We’ve all heard that it’s good to drink orange juice and eat chicken noodle soup when we’re sick. But did you know that other foods you eat may help treat minor ailments like colds, seasonal allergies, upset stomachs, and sore throats?
Many items you already have in your kitchen may help relieve symptoms of common illnesses and even some chronic health problems. Check out the potential of these natural, food-based health remedies.
Have ground cayenne in your spice rack? Ever suspected that some might consider it a health remedy? Cayenne peppers are rich in capsaicin, which may promote vascular and metabolic health. And, used in cream or ointments, capsaicin helps reduce pain.
Additionally, cayenne pepper stimulates digestion and circulation. It’s also sweat-inducing, which can help reduce fevers and relieve congestion.
One study suggests that cayenne pepper may assist with weight loss under certain conditions because it decreased appetite in some of the study’s participants.
Some people opt for ginger ale on turbulent flights, since ginger can help prevent motion sickness and upset stomachs. But ginger has plenty of other health benefits, too.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce joint pain and stiffness for some people. Additionally, ginger can help soothe muscle aches and reduce menstrual cramps.
Some remedies suggest using fresh ginger, while others do not, so it’s worth doing a little research about the reasons you intend to use ginger.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been used as a folk remedy for a long time. It has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent decades as a natural treatment for many health issues.
Although it has not been studied extensively, vinegar may have some antibacterial properties, effective at killing Escherichia coli (E.coli) and Staphylococcus aureus, which causes staph infections. Apple cider vinegar may also help control glucose levels in patients who suffer from diabetes, according to a study conducted at Arizona State University.
It may also be able to help overweight individuals lose weight and curb their appetite, according to a 2018 study. But don’t expect to lose weight just by adding apple cider vinegar to your diet. The subjects in the study were also on a restricted calorie diet.
If you cook with garlic, you may be unknowingly helping out your health. Garlic has many health benefits and has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
Some studies indicate that garlic could be beneficial to people who are being treated for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It may also help reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. However, an article from Consumer Reports cautions that garlic supplements may interfere with heart medications. Please talk to your doctor before you add garlic supplements to your regime.
The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests consuming two cloves of raw garlic per day. There is some debate over whether cooked garlic has any health benefits, so you may want to opt for recipes that don’t require cooking garlic if you want the greatest health benefits.
Studies show that honey is an effective cough suppressant, according to the Mayo Clinic. And one study even found honey just as effective as store-bought cough suppressants for children age two and older.
Honey has traditionally been used to treat infected wounds, and laboratory research confirms honey’s healing properties. When applied to burns, honey reduces inflammation, reduces scarring, and speeds up the healing process.
Many people who eat local honey claim it helps alleviate seasonal allergies, though clinical trials have not yet confirmed this. One Mayo Clinic doctor notes that the idea that local honey could treat allergies isn’t terribly far-fetched because users are exposed to small traces of pollen, which could build up immunity. Further research is needed to confirm this theory, though.
There’s a reason restaurants offer mints to customers after dinner: Peppermint helps soothe the stomach.
According to Harvard Health Publications, peppermint has been shown to alleviate abdominal problems like pain, bloating, and constipation. However, it can also can trigger heartburn or acid reflux, so talk to your doctor before using.
Some studies also suggest that applying peppermint oil topically may help relieve tension headaches. And peppermint can also help as a decongestant if you suffer from a cold or the flu. Try making an herbal tea from peppermint leaves to help relieve symptoms.
You may already have a form of peppermint in your medicine cabinet. Menthol, a common ingredient in many over-the-counter products like Bengay or cough drops, is a compound extracted from peppermint oil.
While insufficient evidence exists to determine whether oregano is effective for treating specific illnesses, oregano oil (not oregano essential oil) has some antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. And research confirms that some types of oregano oil kill bacteria.
Because of these antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, some people use oregano (especially oregano oil) to treat sinus pain, coughs, and other symptoms. More research is needed, but we may be hearing more from oregano in the future.
Some people find that drinking unsweetened cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections, but the research results are mixed. Ongoing research is exploring what properties of the juice make it effective, and one may be that cranberry juice blocks bacteria from attaching to the walls of the bladder. It is possible that cranberry juice may have a similar effect in the stomach, which could prevent stomach ulcers.
Research also suggests that cranberry juice may be effective for preventing gum disease. However, note that many manufacturers add sugars to make the tart juice more palatable, and it’s important to select a brand with minimal or no added sugar.
Thyme is another herb with properties that may have a positive impact on your health. Some properties of thyme oil may be effective against respiratory illnesses. So, try making a cup of thyme tea next time you have a cough or bronchitis.
In the future, thyme’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties might even be used to treat acne.
The much-loved spice cinnamon also may have a number of health benefits.
Some studies indicate that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. Others have found that cinnamon may have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Yet more studies suggest that cinnamon may one day be used to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and extracts of the spice could one day be part of a treatment for HIV.
More research is needed to confirm whether cinnamon has significant benefits, so it’s important to not rely solely on cinnamon (or any other natural treatment for that matter) to treat serious conditions.
A Final Note About Natural Health Remedies
Ready to try some of these food-based health remedies? Always exercise caution before you make a big change to your diet — particularly if you have an existing condition. And be sure to consult your doctor before you add supplements — even ones from your pantry — to your diet.
Which natural health remedies work for you?
Editor’s note: Originally published on May 13, 2013, this article was updated in February 2020.