Quack remedies such as duct tape to cure verrucas and bathing in oats to cure skin complaints really can work, a panel of doctors has found.
Some sufferers of common complaints have sworn by household cures for years, which also include using the lubricant WD-40 to ease arthritis and drinking breast milk to cure infections.
They had never been put to the test until the Channel 4 programme Health Freaks, broadcast last night, carried out controlled studies on them.
Dr Ellie Cannon, a west London GP, was among the medics who assessed some of the unusual homespun treatments presented to them by advocates of the cures.
She said: “We know people do use duct tape for verrucas and we did see in the trial we did that it improved them for some. In one case the verruca went completely.”
One patient featured on the programme said they had had a verruca for eight years and had been unable to shift it until they used duct tape, which finally cleared it up.
In the trial, some participants used duct tape and some used Elastoplast.
Dr Cannon said further investigation was needed to establish why duct tape was so effective as a remedy, as this remained unclear.
She added: “It’s not what we would call a consistent treatment. It doesn’t work for everyone.
“The three of us on the panel had different theories about why it was working. It might be that the tape is starving the verruca of oxygen, or it might be that the adhesive in the tape is causing an immune reaction.”
Other unusual treatments tested on the programme include breast milk to cure infections and an oat bath for the skin complaint psoriasis.
Breast milk was found to be less effective than one might expect, Dr Cannon said, while oat baths did help a little.
Another homespun remedy, using the lubricant WD-40 to treat arthritis and chest pain, was suggested by two builders but was deemed to be too unsafe to trial.
Dr Cannon said: “One of the things that surprised me was just how widespread the use of some of these remedies is. WD-40 is so widely used on building sites to treat arthritis that the manufacturers have had to put a notice on their website saying it’s not for human use.
“In years gone by the remedy might only be known within a particular family but the internet has made them much more commonly known.
“Another thing that surprised me was how prepared people are to try out remedies that could have dangerous side-effects, like drinking their own urine.”
Other remedies that the doctors were presented with included amber necklaces to cure teething trouble, copper coins to clear up styes, turmeric as an acne cure and leeches to cure deep vein thrombosis.
The doctors concluded that many of the “cures” are a result of the placebo effect, when patients’ bodies heal themselves because the patient is convinced they have been given a miracle remedy.
“Even when people have three doctors telling them their treatment has no medical benefits, once they are in that zone, believing in their remedy, they won’t be persuaded otherwise.”
In the test, all of the people given duct tape found their verrucas shrank by at least one millimetre, whereas none of those who used surgical tape saw any difference at all.
Dr Cannon said: “I’ll certainly suggest to my patients that they give it a try if they aren’t having any success with other treatments.”