You know the routine. At the first sign of a common cold, start pumping fluids and Vitamin C through your system, get as much rest as possible and take cold-relief drugs to ease symptoms. Should that regimen fail, keep taking the drugs. At least they’ll knock you out so you can get the rest that you should.

For a while now, roughly coinciding with the rising interest in natural and organic foods, home remedies have seen an increase in popularity. But when speedy relief is needed, Grandma’s Elixir sometimes gets flung out the window as quickly as it was pulled off the pantry shelf. And the synthetic treatments offered by Big Pharma suddenly seem worthy of a Nobel Prize.

When it comes to common illnesses and maladies, have more and more people lost faith in using pharmaceuticals? Or is the home remedy movement destined to die out?

“You’re the disease, I’m the cure”

There’s a kind of confidence and self-reassurance that comes from knowing how to cure what ails us. Most people have been through enough cycles of minor illness to know which remedies might ease their symptoms. In addition, the breadth and depth of available medical knowledge has exploded in recent years, thanks to sites like WebMD.com. All of this makes it more possible – not to mention more attractive – to use home remedies than to take expensive drugs, especially when pharmaceuticals often come with serious side effects.

For example, an online Mayo Clinic article on natural remedies for high blood pressure patients says, “Lifestyle changes can help you control and prevent high blood pressure — even if you’re taking blood pressure medication.“ The article then goes on to list changes in areas such as diet, exercise and personal habits, all of which can be of help in treatment.

Score one for natural, right?

Not so fast. Just as home remedies can help, they could also hurt. According to a WebMD article, at least five commonly used home remedies “may do more harm than good”:

  • Ear candling – using a cone-shaped piece of wax, lit just inches away from one’s ear, to remove earwax buildup
  • Using whiskey to calm a teething baby
  • Treating skin burns with butter
  • The use of colloidal silver – for anything, health wise
  • Home colon cleansing

All of a sudden, Big Pharma doesn’t look so big and bad anymore. After all, it’s hard to imagine any reputable source saying that a doctor’s treatment, including prescription meds, could actually do more harm than good when it comes to earwax, teething babies, skin burns or colon treatment. And when was the last time your doctor even mentioned colloidal silver, much less wrote you a prescription for some? That’s the challenge with natural treatments—they often don’t have hard science backing up their claims, making their efficacy uncertain.

Common sense choices

The argument can be made that the rise of technology has actually made home and natural remedies more available and relevant to today’s generation, rather than replacing them with high-tech miracle cures, including so-called wonder drugs. Moreover, the wealth of online information suggests that there is current interest among many in finding a natural and/or lifestyle remedy first, as opposed to reflexively running to the doctor for a prescription.

On the other hand, those who need a quick fix or something that packs a stronger punch than chicken soup will invariably seek to avail themselves of pharmaceutical options. Over-the-counter medicines would seem to fall in the middle of the spectrum – used in situations that don’t require a controlled narcotic or antibiotic but that still get to work quickly and efficiently.

Which means that patients are often a bundle of contradictions when it comes to treatment choices.

The result is that Big Pharma and home remedies will continue to duke it out here and there. Instead of a sure winner, it’s likelier, that they’ll remain strange bedfellows for some time to come.

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