Cape Gazette

People's Pharmacy

Conclusive studies of home remedies and cures are rare

By Joe and Teresa Graedon | Jul 26, 2012

When we learn about a home remedy that might help, won't hurt and doesn't cost much, we are usually intrigued. We love to share these simple, safe and inexpensive options, even if there is little scientific evidence to support them.

Once a home remedy has gotten some traction, we'd love to see studies to prove or disprove its usefulness. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

Back in 2004, for example, Dale Pearlman, MD, submitted an article to the journal Pediatrics (Sept. 2004) titled "A Simple Treatment for Head Lice: Dry-On, Suffocation-Based Pediculicide." Dr. Pearlman described two pilot studies of a treatment for lice. It involved soaking the scalp and hair with a cleansing lotion and then blow-drying it. The adherent film that resulted "shrink-wrapped" the hair and suffocated the lice.

Dr. Pearlman reported that "Cure was achieved for 97 percent of the patients in the first trial and 95 percent in the second trial." Many FDA-approved lice shampoos or creams don't achieve such good results.

The brand-name identity of the lotion was not revealed in the first publication. A year later, Dr. Pearlman wrote a letter to the editor of Pediatrics: "I have received more than 250 requests from health care practitioners from the United States and abroad for additional information about this treatment; however, no pharmaceutical company, university, or health care entity has stepped forward to perform such studies. I now have realized that practitioners who want independent information will need to try out the treatment themselves." He revealed that the lotion was the skin cleanser Cetaphil, off the drugstore shelf.

We are as disappointed as Dr. Pearlman that no definitive studies have been carried out over the subsequent years. We're not surprised, though, that researchers are reluctant to put effort into studying unconventional treatments. It is probably not a good way to further a career.

Many health professionals scoff at the idea that a bar of soap under the bottom sheet might lessen the likelihood of experiencing nighttime leg cramps. Most would not believe this unless there were data from a study or perhaps a compelling theory.

Occasionally there is a plausible explanation for a remedy. Many readers find that putting a cut onion on an insect sting takes the pain away promptly. We haven't seen a clinical trial on this remedy, but Eric Block, PhD, told us more than 20 years ago that there is scientific support for this approach. Dr. Block, a leading expert on onion chemistry, says that an enzyme in onions breaks down the prostaglandins that cause pain and swelling in response to a sting.

We cheer when we learn that a home remedy has actually been tested. Not long ago, the U.S. Air Force 375th Medical Group conducted a pilot study on Vicks VapoRub for nail fungus (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb, 2011). The investigators concluded that this old-fashioned ointment works pretty well.

We certainly wish that more remedies were subjected to scientific scrutiny. But since that seems rare, we urge readers to use their own common sense and good judgment in choosing a treatment for a common problem.

There are hundreds on or in our book, “The People's Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.” If one works, please let us know.

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