Home remedies have been a mainstay of healing for most of human history. People turned to specialists like bonesetters or doctors only when they didn't really know what to do for themselves.
These days, we rely much more on physicians, often for relatively minor ailments. Many could easily be handled well at home. Third-party payers who have studied the issue have found that self-care saves money (American Institute for Preventive Medicine white paper, 2007).
That's why we were a bit surprised when we received a message recently chastising us for lowering our credibility by writing about unproven home remedies. Soap for leg cramps and keys down the back of the neck for nosebleeds were singled out for derision.
We admit we don't know why or how these remedies work. Our motto has always been: If it might help, won't hurt and doesn't cost too much, why not try it? Some of our readers agree: "Keep the home remedies coming. If they work, all to the good. If they don't work, no harm is done."
Others point out that we often don't know exactly how prescription drugs work either: "The fact we don't know HOW a home remedy works does not matter. We still don't know exactly how drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac) work. In fact, most drugs' purported mechanism of action is a guess at best! So please keep posting what people find works for them, and let us find out if it works for us. After all, this is the PEOPLE'S pharmacy, not big pharma."
Another reader jumped to our defense: "No one is pushing miracle tonics from the back of a wagon. The suggestions for human problems are just that, suggestions. What do we lose by trying one but a little time? The only people who benefit are the ones the remedy helps.
"As for me, I am sleeping well at night because I have a lump in my bed, a little bar of soap that has kept constant nighttime leg cramps at bay.
"Did I believe it would work? Honestly, no. Did it? Honestly, yes."
This reader spoke for many: "Thank you for continuing to offer home remedies and ignoring those who think relief only comes in a pill. My husband is most grateful for kiwi for lip sores. I am grateful for gin and white raisins for arthritis relief."
We hope that readers continue to share their home remedies through the column and the Web site. We sometimes hear from people who clip and save the columns. To make this easier, we have gathered some classics in our book "Favorite Home Remedies From The People's Pharmacy." It can be found online at www.peoplespharmacy.com or ordered for $8.95 plus $3 shipping and handling from: Graedons' People's Pharmacy (Dept. FHR), P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717.
Home remedies do not work for everyone. Neither do Food and Drug Administration-approved prescription medications. In fact, if you look at the results of many clinical trials, you will discover that the active drug is often only a little more effective than the dummy pill. Antidepressants like Prozac, for example, have been shown to be just barely better than placebo for people with mild depression.
After many decades of use, we still don't completely understand how acetaminophen (Tylenol) relieves pain. But that doesn't keep it from working. The same thing goes for some home remedies.