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Wellness & Prevention

Does cayenne pepper really relieve aching joints?

Discover the Fact and Fiction behind many popular home remedies
Well Community Staff

It seems there are “miracle solutions” for almost everything these days. Our e-mail boxes fill up with them almost daily. Wash your hair in beer to get rid of oiliness? Put toothpaste on your pimples to make them go away? Brush nail polish on a bug bite to stop the itching?

As we are bombarded with so-called remedies from the media and well-intentioned friends and family members, how do we know what to believe? While we don’t have all the answers, the physicians of Swedish Covenant Hospital have worked to debunk and demystify some of the most common home remedies. So at least for these, you don’t need to be left guessing.

For help sleeping, drink a glass of warm milk before bedtime.
TRUE Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which gets converted into serotonin, a sleep-inducing hormone in the brain. Warm milk can more effectively relax your body and mind. However, avoid liquids right before bedtime if you wake frequently to urinate. Other foods with a lot of tryptophan are cottage cheese, cashews, chicken, turkey, soybeans and tuna.

Eat chicken soup for a common cold.
TRUE There is evidence that chicken soup is more than just comfort food. Recent studies have found chicken soup to have anti-inflammatory properties thought to be linked to the amino acids released from the chicken or possibly from spices commonly added during cooking. In any event, chicken soup can help to thin mucus and ease symptoms of cough and congestion.

To get rid of dark under-eye circles, apply cucumber juice under the eyes with cotton balls.
FALSE Dark circles under they eyes are essentially dead fat. Despite all the cucumber slices you see placed on the eye on TV, the only thing that can help under-eye circles are items containing vitamin K, which can help shrink the blood vessels so they’re not as dark. Cucumbers do not contain vitamin K.

Eat sugary foods before bedtime to help you sleep.
TRUE Eating a light snack about two hours before bedtime can help people who have trouble sleeping. Eating sugar increases blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract and lowers blood flow in the central nervous system, so it can have some sedative effect. However, eating sugar too close to bedtime can cause hyperactivity.

To get rid of dandruff, wash your hair in vinegar or beer.
FALSE A common misconception is that dandruff is caused by dry scalp. Actually, it is the opposite; it is caused by oil production. Products containing sulfur, such as Head & Shoulders shampoo, would help dry out the scalp. Neither vinegar nor beer contains sulfur.

Applying clear nail polish to an itchy bug bite will seal it from the air and stop the itching.
FALSE Things itch because our body releases histamines. So you would need an anti-inflammatory medication such as Cortizone cream, to avoid the itch.

When you’re about to sneeze, look at a light and the sneeze will go away.
FALSE Actually, the opposite is true. Looking into light will bring on a sneeze for some people.
This is known as a photic sneeze and seems to be a reflex present in some people. While the mechanism of this is not well understood, it’s believed to be related to the stimulation of the optic nerve and, subsequently, of the trigeminal nerve fibers triggered by exposure to a bright light.

To ease morning sickness, eat chips.
TRUE Munching on a few chips at the first sign of nausea can help dissipate it. Stick to regular potato chips and stay away from fat-free varieties that contain Olestra, the fat substitute, as it robs the body of important nutrients and is known to cause diarrhea. Note that the saltiness of chips can make you thirsty, so be sure to continue drinking 80 to 100 ounces of water a day to balance it out.

To avoid varicose veins, don’t take a shower after exercising.
FALSE This would not address the underlying causes or known risk factors for varicose veins — such as heredity, prolonged standing, pregnancy, advanced age, obesity or sedentary lifestyle. It can be argued that standing in the hot shower for a prolonged period without moving your legs could be problematic, but most people do move their legs while showering.
In fact exercise may reduce the risk for varicose veins.

To relieve nausea, drink ginger ale or eat anything with ginger.
TRUE Ginger is known for its anti-nausea benefits. It is used in Asian medicine for treating nausea, upset stomach and diarrhea. Ginger ale typically has a small amount of ginger, depending on the formulation. Perhaps the best way to use ginger to relieve nausea is cut a few slices of the fresh root — available in the produce section of any grocery store — drop it into boiling water and drink it as a tea. It is also available in pill and powder forms and in lozenges from your local health food store.

To remove a splinter, pour a drop of Elmer’s Glue over it, let dry and peel the dried glue off.
FALSE The theory is that the dried glue will pull the splinter out. The reality is that it’s more likely that you’ll remove healthy skin and the splinter will remain in place. The same is true of tape applied for the same reason.

For athlete’s foot, spray your shoes with Lysol.
TRUE If you have fungus on your feet, you have fungus in your shoes. Lysol is both antibacterial and antifungal, so it kills the germs and fungus that causes athlete’s foot.

For a sore throat, gargle cayenne pepper and water.
TRUE An ingredient in cayenne pepper, capsaicin, is used topically for pain relief. When applied to the skin or mucous membranes, capsaicin can desensitize the area, offering temporary relief. It is available in a cream, often used for pain associated with shingles, and lozenges, which temporarily relieve mouth sores. Therefore, it makes sense that cayenne could be used in water as a gargle as a remedy for sore throat discomfort. However, be aware that users often experience a stinging and burning feeling initially before the area becomes temporarily desensitized.

To prevent acne, don’t eat chocolate or soda.
FALSE There is no scientific evidence linking ingestion of chocolate or soda to worsening acne symptoms. The only foods currently theorized to worsen acne are non-organic dairy products and possibly seafood — especially shellfish.

To relieve foot odor, rub deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet.
TRUE If it takes care of the perspiration under your arms, why not on your feet? Note that deodorants contain antibacterial agents that can kill bacteria; therefore, they won’t stop the sweat, but they will eliminate the odor that occurs when sweat meets bacteria. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, stop the sweat and smell.

Drink cranberry juice to get rid of a urinary tract infection.
FALSE Cranberry juice has been found to help prevent urinary tract infections, but if you’re already developed one, cranberry will actually irritate it. As for prevention, cranberry juice keeps urine acidic — much like taking oral Vitamin C — and helps keep infection-causing bacteria from forming on your bladder.

To heal a bruise, soak a cotton ball in white vinegar and apply it for one hour.
FALSE It’s said that the vinegar reduces blueness and speeds the healing process, but only time heals a bruise. Simply apply ice to reduce swelling and bleeding, and see your doctor if it gets bigger or the pain gets worse.

Put toothpaste on pimples to make them go away.
FALSE The peroxide in the toothpaste may help dry the pimple, but it’s not recommended that you put toothpaste on your face.