Few studies about home remedies exist

Home remedies usually get short shrift from health professionals. That’s because they are rarely studied in a scientific manner. Without a plausible explanation, clinicians may attribute these old wives’ tales to the power of suggestion.

Every so often, however, we stumble across actual research to support an improbable remedy. Such is the case with aromatherapy for nausea.

Each year, roughly 5 million people go to emergency departments because of severe nausea and vomiting. Doctors often prescribe powerful antiemetic drugs such as ondansetron (Zofran), promethazine (Phenergan) and metoclopramide (Reglan). Unfortunately, these medications are not always more effective than placebo (Annals of Emergency Medicine, November 2014; American Journal of Emergency Medicine, March 2006).

Someone, somewhere, discovered that postoperative patients had less nausea if they sniffed isopropyl alcohol from those little pads used to wipe off skin before an injection. Emergency-room doctors tested this and found that it worked for most patients, not just those whose nausea could be attributed to anesthesia (Annals of Emergency Medicine, July 2016). A recent placebo-controlled trial showed that sniffing alcohol actually worked better than the antiemetic ondansetron (Annals of Emergency Medicine, online, Feb. 17, 2018).

According to the authors, inhaled isopropyl alcohol works better than either inhaled saline (placebo) or an ondansetron pill. The benefits last at least 30 minutes. They note:

“Our findings suggest that supplying patients with multiple isopropyl alcohol pads for use at their discretion during the entirety of their visit may result in sustained nausea relief throughout their ED stay. We believe the existing studies of isopropyl alcohol support an excellent safety profile and that repeated dosing for recurrent symptoms is likely to be safe, with minimal risk of adverse events related to overdose, provided the route of administration is nasal inhalation alone.”

The investigators cannot explain how breathing a little alcohol from a gauze pad would relieve nausea. They conclude, however, “Emergency providers should consider incorporation of aromatherapy into their clinical practice in patients with nausea and vomiting who do not require urgent intravenous therapy.”

Many other home remedies may work, even though we don’t understand quite how or why.

Take muscle cramps, for example. For decades, people have been using pickle juice or yellow mustard to ease their charley horse cramps. Football coaches would keep jars of pickle juice on hand during practice. No one knew why this odd remedy helped, but for many it did.

Now, scientists have an explanation. Activating transient receptor potential (TRP) channels with strong flavors such as hot pepper, cinnamon and ginger can reverse muscle cramps promptly (Muscle & Nerve, September 2017).

It’s entirely possible that TRP channels may explain certain other mysterious home remedies, including Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet to halt a cough. Anyone who would like to know more about such unusual approaches may find our book “Quick & Handy Home Remedies” of interest. It may be purchased at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. In their column, the Graedons answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

2018 King Features Syndicate

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