7 clinically proven natural remedies

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published July 10, 2019

Key Takeaways

It may be hard to imagine, but in the days before prescription medications, people turned to natural remedies to treat conditions such as infections and toothaches. Currently, about 4 out of 10 adults still turn to alternative therapies and the like, including herbal supplements, to treat what ails them.

Ideally, it’s best for patients to consult with their physicians before trying any natural remedy. In turn, it’s a good idea for physicians to understand which of these remedies actually work.

Let’s take a look at some examples.


Probiotics—live bacterial or yeast cultures—are considered to be strong defenses against “bad” bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile, that can take over your gut. You’ve likely been bombarded with advertisements promoting probiotics in the form of yogurt. But does this stuff help? And is it worth shelling out a small fortune for bulk-sized packages at your local wholesale warehouse?

According to one JAMA review, various mechanisms have been suggested to explain how certain probiotics could exert health benefits—especially with respect to diarrhea. For instance, Saccharomyces boulardii, a strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has been demonstrated to stymie the pathogenicity of bacterial toxins. Furthermore, acetic, lactic, and propionic acid produced by Lactobacillus species could lower intestinal pH and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Clostridium species. Moreover, the presence of Lactobacillus species and other probiotics in the intestines may physically or chemically prevent adhesion and colonization of pathogenic bacteria. Lastly, such probiotics could induce or enhance an immune response.

Not all strains of probiotics help relieve diarrhea, and it remains to be elucidated which specific strains of probiotics are most helpful in treating this unpleasant condition.


Dating back to ancient Greece, peppermint has long been used as an herbal remedy to treat gastrointestinal ailments. Nowadays, peppermint oil and leaves are commonly used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptom relief is likely owed to the menthol found in peppermint, which has an antispasmodic effect on the intestinal smooth muscle. Menthol is also used in various over-the-counter topical products targeting respiratory congestion, headache, and muscle pain.

According to results from a large meta-analysis published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, peppermint oil vs placebo is effective in treating global complaints of IBS, such as abdominal pain. Furthermore, peppermint oil posed no negative side effects. The number of patients needed to treat to avoid one patient from having persistent IBS symptoms was three, with four patients needed to avoid one case of abdominal pain.


In the Middle East, flavoring tea with spices is a common practice—and for good reason. In addition to enriching flavor, spicing tea could yield various metabolic benefits. In an Iranian trial, subjects who incorporated cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, or saffron in their tea for 8 weeks experienced improvements in metabolic biomarkers, such as lipid profiles, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein levels compared with controls. These spices, however, failed to decrease fasting blood sugar, insulin, and HbA1c levels, or body weight.  

Calamine lotion

As a kid, you may recall being painted in pungent calamine lotion for itchy skin ailments like mosquito bites, poison ivy exposure, or chicken pox. Calamine lotion is a mineral mix of zinc and ferric oxide used in lotions, liniments, and ointments to soothe the itching, pain, and discomfort of minor skin irritations.

In a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery involving kids aged 6-15 years who were wearing casts, those who used calamine lotion experienced less itching and fewer skin lesions vs controls. Calamine lotion users were also less sweaty. It seems that mother really does know best. Hooray for the pink stuff!

Chamomile tea

Poor sleep quality is often associated with postpartum women, but chamomile tea may be able to help. According to the results of a Chinese trial, postnatal women who drank chamomile tea for 2 weeks experienced better sleep quality and greater alleviation of symptoms of depression than did controls.


Echinacea is derived from the roots of coneflowers. For some time, experts have been interested in the immune effects of this natural supplement. In a meta-analysis published in Advances in Medicine, echinacea extract was found to decrease the risk of recurrent respiratory infections and complications, such as pneumonia, ear infection, and tonsillitis. Experts hypothesize that echinacea harbors immune modulatory, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects that appear strongest in susceptible individuals. Notably, it seems that echinacea is most effective during bouts of acute illness.

Horse chestnut

Buckeyes, which sports fans may be familiar with, are part of the horse chestnut family. Horse chestnut has been used as a conservative therapy for varicose veins in lieu of compression stockings. According to the authors of a review published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “The evidence presented suggests that [horse chestnut seed extract] is an efficacious and safe short?term treatment for [chronic venous insufficiency]. However, several caveats exist and larger, definitive [randomized, controlled trials] are required to confirm the efficacy of this treatment option.

Although there is some evidence supporting the use of natural remedies to treat certain conditions, overall there are many more examples of such treatments providing no scientifically proven health benefits. For instance, some people believe that cranberries (including juice and supplements) are an effective treatment for urinary tract infections despite the lack of sufficient clinical data—which experts have highlighted. Furthermore, taking clove oil for toothache doesn’t work according to the FDA.

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