nature's medicine chest

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A trove of quick fixes for everything from stomach upset to the common cold

Your body can throw you for a loop at any time. You wake up with a sore throat on the day of your office Christmas party, a seafood-salad sandwich leaves you with grumbling indigestion, or you overdo it at the gym and arrive home with a stiff neck. Wouldn't it be great to have a live-in doctor/therapist/trainer to tend to your everyday aches and pains?

Here's the next best thing: all-natural, expert-recommended ways to treat ailments quickly, safely, and effectively at home. So clear some space in your bathroom cabinet, refrigerator, and kitchen cupboard for these surprisingly effective (and inexpensive) remedies. They're like having a doctor on call 24 hours a day.

To Quell Nausea
Try frozen ginger chips. Infuse fresh ginger in hot water. Strain, then freeze the concoction in ice cube trays. Crush the cubes and suck the icy chips throughout the day to provide your tummy with a steady soothing dribble. Ginger's antinausea properties are particularly effective during pregnancy or after surgery.

EXPERT: Eric Yarnell, ND

To Stifle Hiccups
Swallow 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar. The dry granules stimulate and reset the irritated nerve that is causing the spasms of the diaphragm. Any coarse substance, such as salt, can work in a pinch, but sugar tastes best.

EXPERT: Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

To Soothe a Sore Throat
Gargle twice daily with a solution of six pressed garlic cloves mixed into a glass of warm (not hot) water. Follow the regimen for 3 days. A recent study shows that fresh garlic juice has antimicrobial properties that fight pain-causing bacteria. The warm liquid soothes inflamed tissue.

EXPERT: Ronald Hoffman, MD

To Curb a Cough
Indulge in a square or two of dark chocolate. Researchers found that chocolate's theobromine compound is more effective than codeine at suppressing persistent coughs without the side effects of drowsiness and constipation. To calm a nagging cough that keeps you awake at night, take 2 teaspoons of honey (1 to 2 teaspoons for kids; don't give to children younger than 1), along with 500 mg of Ester C 30 minutes before bed. The vitamin C (nonacidic Ester type won't upset stomachs) boosts the immune system in the early stages of your cough. Recent research shows that honey works better than either a cough suppressant or no treatment at all for relieving children's nocturnal cough and promoting sleep.

EXPERTS: Jacob Teitelbaum, MD; Mark Moyad, MD, MPH

To Cool a Fever
Sip linden flower tea, which works in two ways: It stimulates the hypothalamus to better control your temperature, and it dilates blood vessels, inducing sweating. Steep 1 tablespoon of dried herb (available in health food stores) in a cup of hot water for 15 minutes, then sip. Drink three to four cups a day. If you still run hot after a day of sipping tea, seek medical attention. For a high fever (above 102°F), take a tepid bath, which simply cools the body to match the water temperature. Bathe until your temperature decreases to 101° to 102°F, then sip linden flower tea to lower it even more.

EXPERT: Eric Yarnell, ND

To Cool a Burn
If you grazed your skin with a hot-from-the-oven holiday cookie pan, apply aloe vera gel to the burn as needed. The soothing and anti-inflammatory gel creates a second skin to protect it from air, which irritates exposed nerve endings.

EXPERT: Laurie Steelsmith, ND

To Quiet Flatulence
Take two enteric-coated peppermint capsules (500 mg each) three times daily. Peppermint kills bacteria that cause bloating and relaxes gastrointestinal muscles for smoother, spasm-free digestion. Enteric coating prevents capsules from opening in the stomach and increasing discomfort by causing heartburn and indigestion. The peppermint then releases and goes to work lower in the gastrointestinal tract, where gas-plagued people need it most.

EXPERT: Ronald Hoffman, MD

To Stop Foot Odor
Soak feet nightly in 1 part vinegar and 2 parts water to eliminate odoriferous bacteria. Or take a daily foot bath in strong black tea (let it cool first) for 30 minutes. Tea's tannins kill bacteria and close the pores in your feet, keeping feet dry longer; bacteria tend to thrive in moist environments. You'll see results in a few days to a week. One caution: Only do the soak when your feet are free of cuts.

EXPERT: Laurie Steelsmith, ND

To Cut Short a Cold
Sip a faux hot toddy. Cut a vitamin C-rich lemon in half and squeeze the juice from one half into a cup. Studies show that vitamin C taken before the onset of a cold shortens its duration and severity. Drop the lemon half shell into the cup. Add boiling water and a teaspoon of organic raw honey, an immunity booster that also coats painful throat tissues. Breathe in the healing vapor to open sinuses, and sip a cupful two or three times daily to fight the bug. (To make a traditional hot toddy, add a half shot of brandy.)

