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Natural Remedies Debunked: At-Home Ways to Make Yourself Feel Better

Although ye olde days of leaching, bloodletting and forced medicinal purging have tainted our appreciation for natural remedies, many DIY home cures still have a lot of merit—especially in college. After going to classes, facilitating extracurricular group meetings, playing on an intramural team and meeting with professors, you just might be able to carve out enough time in the day to make a trip to the health center on campus. It’s far likelier, however, that you’ll try to deal with being sick on your own before you decide to make a two-hour appointment with a campus MD, just to get a prescription for Sudafed PE.

Her Campus has sorted through many of the rumors out there concerning the best ways to get better fast, and we’ve picked out some of the best at-home remedies that you can pick up in your local area or at school before you spend hours sitting around in campus health services. We’ve also enlisted the help of nutrition expert, Connie Diekman, Director of Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and past President of the American Dietetic Association, to sort what’s fact from what’s fiction.
Garlic
For fending off vampires and colds
Since few odors linger like the heavy, pungent smell of garlic, lots of people avoid Everything bagels and bialys like the plague before going to meetings or on hot dates. But if you start feeling a bit under the weather and don’t want to reach for the antibiotics just yet, try eating a small amount of raw garlic. According to Merisenda Bills, a Her Campus correspondent from the University of Southern California, the smooth white bulb keeps the undead as well as the common cold at bay. “My mom said whenever I feel like I’m getting sick to eat a whole clove of garlic. It sounds crazy but it’s worked!”
 
Connie’s take:
“All plant foods contain a variety of phytonutrients which may provide health benefits, one such example is the phytonutrients in garlic. Preliminary research indicates garlic might help with immune function but more studies are needed. Consuming garlic isn’t going to hurt anyone so doing this is fine, but it may not be the sole reason for fighting off illness.”
 
Verdict:
Bottoms up! While garlic isn’t a cure-all, it may help you stave off sickness when taken in conjunction with traditional over-the-counter medication.
 
Chamomile tea
The iced tea eye-rinse for bloodshot eyes

Here’s a little-known fact: college students love to hate pulling all-nighters. Staying up all night to finish a term paper and missing sleep over an Orgo exam are excruciating occurrences, but students who are forced to stay awake often wear their delirium like a badge of honor.  “I haven’t slept in 31 hours!,” one student might say, while another boasts that she’s seen the sun rise three days in a row. But even if you’re someone who totes the bags under her eyes with pride, burning retinas aren’t as easy to ignore. Merisenda from USC also suggests that sleepy students try a chamomile tea eye-rinse to soothe red, irritated eyes. “Whenever I have sore, red eyes, I rinse [them] with chamomile tea,” she says. “I make the tea and wait for it to get cold. Then I put some in a shot glass, put it over my eye, and throw my head back. I do this a few times.” Merisenda notes that the process can get messy, but if you have an eyedropper (or a friend with a steady hand) you might have a better time avoiding spillage.
 
Connie’s take:
Connie reveals that chamomile can actually act as an inflammatory agent, and a study published by the NIH National Library of Medicine shows that the soothing herb has anti-inflammatory benefits
 
Verdict:
As LMFAO so wisely ordered, “Shots!” Of chamomile tea, that is…
 
Gypsy cold tea
The herbal anti-congestant brew
One of the best accessories to have on campus when the weather gets cold is a hot beverage thermos. Carrying a mug or reusable container keeps you from wasting loads of cups from the campus café, and also allows you to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated right in class. Wannabe tea-drinkers who have a hard time choosing from all the peppermints, chais, lemon and herbal blends on the market might want to try Gypsy Cold Care herbal tea. Daylina Miller, an HC correspondent from the University of South Florida admits that the drink tastes “like really watered-down hot tea and isn’t the most pleasant to drink, but [that] you feel the difference in your sinuses right away.” Gypsy Cold Care’s mix of organic elder flower, yarrow flower and organic peppermint and hyssop leaves may sound a little more New Age-y than you’re used to, but the drink also sounds like a great alternative to the Airborne in your campus bookstore.
 
Connie’s take:
According to Connie, “elder flower and peppermint are reported to help fight congestion.”
 
