Let’s talk about “home remedies.”
There are a huge number of home remedies that have been passed down from generation to generation. The interesting thing is that many of these treatments, as crazy as they sound, may work. The trouble is they have rarely been tested in a scientific manner so that health care providers often dismiss them as worthless.
As a rule of thumb, you have to apply some common sense before using some of these things people tell you. If it is for a relatively minor medical problem and if the remedy poses no threat from allergic reactions or side effects then it is probably OK to try it.
You must not, however, use these remedies so as to postpone visiting your health care provider and getting approved medical treatment. So, if you have a cold and want to wear a necklace of garlic, that is fine with me. Just warn me so I can take evasive action.
Interestingly, what may start as a home remedy may end up a well-tested and lifesaving remedy later on. One example is the development of digitalis, a medication used to treat heart disease. It comes from a plant called foxglove that was used by our ancestors for centuries without knowing what the exact formula of the drug was or how it worked. But scientists finally discovered that it truly was an important drug and converted it to pill form.
Then there are the medical practices that have been around for many years, used by some practitioners and criticized by others. There is one practice that has been widely used on thousands, if not millions, of patients for a variety illnesses that have been ignored by most “modern” practitioners, especially in the new world.
I am referring to the practice of acupuncture, which originated in China centuries ago. Through the years, usually by chance, Chinese practitioners learned that inserting tiny needles into various parts of the body gave relief to illnesses. Western medicine has long considered acupuncture as an ineffective therapy. But, don’t you have to wonder how it has survived thousands of years and has been successful for millions of people?
Here, I have some firsthand knowledge. I was just like most of my colleagues, considering acupuncture as at least magic and at most psychological suggestion. Then a close member of my family began suffering from spinal stenosis with major involvement of the nerves in her back, producing severe pain.
This diagnosis was confirmed by CT scan and physical examination. She tried all the conventional medical treatments, all without success.
Almost as a last resort, acupuncture was suggested and since the downside risk was minimal, she had a course of acupuncture treatments.
The acupuncture therapist felt it would take at least a dozen or more sessions to see if it helped. In fact, her pain disappeared after seven treatments. She was able to avoid the surgery and, although she may need some additional treatments in the future if her pain returns, she remains pain free to this day.
I don’t know why it works or how it works although suggestions abound as to the reasons. I do know she is a much- improved person.
So, the bottom line is obvious. You have to keep an open mind about the various ways to treat illnesses. You have to exercise caution when choosing an alternative type of care. But you should not dismiss it out of hand without at least discussing it with the appropriate medical providers.
Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.