“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” at least that was the philosophy of my Grandma Konchesky.
Like many of our grandmothers, she swore by a host of home remedies. For my grandma, garlic was the cure for what ailed you, a swig of cod liver oil was a daily ritual for keeping your brain sharp, and Prevention magazine, with its many natural remedies, was a regular on her kitchen table.
While modern medicine has moved away from these traditional, and often ancient, remedies, my grandma was onto something. After all, she lived a very healthy life until she passed away at the age of 93. She even ran her own business until just a few years before she died.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to force cod liver oil on you. There are some other great, and fortunately, more palatable home remedies that are known to have several health benefits. And some of these remedies are as close as your own kitchen.
A staple in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia, ginger not only helps improve blood flow, it’s one of the best anti-inflammatory foods there are, with some studies showing it even rivals ibuprofen in treating arthritis and menstrual cramps. Ginger is also great for nausea, helps detoxify the colon and liver, aids in digestion, and possesses antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.
A 2015 study showed ginger improves glucose levels in diabetics, and while further research is needed, these preliminary findings were encouraging. Several studies have also shown a significant reduction in cholesterol levels, and even benefits in weight loss.
To reap some of these amazing benefits, try adding some ginger into your next stir-fry or chicken dish, or steep a few slices in hot water and enjoy a cup of warm ginger tea. There are also a number of ginger candies on the market aimed at treating nausea.
Honey has been used for centuries for both its medicinal and culinary benefits. While pasteurizing, or heating, honey may increase shelf life and improve color and texture, raw honey is where the real health benefits are believed to be found. Just be sure to purchase it from a reputable source.
This ancient remedy has been used to not only help soothe a sore throat, but studies have even found it’s more effective than some over-the-counter cough syrups, especially in children (note, honey should not be used in children under the age of 1, so please consult your pediatrician).
Honey contains phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties, but cellular communication and immune boosting properties as well. Research has shown that Manuka honey, in particular, can kill a number of common pathogens, including E.Coli, Staph aureus, and H. pylori. For this reason, it’s been used to treat cuts, wounds and burns, diarrhea, gastric ulcers, and chronic gastritis.
The next time you have a cough, try taking a teaspoon of honey. A little honey stirred into your favorite tea, or glazed over salmon, is another great way to benefit from honey.
Apple Cider Vinegar
I’ve had many patients over the years swear by apple cider vinegar (ACV), particularly the raw, unfiltered form containing the starter bacterial culture known as “the mother,” which is full of enzymes and good bacteria.
ACV has long been believed to have antimicrobial properties, and while little research exists on its benefits, there have been studies showing it to have antioxidant properties. A review study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research in 2016 found it may even help decrease blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to decrease hunger and may help promote loss of weight and belly fat, according to a Japanese study published in 2014.
Many patients have said they use 1 to 2 tablespoons of ACV, mixed in a large glass of water, to resolve heartburn. While it may fly in the face of reason to use an acid to treat heartburn, they promise it works. They’ve also said it works like a charm for leg cramps.
It’s important to note, because apple cider vinegar is acidic, it should never be used alone, otherwise you risk wearing down your tooth enamel. Instead, use it in a salad dressing, as part of your cooking ingredients, or mix a tablespoon in a large glass of water with a little lemon and honey to taste.
Packed with nutrients, garlic has long been used for both its medicinal and culinary benefits. This well-loved ingredient not only has antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, but antioxidant properties as well.
As part of the onion family, garlic has a strong taste when consumed raw, but develops a mild, somewhat sweet taste when cooked. While my grandma used it both ways, she swore by raw garlic, just as my husband does. For years, he’s used a concoction of crushed garlic soaked in raw honey and raw apple cider vinegar. He drinks a shot glass of strained liquid 1 to 2 times a day, and swears it’s the reason he’s been able to stave off the chronic sinusitis that once plagued him. He and my grandma would most certainly have hit it off, were she still alive!
Studies have shown that garlic reduces total and LDL cholesterol by 10 to 15 percent, while high-dose garlic extract has proven to be just as effective in reducing blood pressure as the drug atenolol.
And if that’s not impressive enough, a 2006 review published in The Journal of Nutrition found antioxidant-rich aged garlic extract may even reduce the risk of dementia and heart disease.
While there are many options to choose from for our last remedy, we’ll end with olive oil.
Composed mainly of monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil has long been touted for its beneficial role in the Mediterranean diet. Loaded with polyphenols, olive oil has powerful antioxidant properties that help fight inflammation. It’s because of these properties that studies show olive oil may help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even stroke.
Olive oil has been shown to decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and even fight Alzheimer’s disease. In combination with fish oil, it has also been shown to improve joint pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis.
With such impressive benefits, making olive oil a staple in your diet just makes good sense.
As with anything, be sure to talk to your doctor first, as even natural remedies can have unintended consequences and may need to be avoided with certain medications or health conditions.
With that caveat, the next time you’re looking for relief from that scratchy throat, want to lose a little weight, or boost your immune system, why not check your kitchen? As our grandmothers knew, nature offers many amazing options for improving health. You may just be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Tatiana Denning, D.O., is a family medicine physician who focuses on wellness and prevention. She believes in empowering her patients with the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain and improve their own health.