EXPERT: Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN

To Sweeten Bad Breath
Gargle with a small cup of acidic lemon juice to kill odor-causing bacteria. Then eat a bit of plain unsweetened yogurt, which contains beneficial lactobacillus bacteria. These so-called probiotics compete with and replace the reeking bacteria. The lemon-yogurt combo instantly neutralizes odor and lasts 12 to 24 hours.

EXPERT: Mark Moyad, MD, MPH

To Soften Chapped Lips
Rub on anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and moisturizing olive oil two or three times a day to soothe, soften, and lubricate. Your lips will feel immediately better, but it will take a few days before they start to heal on their own. Preliminary research on mice shows that applying extra virgin olive oil to skin after sunbathing may prevent skin cancer.

EXPERT: Laurie Steelsmith, ND

To Relax a Stiff Neck
A stiff neck results from slowed circulation and lymph flow to muscle tissues. Use contrast hydrotherapy--a quick blast of hot, then cold water--to get the blood pumping again. In the shower, first run hot water over your neck for 20 seconds to increase blood flow, then switch to cold for 10 seconds to constrict blood flow. Alternate three times, always ending with cold. When you get out of the shower, your body will send the blood back out to the skin, which results in a final dilation of blood vessels and--voilà!--a looser neck.

EXPERT: Laurie Steelsmith, ND

To End Snoring
If you snore mostly when on your back, put a tennis ball in a shirt pocket cut from an old T-shirt and sew it to the mid-back of your tight pajama top. The discomfort forces you to roll over and sleep on your side--without waking you up.

EXPERT: Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

To Beat Insomnia
Before bedtime, eat a handful of cherries, which scientists discovered are jam-packed with melatonin, the same hormone created by your body to regulate sleep patterns. Then steep yourself in a hot bath to relax your muscles and your mind. In bed, rest your head on a lavender-filled pillow--the fragrance induces sleepiness.

EXPERTS: Mark Moyad, MD, MPH; Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

To Revive Puffy, Tired Eyes
Black tea is chock-full of astringent compounds called tannins that can help deflate and tighten the bags under your eyes. Activate the tannins in a tea bag by dipping in a cup of hot water for several minutes. Cool in the fridge, then apply the damp bag as a compress to the closed eye for 10 minutes.

EXPERT: Ronald Hoffman, MD

To Whiten Stained Teeth
Crush a few fresh strawberries into a scrubbing pulp that you mix with a pinch of stain-removing baking soda and enough water to make a paste. Apply the mixture to a soft-bristled toothbrush and polish for a few minutes once every 3 or 4 months. (More often can erode tooth enamel.) The astringent malic acid in strawberries helps buff coffee and red-wine stains from teeth.

EXPERT: Mark Moyad, MD, MPH

To Prevent a Headache
Try relaxing magnesium (200 to 400 mg) to reduce the muscle tension and spasms that can cause your noggin to throb. But not any type will do. Make sure the supplement contains at least 200 mg of active elemental magnesium. Because magnesium is more preventive than curative, the treatment works best on, say, premenstrual headaches because you can predict when they're coming and take a dose a day in advance. Those with kidney problems should consult a health care practitioner before taking magnesium.

EXPERT: Ronald Hoffman, MD

To Sidestep a Hangover
Because excess alcohol depletes the body of essential B vitamins (they help break down alcohol in the body), before going to bed, take a B-50 complex supplement, which will ensure the metabolism of alcohol continues apace. Also, rehydrate by drinking plenty of water.

EXPERT: Laurie Steelsmith, ND

To Relieve Menstrual Cramps
Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of crampbark tincture every 2 hours on the days of your worst cramps. Test-tube studies show that this North American plant works as a muscle relaxant to quickly relieve painful spasms.

EXPERT: Eric Yarnell, ND

To Heal Dry Skin, Rashes, and Eczema
Bathe in your breakfast. Although oatmeal is a centuries-old skin soother, researchers only recently recognized the avenanthramides in oats as the key compounds that calm inflamed, itchy skin. Put whole oats in a clean, dry sock. Seal the open end with a rubber band, and then drop the sock into a warm or hot bath. Soak yourself for 15 to 20 minutes.

EXPERT: Laurie Steelsmith, ND D

• GET MORE NATURAL CURES Get thousands of do-it-yourself solutions for colds, dry skin, and more at prevention.com/homeremedies.

THE EXPERTS
Ronald Hoffman, MD, medical director of the Hoffman Center in New York and author of Alternative Cures That Really Work (Rodale, 2007)

Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, coauthor of Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Arthritis and The Natural Medicine Chest and clinical instructor at Stony Brook Medical School

Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, Jenkens/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor

Laurie Steelsmith, ND, author of Natural Choices for Women's Health and in private practice in Honolulu

Jacob Teltelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic!

Eric Yarnell, ND, faculty member of the department of botanical medicine at Bastyr University

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By Pamela Bond

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