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We all have our go-to remedies that we reach for when we need them, but did you know that certain home treatments could be hurting more than helping?
Obviously we can’t run to the doctor’s office for each and every little thing that happens to us, and it’s usually these small afflictions that have us searching for a quick and effective home remedy. But don’t assume that natural always means best—or that it works, either. We may not be doctors (and you should consult yours for personal medical advice), but there’s good reason to believe that these home remedies might be making your ailments worse.
Let’s make one thing clear—we’re in no way saying that breast milk isn’t the magical, milky powerhouse for your kids that everyone says it is. What we are saying, however, is that it’s not a great idea to use it for everything else that could be going on, such as putting breast milk on your child’s pink eye, skin rash, or open cut.
According to Sarah Yamaguchi, MD, an OB-GYN at Los Angeles’ Good Samaritan Hospital, breast milk could take things from bad to worse in the right situations. “Breast milk can transmit infectious diseases such as HIV, and pumped breast milk, if not stored properly, can be contaminated and can actually introduce bacteria into an already infected area,” Yamaguchi says. Instead, make sure you keep any infected areas clean and dry, and just save the breast milk for babies’ stomachs.
According to WebMD, if you or your kid gets a cut or scrape, you can prevent infection by taking these steps: Wash your hands, apply pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or sterile gauze until bleeding stops, rinse the wound with water to remove dirt or debris, clean around (not in) the wound with a soft washcloth and mild soap, use an antibiotic cream or ointment, and, if needed, bandage it.
When it comes to which ointment to use, Anne Marie McNeill, MD, PhD, writes that Polysporin is preferable to Neosporin, because it is less likely to create an allergy in the patient later in life since it does not contain neomycin.Polysporin First Aid Antibiotic Ointment, $8.47 from Amazon
McNeill also recommended Aquaphor or mupirocin to keep wounds “soft,” pointing out that it’s a myth that wounds need to “dry out” in order to heal.
Aquaphor is not an antibiotic, but a formula made of 41 percent petrolatum that allows oxygen to flow and helps protects the skin from moisture loss, making an ideal healing environment for a wound. It is free of fragrances, preservatives, and dyes and can be used on rashes, minor cuts and scrapes, friction and minor burns, cracked skin, and chapped lips.Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment, $9.46 from Amazon
Most health enthusiasts have probably heard about the benefits of using activated charcoal as part of a health routine, and maybe some of you have even tried it yourself. People are taking it in pill form as part of detox regimens, adding it to mud masks, and even using it in its powder form to naturally whiten their teeth.
Although any of these things may not be harmful every now and then, too much charcoal isn’t good for you. Some of its most common side effects after ingestion include constipation, nausea or vomiting, and black discoloration of the stool—that last one may not be dangerous in its own right, but it would definitely be alarming, to say the least.
“It is plain dangerous because it can cause life-threatening intestinal obstructions and severe dehydration,” says Svetlana Kogan, MD, a physician and author. For a similar detoxing effect, just drink plain ol’ water and try to eat a more nutritious diet.
Don’t like tap water? Fine. Get something to filter it through, like this Brita Filtered Water Dispenser, which is large enough to hold 18 cups of water so you won’t be running out anytime soon. The BPA-free filter is supposed to reduce chlorine taste and odor, copper, mercury, and cadmium impurities in tap water. This one comes with a spigot for easy pouring.Brita Extra Large Filtered Water Dispenser, $33.99 from Amazon
If you’re looking for some non-charcoal tooth whitening, check out Crest 3D White Glamorous White Whitestrips, which use hydrogen peroxide to make your chompers shine.
It’s the only at-home tooth bleaching product to receive the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, so you don’t have to feel guilty at your next dentist appointment.Crest 3D White Glamorous White Whitestrips, $34.69 from Amazon
Most people take some sort of daily vitamin, and doing so isn’t inherently harmful. But vitamin supplements are definitely not an ideal solution for giving your body everything it needs. You should be doing that with your diet.
Assuming that you eat a pretty balanced diet with plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, you’re already getting in everything that you should. Taking a daily multivitamin can become dangerous when you’re giving your body too much of any one particular supplement because you’ve already gotten enough of it naturally.
