Senior Health

6/26/2023 | By Kari Smith

While modern medicine plays an important role in maintaining health and treating disease, some home remedies have a scientific basis for supporting health and comfort.

That’s just an old wives’ tale! Or is it?

Home remedies abound from different generations and cultures. Do they work or are they simply remnants of a time before the marvels of modern medicine? Well, some are more effective than others. Whether it’s because “Grandma said so” or “science said so,” we tend to go with what works. If it helps – and doesn’t hurt – then why not try it? Besides, whether she knew it or not, some of Grandma’s remedies turn out to have scientific support.

Five home remedies with scientific support

1. Gin-soaked raisins for arthritis relief

Have you ever heard of using gin-soaked raisins – or “drunken raisins” – for arthritis relief?

Pour gin over golden raisins in a shallow dish until they are completely covered and let them stand for about a week, stirring occasionally. Once the gin evaporates, put the raisins into a closed container, and eat nine a day.

Does it work?

Some believers report that it may take a month to notice a real difference.

Although this folk remedy has been around for years, it gained extra popularity after Paul Harvey mentioned the idea in 1994. It may sound completely random, but it is not, really. Juniper berries (which are used to flavor gin) contain flavonoids, which reduce cytokines, proteins that regulate inflammatory responses. Juniper also contains aromatic chemicals called terpenes that may have analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties. For these reasons, juniper berries have been used in alternative medicine as a holistic treatment for bronchitis, arthritis, or stomach ailments. Additionally, trace amounts of sulfur, which is used in the drying process of golden raisins, may have anti-inflammatory effects and trigger vasodilation, which is the widening of blood vessels. Given the cost and side effects of some anti-inflammatory medications, it may be worth a try!

Related: 7 more ways to treat arthritis without medication

2. Pickles or mustard for muscle cramps

Have you ever swallowed a gulp of pickle juice or eaten a spoon of yellow mustard for muscle cramps? Perhaps you’ve been involved in an amateur foot race where pickle juice or mustard were handed out along the route.

Many swear that these two foods alleviate or reduce the duration of muscle cramps. This home remedy is established enough that scientific studies have looked into their efficacy, targeting the sodium, potassium, and magnesium content of the two foods. Other studies suggest that the strong flavors trigger nerves in the mouth that send messages to nerves controlling muscles that cause cramps. Although some people believe that it’s the electrolytes, studies show that it may more likely be a reflex in the throat caused the acetic acid.

Either way, when my muscles are gripped by the pain of cramps, I’d be willing to try just about anything!

3. Pectin and grape juice for joint pain

Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can be damaging to the kidneys and liver, in addition to causing indigestion, stomach ulcers, and more. This leaves many people looking for alternative methods of pain relief. “Purple pectin,” which is a mixture of liquid pectin and antioxidant-rich Concord grape juice, has been reported to help with joint pain. Users of this method report mixing 2 teaspoons of liquid pectin in 3 ounces of Concord grape juice and taking this mixture 3 times a day (or all at once, by some accounts).

Please note that dextrose (a sugar derived from corn) is a main ingredient in some brands of pectin, so avoid this remedy if you have a corn allergy, and that some people have reported constipation as a side effect.

This folk remedy has been around for years, but scientific studies haven’t been done to assess its validity.

4. Soy sauce for burn relief

woman with a burn blister, by J Tansirimas, for article on home remedies (including soy sauce for burns)

When treating minor kitchen burns, I usually reach for the aloe plant in my kitchen window. I never knew that some people reach for soy sauce! Applying the salty condiment after a cold-water rinse has been touted for its ability to treat the pain, redness, and blistering of burns – some say even by Army medics in the field. It has also been reported that the low-sodium version does not work as well, and that Liquid Aminos (a soy sauce alternative) works, too, suggesting that the sodium content could be the source of pain relief.

For a severe burn, seek immediate medical attention.

5. Vick’s VapoRub on your feet for a cough

Menthol, a naturally cooling ingredient found in plants such as mint, has been known for over a century to minimize coughs. Natural ingredients camphor and eucalyptus are also found in the pungent but effective Vick’s VapoRub. In some cultures, such as in Mexican homes, Vick’s VapoRub (also known in the Hispanic community as Vivaporú or Vaporú) is believed to be a common answer for all manner of respiratory illness or pain.

Although the rub is intended to be used on the chest and throat, many believe that applying it to the bottoms of the feet is also effective – in several ways. First, it might provide topical treatment of the feet for combating foot fungus and smoothing cracked heels. Some people have found that applying it to the soles of the feet helps ease coughs. Others are skeptical, noting that the aroma effect of the product’s vapors is reduced when used so far from the nose.

VapoRub does not claim to heal or cure illness but to treat side effects. In fact, the rub may not treat congestion but trick your brain into thinking you are breathing more easily by releasing menthol vapors that feel cooling once they hit nasal passages.

Note: do not ever use it on open wounds, directly under the nose, or on children under the age of two.

Home remedies can sometimes ease discomfort and pain without the risks or cost of pharmaceuticals. However, they don’t replace qualified medical care.

Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of your qualified medical professional because of anything you have read on this website.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith