By: Brittany Risher
Heading for the kitchen rather than the doctor's office may save time and money, but in some cases, you may only make matters worse. Learn which DIY treatments you should avoid.
The first signs of common ailments such as a cold, headache, or tummy trouble may have you sooner playing doctor rather than going to see one. It's fast, simple, cheap, and kind of fun to fix your own flare ups without the help of a pricey, too busy, and often disengaged doctor who generally has only 13 to 16 minutes for you, according to the new Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2016.
"It's a good thing that people want to take an active role in their health," says Philip Hagen, M.D., vice chair of the division of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic. While a search for "home remedies" may garner more than 21 million results for everything from rubbing your feet with onions and garlic for cold and flu symptoms to countless elixirs using apple cider vinegar to aid digestion, there are certain situations you should leave up to the pros.
"If you feel really horrible, have a fever, or your symptom is the outcome of something traumatic like a car accident, use common sense and go to the doctor," Hagen says. Same goes if you have a diagnosed condition or disease, such as diabetes or cancer. See your physician before you try anything yourself.
Another concern with home remedies is that you may not be treating the correct problem, warns Mott Blair, M.D., a family physician in Wallace, North Carolina, and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "Sometimes, these remedies only treat a symptom that turns into something worse. But if you saw a doctor earlier, this could have been treated and prevented," he says. Also, some strange-sounding remedies may prove unhealthy or potentially dangerous in the long run. Below are a few popular home remedies that doctors would like you to avoid and what to do instead.
- The claim: Gargling with ACV or drinking it mixed with hot water (and often honey) soothes your throat because the acid in the vinegar kills bacteria.
- Why doctors don't buy it: "I'd consider apple cider vinegar to be too strong," Hagen says. "It's a fairly irritating substance, and there are other, gentler approaches."
- A better alternative: Both Hagen and Blair agree that gargling salt water is a smarter, non-irritating solution. Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt in a glass of warm water and gargle with that to alleviate your scratchy throat.
- The claim: The proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries keep bacteria from binding to the walls of the bladder, preventing infection.
- Why doctors don't buy it: A review of 14 studies found little evidence to support that cranberry juice prevents UTIs. Plus, once you start experiencing the symptoms of a UTI--burning, fever, and/or frequent urination--you probably have an infection, Blair says. "If you don't see a doctor to get medication, you risk having the infection travel up into your kidneys, which can lead to a kidney infection."
- A better alternative: Don't wait. See your doctor asap to get antibiotics, Blair says.