The Best DIY Cures for Everyday Health HasslesBy Brenda Kearns
Massaging pressure points and using oils, herbs and supplements found in health food stores are just a few home remedies that can bring you relief.
1. Tension Headaches
At least 45 million Americans are regularly hit with headaches, say researchers at the National Headache Foundation. Blame cortisol, the "stress hormone" than hampers your body's production of painkilling hormones called endorphins. On top of that, cortisol makes scalp muscles more likely to become inflamed and tight.
Rx: Chamomile essential oil. Massaging this aromatic oil into your temples and neck can shut down a tension headache in as little as 10 minutes, says James F. Balch, M.D., co-author of Prescription for Natural Cures. "Chamomile is rich in salicylic acid, azulene and chlorogenic acid -- plant compounds that soothe overactive nerves, dampen pain and relax tight muscles."
DIY: Mix 12 drops of chamomile essential oil into one ounce of olive oil and massage gently but firmly into your temples and neck until the pain eases. Or make a soothing hair rinse by mixing 10 drops of this essential oil into 16 ounces of water and massaging it into your temples, scalp and neck during your shower.
2. Back Pain
According to researchers at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic, as many as 36 million women are struggling with an achy back right now -- and 90 percent of Americans will be slammed with bad back pain at some point in their life.
Rx: Devil's claw. At least 12 studies have shown that this herb -- which got its odd name from the hook-like points on its fruit -- relieves back pain as effectively as prescription pain relievers, but without the tummy upset or other side effects. In fact, just 2 to 4 grams daily soothes even severe back pain for 75 percent of people within one month -- and it makes chronic pain disappear for at least one in three sufferers. "Credit goes to devil's claw's active ingredient -- harpagoside -- a proven pain reliever and muscle relaxant, plus a surprisingly powerful anti-inflammatory," explains Luke Mortensen, Ph.D., herbal researcher and professor of pharmacology at Des Moines University in Iowa.
3. Digestive Upsets
Nearly 66 percent of women regularly struggle with digestive upsets, with heartburn, bloating and indigestion topping the list, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Rx: Apple cider vinegar. If your tummy's often in an uproar, small daily doses of cider vinegar can improve your digestion in as little as two days, says gastroenterologist Joseph Brasco, M.D., author of Restoring Your Digestive Health. "It's packed with malic and tartaric acids -- powerful digestive aids that speed fat and protein breakdown, so your stomach can empty quickly and effectively."
DIY: Sip one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with eight ounces of water a few minutes before each meal.
4. Food Cravings
Cravings sabotage up to 95 percent of dieters. Even people at their ideal weight find it hard to fend off cravings, say researchers at Yale University. "Food cravings are frustrating, because they can drive you to eat even when your tummy is comfortably full -- or when you're already feeling stuffed and bloated!" says Alan Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.
Rx: Vanilla essential oil. Research from The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation show that smelling vanilla targets the brain's satiety center, shutting down hunger pangs and cravings within two minutes, helping women effortlessly shed up to five pounds monthly. Vanilla works equally well whether it's sniffed from the bottle or massaged into skin and inhaled slowly from there, says Dr. Hirsch.
DIY: Mix 25 drops of vanilla oil into 8 ounces of unscented lotion; massage into your hands and arms whenever cravings flare. You'll craving will be quashed for one hour or more.
5. Menstrual Cramps
As many as eight in 10 women experience period cramps, according to Yale University. And for some they are so severe that painkillers don't relieve the misery.
Rx: Acupressure. Whether you do it yourself -- or visit a trained massage therapist or chiropractor -- acupressure can cut out 50 percent or more of your cramps within five minutes, according to researchers at the University of Alabama Hospitals in Birmingham.
DIY: Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together and your legs relaxed so your knees droop to the ground. Place your thumbs on your arches, wrapping your hands around your feet. Gently press and rub the tender spots on your arches for five minutes. These pressure points stimulate your brain to produce pain-killing endorphins while dilating pelvic blood vessels to improve blood flow and flush out inflammation-triggering hormones, say researchers at University of Miami. The same pressure on your belly would cause more pain, since those tissues are already tender and inflamed.
6. Dry Hair and Dandruff
Harsh weather, hair colors, perms, relaxers and other chemicals can lead to dry, brittle hair. And yeast overgrowths on the scalp can make itchy, flaky dandruff flare. Surveys suggest dry hair and dandruff plague up to 50 million women, but pricey shampoos rarely make a dent in the problem.
