Ease pesky health issues with vodka, pencils and more.
Of course there are some health staples you should never be without—bandages or OTC pain relievers come to mind. But you can treat or cure a surprising number of minor ailments with these unexpected household objects and foods.
Next time you burn your tongue on piping hot pizza or come down with an unshakeable case of hiccups, keep these tips from The Big Doctors Book of Home Remedies in mind:
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Home cure: Vodka
Use it for: Foot odor
If your feet smell less than swell, wipe them down with a vodka-soaked washcloth to get rid of the stench. It’s the same principle as rubbing alcohol (which works equally well if you’d rather drink your Grey Goose). Vodka contains alcohol, which is antiseptic and drying, so it destroys odor-causing fungus and bacteria and dries out the moisture that lets these organisms grow.
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Home cure: Pencil
Use it for: Headaches
When you’re stressed or anxious, you subconsciously clench your jaw and teeth; this strains the muscle that connects your jaw to your temples and can trigger a tension headache. A solution: “Put a pencil between your teeth but don’t bite,” says Fred Sheftell, M.D., director of the New England Center for Headache in Stamford, Conn. You automatically relax your jaw muscle to do this, which can prevent the pain.
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Home cure: Yogurt
Use it for: Bad breath
Preliminary research shows that the live bacteria in yogurt can suppress levels of bad breath–causing bacteria. “Good” bugs in yogurt may crowd out the “bad” stink-causing bacteria or create an unhealthy environment for it, says John C. Moon, DDS, a cosmetic and general dentist in Half Moon Bay, Calif.
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Home cure: Listerine
Use it for: Blisters
The classic breath freshener—and powerful antiseptic—can also do a number on blisters. Moisten a cotton ball with Listerine and dab it on your blister three times a day until the area dries out and no longer hurts, says Janet Maccaro, Ph.D., CNC, a holistic nutritionist and certified nutrition consultant in Scottsdale, Ariz.
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Home cure: Tennis ball
Use it for: Achy feet
For an easy, free mini massage that stretches and soothes your arches, slip off your shoes and roll each foot over a tennis ball, golf ball or soup can for a minute or two. To cool throbbing feet, roll them over a bottle of frozen water.
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Home cure: Sugar
Use it for: Hiccups
A teaspoon of sugar swallowed dry can stop hiccups in minutes, says Andre Dubois, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine in the emerging infectious diseases graduate program at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. The sugar is believed to modify the nerve muscles that would otherwise tell the muscles in the diaphragm to contract spasmodically and contribute to hiccups.
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Home cure: Olives or lemons
Use it for: Motion sickness
Motion sickness causes you to produce excess saliva, which can make you nauseated, some doctors say. Compounds in olives called tannins dry out your mouth and can help soothe the queasies. Pop a couple at the first hint of nausea; sucking on a lemon can also do the trick.
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Home cure: Vegetable oil
Use it for: Brittle nails
In order to really fix dry nails, you have to address the problem of too little moisture. In addition to using hand lotion regularly, try this nighttime treatment from dermatologist Dee Anna Glaser, M.D.: Before you go to bed, apply vegetable oil to your hands, then put on vinyl gloves or wrap your hands in plastic wrap to keep the oil off your bedding. The hand coverings force the oil to penetrate your skin, preventing your hands and nails from getting too dry.
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Home cure: Peppermint or cinnamon gum
Use it for: The stress of a traffic-packed commute
In a NASA-funded study, scientists from Wheeling Jesuit University monitored the responses of 25 college students during simulated driving scenarios. The volunteers reported that peppermint lowered their feelings of fatigue or anxiety by 20 percent. Peppermint and cinnamon each decreased frustration by 25 percent, increased alertness by 30 percent and made the ride seem 30 percent shorter. Not a gum or candy person? Buy peppermint or cinnamon aromatherapy diffusers for the car.
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Home cure: Apple
Use it for: Whiter teeth
Crunchy fruits and vegetables act as little toothbrushes when you chew them; they have a natural cleansing action that works on tooth enamel to remove stains. In particular, “apples have a gentle malic acid that also helps dissolve stains,” says Jennifer Jabow, DDS, of Park 56 Dental in New York City.