Saturday, 13 October 2012

Evidence-based home remedies, please!

By Anna Joseph
Anna is the Communications Officer for the Centre.

I can’t imagine running my kitchen without a steady supply of garlic.
Most people I know in this part of the world would also feel the same way, because of the variety of dishes that it is used in - many meat and fish preparations, curries, chutneys and so on.

That apart, it’s always nice to have it to treat the occasional sore throat as well as for emergencies like when venomous snakes start venturing into your verandah. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, its common practice here to pour water mixed with crushed garlic in places where snakes are not welcome. My mother-in-law sprayed it in her garden, just a few months back, when she was trying to discourage a few cobras that had taken a liking to it.
Did it work? Maybe for a day.
So we like to think.  

A Cochrane review, out two months back, looked at whether garlic reduced the risk of ‘cardiovascular morbidity and mortality’ - basically, whether it protects against heart problems. (

The review concluded that:
“Based on data from two randomized controlled trials that compared garlic to placebo in patients with hypertension, it appears that
garlic may have some blood pressure lowering effect, as compared to placebo but the evidence currently available is insufficient to determine whether garlic provides a therapeutic advantage versus placebo in terms of reducing the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.”

That translates as: (Shrug) Can’t really tell, mate.
(I suppose one can’t expect simple Yeses and Nos from Life)

So, what do I do - when there is no conclusive evidence about my trusted garlic, my healing Neem, my dependable nutmeg and my beloved Tulsi?

Tulsi or Holy Basil

Do I wait till further research has been done?
Do I listen to the wisdom of the ages?
(mothers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, neighbours and loyal friends …)

For the first few years of my marriage, I faced this tension constantly – when my unresearched, scientifically unproven remedies for common ailments were pitted against my husband’s (an allopathic doctor) solutions which had all the requisite credentials. My husband didn’t really have a problem with my remedies per se but not being able to convince him of the absolute efficacy, the beauty, maybe even the Sacredness of so many wonder herbs and home remedies was frustrating for me. And to top it all, they (those science guys like my husband) get away with saying things like “Paracetamol definitely works but we have no idea how”.

Recently, when my daughter had a bad bout of diarrhoea and vomiting, I didn’t know how to treat it till the paediatrician suggested kanji (rice porridge) and curds – no medication. I was disappointed and almost angry at myself for not knowing, for not remembering, for having given up my autonomy in treating me and mine, for learning helplessness. Then, I went home and took charge. Started her on millet porridge, toast and light tea, kanji and curds and small pinches of powdered nutmeg as medicine, an old, tried and tested remedy for an upset stomach. Within no time, she began to improve, slowly and steadily.

However, after a few days, impatient with the pace of recovery - she is only four - and having identified the exact problem, we soon gave her the allopathic medicine for her particular type of loosies. She was ready to go the very next day. I was, of course, happy at her complete recovery but disappointed that it wasn’t My Way.

My Way met with triumph some time later, however, when my help developed a rash all over both arms caused by she-didn’t-know-what. She asked me if I could suggest something and encouraged by her confidence in me, I prescribed the application of curds twice a day on the affected areas, for two or three days. I remembered how, many times during my childhood, after having come into accidental contact with a species of itchy, furry worm common in my garden, I had run at full speed to the kitchen for the soothing remedy. The curds didn’t let me down this time either and my help was grateful for a cure that involved no expenditure of the little money she has.

Now, as you can see, I’m with the “Ask for the evidence” guys - and liking it (though I’ll still swear by nutmeg). I just wish we could have a thousand new studies everyday that would look at all those wonderful remedies that Grandma, who probably learned them from her grandmother, taught us.