Popular Home Remedies from your Childhood: Which Ones Work?

“Oil your hair overnight”
“Drink a spoonful of castor oil”
“Put turmeric for brighter skin”

We’ve heard these little tips from our parents and grandparents since childhood, and we believe them to be the word of the gospel without a second thought. After all, these remedies have been passed down from generations, surely they must be faultless, right? While some of these tips are certainly rooted in science and ayurvedic principles of healing, many are actually well-known placebos, even going so far as to be harmful and counterproductive to the body. So put that weird concoction down, and check out these popular home remedies to find out (according to science, of course) which actually work, and which are just a load of nonsense: 

  • Overnight Oiling: Everyone’s experienced a good old-fashioned hot coconut oil scalp massage from their moms. But just how beneficial is it for hair growth? While scalp massages particularly with warm oil are a must for stimulating blood flow to the roots, thereby accelerating hair growth, leaving oil overnight will do little for preventing dryness. In fact, leaving oil in the hair can cause skin issues especially for those who have sensitive or oily skin. 

The solution? Use the right amount of oil for about 20 minutes to an hour and wash immediately afterward. Repeat the ritual twice a week for the best results. Make sure to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet filled with protein to prevent hair loss and damage.  

  • Miscellaneous Herbal Warm Beverages for a Cold/Cough/Flu: We’ve heard it all: mint, honey, lime, turmeric, the works. Sounds like an expensive cocktail, but does it heal a cold? There are several scientific studies to show the healing effects of ginger root in boiling water to ward off a sore throat and alleviate flu-induced nausea. Honey is also a well-known antimicrobial and antibacterial agent. A research study found that giving children 10 grams of honey at bedtime significantly improved their symptoms of cough. Drinking a glass of warm water with honey and lemon can definitely ease a sore throat. Turmeric, peppermint oil, and saltwater are also helpful in small quantities with warm water. So this remedy certainly checks out. 

Please note: Do not feed honey to children less than a year old. Honey naturally contains botulinum spores that cannot be tolerated by a baby’s developing immune system. 

  • Kajal for Eyesight: If you’ve ever seen an infant’s eyes boldened with a dark swipe of kajal, you have this myth to blame. Many Indians believe that wearing kajal can improve eyesight. However, this is not founded in any sort of scientific reality. The fact is that wearing kajal occasionally is fine. However, application of the beloved Indian eyeliner too often may result in chemical irritants infecting the eyes. Some brands even contain lead which in babies can cause severe damage to the brain and bone marrow. 

The solution? Choose natural or organic kajal brands that do not use any chemicals. Better yet, make your own kajal at home using charcoal and oil. Never share your kajal with others as it harbors and spreads infection. Be sure to use it sparingly and not daily. And do not use kajal for babies; there is no evidence to prove that it enhances eyesight. Instead, eat foods rich in vitamin A like carrots, mangoes, pumpkin, and squash. 

  • Fennel Seeds for Constipation: Constipation is caused by a lack of water and fiber in the diet. Fennel seeds are a rich source of natural fiber, which helps in the passing of stool. Having a glass of warm water with fennel or even chewing fennels seeds raw can give your body much-needed fiber, while also relieving gas and indigestion. Hence, this remedy definitely stands the test of time. In addition, it is important to drink plenty of water, get enough exercise, and include lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet to improve bowel movements. 
  • Daith Piercings as a Migraine Cure: Migraines are a common condition, affecting over 10 million people a year in India. It causes severe headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. A common acupuncture remedy suggests that a piercing of the fold just above the entrance to the ear canal can activate a specific pressure point to relieve you of migraines permanently. However, this is nothing but a myth. Aside from purely anecdotal evidence, research has shown that such piercings are simply a placebo effect which causes one to believe that an inactive treatment can produce some benefits solely due to the patient’s psychological belief that it works, and not because it actually does. This prevents science, and hence us, from recommending the procedure. 

The solution? Though there is no known cure for permanently stopping migraines, there are several treatment options available to help ease pain and prevent future attacks. Seek attention from a healthcare professional so you can get the right medications. Try different options under medical supervision until you find the combination that works best for you. 

  • The Ole Spoonful of Castor Oil: We’ve saved the best for last. If you’ve been force-fed this demonic remedy as a child, it might get personal for you. Castor oil is 90% ricinoleic acid, which when swallowed acts as a laxative and a labour inducer. The oil does little else internally for the body. As an external agent, however, castor oil has multiple benefits in terms of moisturization, fungus prevention, and as an anti-inflammatory. It’s also great for the hair and scalp to stimulate hair growth and prevent damage. So we’re mixed on this one; as a topical agent it’s incredibly beneficial but as a swallowed health tonic it is just an outdated remedy.  If you’re looking for helpful health tonics, the best practices are to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, drink enough water, and get enough sleep. 

Elders know best, and we have been taught so many different countermeasures that actually ease our pain and improve our condition without having to make a midnight run to the doctor’s office. However, while not all remedies are complete and utter hogwash, it is important to view every little tip you hear with a slight bit of skepticism. Some tips might just be a waste of your time, but others may actively harm the body. Just because a remedy has been passed down for generations does not mean it’s true, so make sure to do enough research before turning panacea into practice. 

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