Home remedies date to the beginning of civilization. Who knows how a particular treatment gets its start? Tracking the origins of a home remedy requires the skills of an anthropologist.
The trial-and-error approach is probably responsible for most home remedies over the years. This approach is cumbersome and rather crude, but it was the basis of medicine among the ancient Greeks and Romans. The herbal remedies they used for birth control and digestive problems have been proven amazingly effective.
Nowadays people are rediscovering the value of home remedies. Whether it's the high cost of prescriptions or the appeal of a more natural approach, Americans love simple solutions.
One of their favorites is vinegar. This old remedy was popularized by Dr. D. C. Jarvis in his 1958 best seller, "Folk Medicine: A Vermont Country Doctor's Guide to Good Health." He figured a daily dose of vinegar was good for almost anything that ailed you.
More recently, the vinegar approach was promoted by a retired Alabama farmer, Jack McWilliams. His product, Jogging in a Jug, was a big hit, though the FDA was not particularly enthusiastic.
People have used small doses of vinegar for arthritis, weight loss and cardiovascular problems. Whether vinegar actually works remains unproven, but lots of folks are anxious to try it.
Home remedies for arthritis are ever-popular. Our readers have been particularly interested in the Raisin Remedy. Someone somewhere thought up soaking a box of golden raisins in gin. After the gin evaporates people are supposed to eat nine raisins daily.
There are no scientific studies supporting the Raisin Remedy, but the testimonials just keep pouring in. Betsy in Morehead City, N.C., sent us a thank-you note for getting her "active again and mobile after three agonizing years of pain."
Betsy was previously in a wheelchair and on a walker. She benefited so much from gin-soaked raisins she is now giving them to her 12-year-old collie as well. "My doctor checked me over and was amazed! He could find no swelling or heat in my joints. I'm still on Imuran and prednisone but we are reducing the dose gradually with great success."
Few people benefit as much as Betsy, but the Raisin Remedy seems to have helped many. For more details about raisins, vinegar, baking soda, Crisco, Bag Balm and other home remedies, please send $2 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. R-10, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.
Q: We are being eaten alive by fleas. Our golden retriever is suffering, but even worse, she has brought her fleas in where they are attacking us.
We get her dipped, but we worry about the insecticides. Is there any way to control these fleas without constantly bathing her and spraying the yard?
A: Veterinarians have alerted us to a new product called Program (lufenuron). It is administered to dogs as a monthly pill and appears to have few if any side effects. This medication interferes with insect development and keeps eggs from hatching. Since it is not an insecticide, it won't kill adult fleas. But it should begin to break the tiresome cycle of flea infestation.
Q: My father and my grandmother had Alzheimer's disease and I am terrified I will come down with it. I read in the paper some time ago about a new test the eye doctor can do by dilating the pupil. When I asked my ophthalmologist, he said he wouldn't do it because there wasn't enough information. I am desperate to do the test and would like to know if there is any way I could do it myself. I am 37 years old.
A: The test you are describing involves dilute concentrations of the drug tropicamide, an eye drop used to dilate the pupil. People with Alzheimer's disease appear to be more sensitive to this agent.
This research, still experimental and controversial, has not been widely reproduced yet, and questions remain about whether it is valid for young, healthy people such as yourself. More research will need to be published before we know if this test is useful.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.