Yes, too many vitamins really can be a bad thing—for example, consume too much vitamin D and you could be causing issues with your heart and liver, whereas an excess of vitamin B6 can cause nerve toxicity. Believe it or not, too much vitamin A could actually cause an overdose that could kill you.
If you think you might be lacking in any particular vitamin or mineral, consult your doctor before you supplement on your own.
One thing you don’t have to consult your doctor about? Eating more fruits and vegetables. This is among the best health insurance we have, and it need not be drudgery. If you’re short on ideas for how to enjoy foods that fall out of the standard American diet (SAD, appropriately), check out this beautiful, creative Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking cookbook featuring tasty vegan entrees like Smoky BBQ Veggie Burgers or Thai Quinoa “Meatballs.”Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking, $23.79 from Amazon
Can’t get into veganism? Fine. That’s no reason for not enjoying the full spectrum of produce options.
If you’re at a loss for how to enjoy veggie-centric cooking, Bon Appetit editors recommended Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook, which apparently “created a revolution in cooking when it first appeared in 1987.”
Recipes include Mexican Vegetable Soup with Lime and Avocado, Artichoke and Fennel Stew, Wild Mushroom Ragout, Charcoal-Grilled Leeks, Red and Yellow Pepper Tart, Goat-Cheese Pizza with Red Onions and Green Olives, Blueberry Cream-Cheese Tart, and Brazilian Chocolate Cake. Now our mouths are watering. Vitamins who?The Greens Cookbook, $24.47 from Amazon
It’s just a natural reaction—you get a quick paper cut, and your finger goes straight in your mouth as if it were pulled by a magnet. Mothers might even use their own spit to wipe something off their child’s face or clean off a scrape, because what’s the problem? You gave birth to them!
Well, the problem comes down to bacteria, which can be introduced into an open wound through saliva, and it can take a simple cut and turn it into something much worse.
“Our breath and saliva have tons of bacteria which can contaminate the wound and lead to an infection,” says Kogan.
So, what are you supposed to do in a pinch? The best option for anyone who doesn’t have access to a medical kit is to just find some fresh water. Whether you’re in an office building or in the park, there’s bound to be a water fountain or bathroom nearby that you can use to rinse out a cut in a hurry.
It’s also never too late to become That Person Who Carries A Water Bottle Everywhere. You’ll likely be healthier and more hydrated if you invest in something like this BPA-free water bottle from Embrava—and, of course, you’ll have some emergency wound-splashing liquid on hand at all times.Embrava Premium Water Bottle, $19.95 from Amazon
Whether you’ve burned yourself on a hot pot or accidentally touched your ear with a flat iron, getting burned is never fun, and the healing is usually painful. We’ve all been there—the burn seems like it’s only going to hurt initially, and then the searing pain starts to sink in.
There’s not much you can do to treat it other than putting the area under running water, so many people turn to things they have on hand, particularly what’s in their kitchen. This goes for a lot of other small ailments, too.
Sure, avocados can be good for softening hair and, yes, manuka honey can be used for a variety of different things, but food items shouldn’t be used to treat bodily injuries.
One common burn treatment that Kogan often has to dismiss is using raw egg whites to treat burns—even when organic, raw eggs contain tons of bacteria that should never be introduced to damaged skin. Instead, stick to water and over-the-counter pain relievers.
To treat a minor burn at home, first run it under cool (not cold) water for 10 to 15 minutes, until it’s no longer as painful. Wash it gently with soap and water. Then, cover it with a thin layer of ointment, like Vaseline petroleum jelly.Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, $9.50 from Amazon
Follow that up by lightly taping or wrapping the burn with a sterile, nonstick gauze, like these non-adherent pads from Dynarex, to protect the wound from chafing.
(Don’t use a material with fibers that can get stuck in the burn.)Dynarex Non-Adherent Pads, $8.98 from Amazon
Although it’s come to light that mouthwash might not be as great as many of us believe it to be, plenty of people still use it in their daily oral hygiene routine. Some people even step up their usage when they’re sick and gargle with it in the hopes that it’ll help speed their recovery along.