Rx: Coconut oil. It's nature's number one source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), a unique group of fats that soak quickly into the scalp and hair follicles. "They give hair body and shine, dampen itchy scalp inflammation and kill off dandruff-causing yeast," says Mary Enig, Ph.D., author of Eat Fat, Lose Fat.
DIY: Massage 2 tablespoons of coconut oil into your hair and scalp, cover with a shower cap for 30 minutes then shampoo well. Repeat once or twice weekly.
7. Brittle Fingernails
Splitting, chipped nails are the blight of millions of women nationwide. The problem even has a name -- onychoschizia -- and it's one of the most common complaints women take to their dermatologists. Nail polish can hide the problem, at least temporarily, but it won't protect against day-to-day abuses, like exposure to water, detergents and chemicals, say UCLA researchers.
Rx: Sulfur supplement. According to research at the Oregon Health Sciences University, adding 2,000 milligrams of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) to their daily diet helped 70 percent of women grow stronger, healthier, more break-resistant nails in as little as two months. This odorless, tasteless form of sulfur is found naturally in many fruits, vegetables and meats, and it's an essential building block of keratin, the protein that makes your nails strong. But here's the snag: MSM is destroyed when food is processed by manufacturers. Adding more whole foods to your diet will help, but the quickest way to see results is by taking an MSM supplement, otherwise it could take months to see results (if not longer).
8. Chronic Stress
Repeated surges of stress -- the sort of thing you feel when your best-laid plans go awry or your to-do list becomes way too long -- can quickly escalate into chronic tension and troubling bouts of anxiety. That's because nonstop stress depletes your brain of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps you stay calm in the midst of chaos, say Stanford University researchers.
Rx: Marjoram essential oil. Inhaling the rich, herbal aroma of marjoram essential oil reduces chronic stress and anxiety within 20 minutes. The reason: Marjoram's aroma soothes the amygdala -- the brain region that triggers fearful thoughts and anxieties -- plus it allows the brain to rebuild its stockpile of GABA by keeping anxiety-triggering stress hormone levels low, say Stanford researchers.
DIY: Keep a vial of essential oil of marjoram handy (it's sometimes called sweet marjoram), and whenever you feel yourself getting anxious, irritable or edgy, take five slow, deep sniffs.
As many as 60 million Americans toss and turn night after night. Regular bouts of sleeplessness can cut your focus, concentration and creativity by 32 percent; weaken your immunity and double your risk of depression, according to a Harvard study. Often the area of the brain that produces melatonin (the sleep hormone) becomes sluggish, making restless nights more likely.
Rx: Natural Sleep Supplements. Take a one-milligram melatonin supplement 30 minutes before lights-out to women drift off more easily. If that doesn't work, try 5-hydroxytryptophan, a.k.a 5-HTP. "Many people don't absorb melatonin very well -- but they can absorb 5-HTP, the basic building block your brain needs to produce its own melatonin," says nutrition researcher Ray Sahelian, M.D., author of Mind Boosters. According to researchers at the University of Bridgeport, taking 100 to 300 milligrams of 5-HTP at bedtime cuts insomnia flare-ups 62 percent or more within six weeks. And doctors at the National Institutes of Health say 5-HTP doesn't just help you drift off the way melatonin does -- it also increases the time you spend in dreaming sleep and deep sleep, the two most crucial and refreshing stages of sleep.
10. Quitting Smoking
At least 45 million Americans smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And despite an arsenal of products available to help, like nicotine patches and even antidepressants, quitting is still really hard.
Rx: Hand massages. According to researchers at Florida's University of Miami, regular two-minute hand massages help women cut down from 16 cigarettes daily to just one a day within four weeks. Those regular mini-massages also improve moods, reduce anxiety and help squash the nicotine cravings that sabotage the effort to quit. "Your hands are covered with pressure receptors that send calming messages to your brain through your central nervous system. Stimulating those nerves can cut cravings by 32 percent, plus increase your production of calming, mood-steadying hormones such as serotonin and dopamine," explains Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute (TRI).
DIY: Start with an all-over hand massage using a firm, kneading motion -- and remember to massage the sides, pads and nail beds of each finger and thumb. Finish by massaging your palms, which are uniquely rich in pressure receptors.
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The Best DIY Cures for Everyday Health HasslesBy Brenda Kearns