Dr Andreas Michalsen says there are many remedies you already have at home.
Breaking news: there's a miracle cold medicine that is cheap, has no side effects, and is available in any supermarket. It's more effective than the usual medicines, and cuts a day or two of symptoms off the typical cold – and it's honey, according to research published this week in the British Medical Journal.
You may be surprised to hear that your granny's advice was right all along. But the natural world is full of things we can use to treat ailments and illnesses if we look in the right places. I'm a huge advocate of integrative medicine, the practice of looking at lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise as well as using drugs to treat my patients in the hospital where I work in Berlin.
Natural remedies might not be as potent as conventional medicine, but they also don't have the alarming side effects that come with many man-made drugs. If you're in a medical emergency, then go to the hospital. But if it is something mild bothering you, then turning to your kitchen cabinet might help.
It's no surprise that honey is so good at fighting colds. Bees have evolved to make honey with antimicrobial properties, which keep their hives from being invaded by bacteria and viruses. Eating a spoonful of honey when you have a cold means you can benefit from the antimicrobial effects, too. A small amount can also be effective on wounds to aid healing of small cuts and grazes; there are now several products on the market that suffuse honey into plasters and antiseptic creams.
Peppermint has a relaxant effect on the muscles in the gut. Photo: iStock
This extract, which can be bought in capsules from health food shops, is effective in treating various types of pain. It is officially recommended by the NHS to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as cramps.
It is not entirely clear yet how this works, but it is thought that peppermint has a relaxant effect on the muscles in the gut, which reduces the spasming that feels like cramping. A recent Australian study also found that the menthol in peppermint can make the pain receptors in the gut temporarily less sensitive, which can reduce discomfort.
This numbing effect can also make peppermint useful in treating other pains, including headaches. Using a few drops topically has been shown to have around the same efficacy as paracetamol has for reducing pain from the tension-induced kind.
Curcumin is the active compound of turmeric. Photo: iStock
Several spices contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can help treat a range of conditions. For example, a longtime staple of Indian cooking (and now lattes, at certain hipster establishments), turmeric, contains curcumin.
Chronic low levels of inflammation are linked to a range of health conditions, including arthritis, anxiety and muscle soreness after exercise, so reducing it with molecules such as curcumin can have wide-ranging benefits.
Black pepper increases how much curcumin your body can absorb up to 2000 per cent, according to some studies; high-strength supplements of curcumin with black pepper are available from health shops.
Rosehip has high levels of vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties. Photo: iStock
The fruit of a type of wild rose – now often seen in cocktails – also has anti-inflammatory properties that can treat a range of conditions, as well as high levels of vitamin C. Studies show that people with arthritis who took powdered rosehip reduced their levels of pain significantly compared with a placebo. With drugs, there is usually just one compound at work, but with plants there are several, which makes it difficult to narrow down which is making the difference. Even so, the findings on this show that for many, it can have a pain-reducing effect.
Hibiscus tea may be beneficial in reducing cholesterol. Photo: iStock
Several studies have shown that drinking a few cups of this sour tea every day can reduce high blood pressure. Other smaller studies suggest it may also be beneficial in reducing cholesterol, weight and be protective for the liver. When taking natural remedies in a tea, it's important to take note of the strength of the brew. You will need to drink well-brewed tea, which has steeped perhaps for as long as 10 minutes, to get the full range of beneficial compounds.
Thyme and ivy
This can help to soothe those with bronchitis, according to a 2006 study, which found there was a reduction in coughing fits when people took a mixture of thyme and ivy over a placebo.
However, this is a cure I really do not recommend that you try by yourself at home. Making a thyme tea would be perfectly safe, but certain parts of the ivy plant are poisonous. Pre-mixed oils and tinctures of thyme and ivy are available in pharmacies, and are much safer.
As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde
The Telegraph, London