Verdict:
Embrace your inner tea guru. Gypsy Cold Care might sound like a mix of rubbish, but it actually has enough substance to make the incurable common cold a little more bearable.
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Popcorn & Gatorade
The junk food pick-me-up that prevents fainting

If you’re tired of hearing that eating habits in college contribute to getting sick or being out of shape (even though it’s probably true…), this remedy is for you. To fight low blood pressure and faintness, which can result from not eating often enough, some collegiettes™ specifically eat popcorn and drink Gatorade. The rationale is that the sodium in salty popcorn helps elevate your blood pressure while trace amounts of sodium in Gatorade also prevent fainting, all while staying hydrated. When I was sick with the flu a doctor on campus recommended that I drink tons of Gatorade. Although I was completely sick of the sports drink by my second day of seclusion, I also started feeling a lot more clearheaded and alert. However, Connie Diekman attests that this might just be wishful.
 
Connie’s take:
“There is no scientific evidence to support this [regimen]. Gatorade, like other recovery beverages, does provide sodium and potassium which could help rebalance fluids (thus impacting blood pressure) but evidence to indicate more than that is lacking.”
 
Verdict:
Take it or leave it. Although the supposed abundance of electrolytes in Gatorade kept me from getting dehydrated (or so I like to think), there’s little proof that popcorn and Gatorade are any more effective than smelling salts.
 
Salt & Vinegar
A salty-sour combo that helps clear the throat
One of the most annoying side effects of a cold is a sore throat. Even if you’re sick enough to stay in bed for a day or two and wallow, talking to family and friends on the phone isn’t worth it when it feels like nails are running down your throat. You might even find yourself alone in your dorm room getting stir-crazy and wanting to go to your 9AM lecture, just to speak to someone else. Nicole Lumbreras, an HC Campus Correspondent from the University of Iowa, also gets “crazy” when she starts to get sick. “If it’s a sore throat I gargle with warm salt water every hour and I take a hot shower and sit there,” she says. “I swear by it. The warm salt water is gross, but it works every time.” Warming up a glass of water and mixing it with salt is a good first start, but I also recommend adding at least two teaspoons of vinegar. It tastes awful, but as long as you gargle every few hours (without swallowing) the momentary unpleasantness is worth the small comfort of talking with ease.
 
Connie’s take:
“Salt water can moisten the membranes helping to relieve the pain,” she explains. “But it doesn’t eliminate the pain—it simply makes it feel better.”
 
Verdict:
Gargle away. Don’t expect the salty solution to permanently get rid of your sore throat, but do feel free to ease your discomfort by mixing a batch every hour or so.
 
Lemon & Lime
A citrus cleanse that improves digestion

Sometimes natural remedies aren’t only good for overblown illnesses but are also just nice to add to a meal, especially if you haven’t been eating as well as you might like. If those late college nights filled with pizza, coffee and sweets are starting to make you feel sluggish and preventing you from concentrating, try to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. “Something I like to keep in mind when I’m not feeling so great is my diet,” says Melanie Yates, an HC Digital Media Associate from Hofstra. “As much as I might want comfort food, I try going for meals with simple, fresher ingredients. I avoid anything deep fried and/or covered in cheese because I usually feel even worse after I eat it.” Melanie also squeezes lemon and lime into her beverages, which she claims is a simple trick with “wonderful health benefits, such as keeping skin clear and aiding digestion.”
 
Connie’s take:
“Maintaining an adequate intake of protein keeps the immune system healthy while fruits, vegetables and whole grains keep [your body’s level of] vitamins and minerals adequate.”
 
Verdict:
Eat up. Whether you’re sick or not, eating well will help you feel like your best self. One way of knowing if you’ve covered multiple food groups is to see how colorful your meals are: chances are that if you’ve got enough reds, greens and yellows on your plate that you’re on the right track.
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Ginger & Honey
Just a spoonful of each helps your temperature stay down
Ginger, like garlic, has a very strong flavor. I usually stick to gingersnaps and mildly spicy Thai food, myself. However, Annie Yang, a Her Campus intern from Harvard University, is quick to argue that ginger can be taken with honey to offset the slightly harsh taste of the root. “In Chinese culture, root ginger is often used as a home remedy and it is usually incorporated into a dish,” Annie says. “For example, whenever I get a cold I add slices of ginger into my chicken noodle soup. Also, Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa is a traditional Chinese medicine cough syrup that is made with honey and loquat. It really helps soothe the throat [and is] better than cough drops in my opinion.”
 
Verdict:
Soup’s up! Spice up your usual chicken soup with some shredded ginger and then snuggle up in bed after taking a teaspoon of Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa. You may not be able to buy a bottle of this home remedy at the local pharmacy near campus, but scout around online or ask your friends if they know where to find it. The infusion of honey in this cough syrup sounds better than any dose of Robitussin, any day.
 
