To cure psoriasis, soak in a bath of porridge. Feel a stye coming on? Try rubbing your eyelid with a two-penny piece. And for those suffering from acne, apply a dab of turmeric to the affected area.
These are not Victorian quack remedies, but examples of actual home cures being tried by ordinary British consumers in the 21st century. And, worryingly, some of them actually work.
They have come to light thanks to the Channel 4 series Health Freaks, which started earlier this week – a sort of Dragons’ Den meets theEmbarrassing Bodies, whereby members of the public pitch their loopy medical tips to three doctors, who put them to the test.
The broadcaster is claiming the show has the potential to uncover a miracle cure and save the NHS a huge pot of money. This is clearly a load of nonsense, but it makes for entertaining television, and is a useful reminder that behind every old wives’ tale, there is a tiny pipette of truth.
For instance, the old adage that you should chew on some ginger to cure travel sickness is grounded in scientific reality. As long ago as 1982, a study found that ginger was superior to dimenhydrinate, a commonly used motion-sickness drug, for reducing nausea. Chewing on parsley really does help bad breath because it contains chlorophyll, a little-known breath deodoriser. Mashed brown apples may well be able to stop diarrhoea, thanks to the pectin found in the fruit, which can absorb water from the intestines.
But possibly the strangest remedy is the use of duct tape to cure verrucas. It sounds as preposterous as applying hot glass cups to your skin to draw out harmful “humours” – something from the era of mad king George III that bizarrely has returned to favour in Hollywood. It is thought that Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston are fans of cupping. I await the return of leeches.
But back to the duct tape. One patient featured on Monday night’s programme said he had had a verruca for eight years and been unable to shift it until he stuck duct tape over the offending area. Hey presto! It disappeared.
Dr Ellie Cannon, a London GP who is one of the programme’s judges, said none of the panel could agree as to why it worked, but all agreed that it appeared to do so. One theory is that the duct tape starves the verruca of oxygen. She says: “I know of a few doctors who have started recommending it to patients.”
Many in the medical profession are supportive of consumers raiding their garden or kitchen for home cures – as long as they vaguely know what they are doing. Dr Stephen Amiel, the editor of The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, has said: “I think we are all a little too drug-hungry, and expect to get a pill for every ill – something doctors are partly responsible for. A lot of the old, sensible remedies can be just as effective, cheaper and often have no side-effects.”
Dr Cannon says her surgery is regularly clogged up by patients with minor coughs and aches that should be “home-cured”, rather than treated with a prescription.
One thing is certain. In an age when the bizarrest medical condition generates thousands of words of in-depth discussion on the internet, there will always be someone willing to experiment with a home cure – even if it does involve the tool box, rather than the medicine cabinet.
‘Health Freaks’ is on Channel 4, Mondays at 8.30pm