We get the logic: Mouthwash often contains alcohol, and alcohol kills bacteria and viruses, so it’ll kill your cold, right? Wrong. If your throat is already inflamed from a cold or flu virus, adding mouthwash to the mix is the last thing you should do.
“Gargling inflamed tonsils with mouthwash is actually very irritating to the area and does not have any effect on potential strep throat,” says Kogan.
The simplest and most effective solution is to drink plenty of warm liquids to soothe inflammation in the throat and try to get as much rest as possible.
Your best bet is to do what your mother always told you to do: Gargle with warm salt water. According to Penn Medicine, this can be a good way of loosening the gunk in your throat, alleviating pain, and killing bacteria. The great part about this is you don’t need a prescription or a fancy, colorful, exotic salt. Just pick up a big container of regular table salt like this option from Morton, and you’ll be keeping sore throats at bay and your meals more flavorful.Morton Iodized Salt, $0.89 from Amazon
If you need something stronger for the pain, go for an option that will numb out the area, like this Chloraseptic Max Strength Sore Throat Spray.
(It tastes like wild berries! Not that you will care as you’re grimacing through every swallow.)Chloraseptic Max Strength Sore Throat Spray, $5.68 from Amazon
Kava is a root that’s usually found on various South Pacific islands. Often the root is powdered and taken as a tea, but it can also be found as an extract that can be added to other things. It has been recommended that kava can be taken to soothe anxiety, and some even compare the effects of the herb to those of popular prescription anxiety medications.
One study even showed that taking the herb could, in fact, moderately decrease anxiety levels. Still, though, the study advised that taking kava should be a short-term solution, as it’s one that could cause side effects that aren’t worth only moderate anxiety improvement.
One of the biggest risks of long-term kava use is liver damage, although it’s not known whether kava itself causes liver damage or if it’s the use of kava in conjunction with other medications.
Still, it’s worth noting that 30 cases of kava-related liver damage have been reported in Europe, and consumer advisory for the supplement was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002 because it poses a risk for potential liver failure.
If you’re looking for some relief from your nerves without the possible liver damage, you might try picking up a daily chamomile habit, which some research has suggested can act as an anti-anxiety treatment (although, the study referenced involved capsules of chamomile extract rather than tea).
Still, the ritual of tea-drinking as a nightcap might be the opportunity for extra relaxation and mindfulness you need to sleep through the night. People seem to love this Twinings of London Pure Camomile tea (at least, 80 percent of nearly 7,000 reviewers gave it five stars).Twinings of London Pure Camomile Tea, $3.50 from Amazon
Hate tea? Fine. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends incorporating exercise as a way to manage your stress and decrease anxiety, and you don’t need anything but your body for that.
If you’re interested in learning more about the hows and whys of your anxiety, check out My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel, who explores the history of anxiety and its treatments while reflecting on its effects in his own life.My Age of Anxiety, $8.14 from Amazon
Castor oil has many uses; it’s most commonly used as a natural laxative. Not only that, but many pregnant women use it as a way to speed up the birthing process when they’re desperate to bring their babies into the world.
While doctors are fine with using castor oil for constipation, just say no when it comes to delivering a baby. “Castor oil may help if you are constipated and need to pass a bowel movement, but it’s not going to help you go into labor and tastes awful,” says Yamaguchi.
So, are there any safe ways to start the labor at home? Sure, there are plenty of things people swear have worked for them—being intimate, eating fast food, walking around a lot—but the truth is that there isn’t one thing that’s guaranteed to work for everyone.
Oh, and for constipation? Castor oil is fine, but you can also try drinking prune juice or just increasing your overall fiber intake.
The reviewers of Amazon seem to have had good results with Smooth Move Tea, a caffeine-free herbal blend whose name has probably tipped you off to its laxative effects.Traditional Medicinals Organic Smooth Move Tea, $22.17 from Amazon
If you want to take the fiber route, a great addition to your diet would be Bran Buds, the benefits of which OB-GYN Jen Gunter, MD, has evangelized about in a blog post directed at women looking to keep their vajays A-okay.Kellogg’s All-Bran Buds, $4.44 from Amazon