Fresh Oranges
The real fruit that keeps the doctor away

Vitamin C is probably the go-to nutrient for anyone who has ever been bedridden. It comes in so many forms (pill, soda and, oh yeah, fruit) that it might even be the first thing you think of when you catch the sniffles—it certainly is for Cat Combs, Campus Correspondent from Tulane. “Every time I start feeling sick I preemptively start drinking large amounts of orange juice and eating better foods to boost my immune system,” Cat divulges. But is OJ enough?
 
Connie’s take:
“Research shows that vitamin C does not prevent colds but can shorten the duration of the cold,” says the nutritionist. “However, most studies indicate food sources are better than supplements.”
 
Verdict:
Start comparing apples and oranges. As Connie says, oranges won’t hold off an inevitable sickness but they can make sure it doesn’t hang around like an unwanted third roommate. Even though fresh fruit is sometimes hard to find on campus, don’t assume that Hall’s Vitamin C cough drops or orange-flavored tea will cut it. Fresh is always best.
 
Taking a Breather
Some good old R&R to help you get through your day
Getting some sleep. Taking a nap. Catching your breath. I know that I’ll wind up on the receiving end of myriad blank cyber-stares by telling Her Campus readers to take a breather when they’re feeling overwhelmed, but I’ll go for it anyway. Readers: try to get some rest! I often get sick when I’m sleep-deprived and stressed, and I know that I’m not an exception. If you don’t believe me, take Melanie Yates’s word for it. The HC staffer is not only a fan of lemon and lime, but also of R&R. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to never have [gotten] that sick at school, but whenever I’m feeling under the weather due to stress, the quickest remedy I can think of is laying flat on my back and breathing deeply,” says Melanie. “Taking five to ten minutes to just clear your mind and breathe calms the body right down and allows you to get right back to work without feeling overwhelmed. If you have around 15-30 minutes to spare, listen to a guided meditation podcast on iTunes (most of them are free!) and you will feel wonderful afterwards.”
 
Verdict:
Sometimes the best pill is a chill pill. Before you pump yourself up with medicine try to catch up with yourself, take inventory of yourself and your surroundings, and breathe.
 
Holding Off On the Alcohol
I don’t know of any myths that suggest that drinking alcohol will keep you from getting sick, but I’m willing to be surprised. In the meantime, Connie has a bit of advice for students who are curious about how having a few drinks will affect them when they’re feeling under the weather.
 
“[Since] alcohol is a diuretic, when [you’re] fighting a fever or dealing with nausea dehydration there is a risk that [your condition] can be aggravated with alcohol intake,” she says plainly. “If people are dealing with colds, alcohol can interact with cold medications and further dry out the respiratory tract and increase the risk for infection. If someone chooses to drink alcohol while sick they should consume plenty of water at the same time.”
 
Verdict:
Use your judgment. In an ideal world, sick college students won’t play drinking games and risk their health—or more importantly, risk giving the entire student body mono or H1N1. But until that germ-free utopia comes, play it safe if you decide to drink when you’re sick. Stay hydrated (with water!), and try to get some rest.
 
Some people might argue that a trip to the doctor is all that anyone needs to do to get back in fighting form (and if you’re struggling with a sickness that can’t be cured with hot tea and bed rest, please go to student health services). Nonetheless, many of these home remedies are worth trying, as are old favorites like being hygienic and eating well. Connie’s final bit of advice is to wash hands routinely, keep intake of fruits and vegetables high, and consume plenty of fluids. “The most important step is a healthy diet all the time so that body stores are adequate to fight infection,” she says. “[And when you are sick] keep fluids high and focus on smaller meals, more often to make eating easier.” Being well-versed in at-home cures will save you a lot of time and money, and more importantly you’ll feel pretty good about the fact that you can take care of yourself.
 
Sources
Members of the Her Campus Team
Connie Diekman, the Director of Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, past President of the American Dietetic Association, and author of The Everything Mediterranean Diet Book
Chamomile: an anti-inflammatory agent inhibits inducible nitric oxide synthase expression by blocking RelA/p65 activity.
Images
http://www.alternativemedicineaz.com/

Judith is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis with a double major in English and Spanish and a minor in Creative Writing. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Spires, a literary magazine on the WashU campus, and a former features intern for Seventeen and Marie Claire. A proud nerd whose greatest joys include LexisNexis and thesaurus.com, Judith can usually be found looking for new music or espousing the wonders of Twitter, Harry Potter, and late 16th century English Literature to anyone willing to listen. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Judith plans to explore as much of St. Louis as she can in her final year of college--even without a car (or a learner's permit...).
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