceps, because they help stabilize the kneecap, protecting against pain and cartilage loss, research from the Mayo Clinic suggests. A study at Tufts Medical Center found that Tai Chi, an ancient practice of meditative movement that fosters energy flow, can be especially effective for easing symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.
Rx: Practice Tai Chi twice a week to see results within 12 weeks or so. (Classes are offered at many YMCAs, gyms, and fitness centers.)