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Originally published Sunday, December 22, 2013 at 5:33 AM

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Onions and garlic to ward off the common cold

People’s Pharmacy on home remedies for the common cold; magnesium deficiency and migraines; and cures for hiccups.


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Q: You may be interested in my family’s cold remedy. My mom always used to sauté chopped garlic in olive oil, spoon it up and put a little salt on it. Then she would put it in a cool spoon and give it to my sisters and me when we had just the beginning of the sniffles. They would go away fast. I’m originally from Peru.

A: We appreciate family remedies that have been passed down for generations. Many cultures value garlic and onions for their healing properties.

Readers tell us that onion syrup has been used against coughs for decades. The onion was sliced thinly and cooked slowly with some sweetening and a little liquid. Here is one reader’s story: “My mother prepared onion syrup when I was a child in the 1940s and ’50s, but she used honey instead of sugar.

“On my first trip to India in 1986, I accompanied a local doctor to villages where she was teaching assistants to distinguish between minor ailments that could be treated with local remedies and major problems that needed professional care in the nearest large village. One of the remedies used for minor coughs was an onion syrup sweetened with natural sugar processed from the local sugar-cane fields.”

We like the idea that an onion relative, garlic, also would be helpful against colds. This aromatic bulb has been used against colds, flu, fever and a host of other complaints.

Q: I have had a lot of trouble with headaches. Someone told me that magnesium tablets could relieve headache pain. Is this true?

A: Some research shows that magnesium deficiency is fairly common among people who suffer repeated migraine headaches (Journal of Neural Transmission, May 2012). Correcting a deficiency with magnesium supplements seems to be helpful in preventing them (Expert Review in Neurotherapeutics, March 2009). The evidence that magnesium can relieve acute headache pain, though, is inconclusive (European Journal of Emergency Medicine online, Aug. 5, 2013).

Q: Here is a remedy for hiccups we learned from an Australian friend. Press a penny on the hiccuper’s forehead while the person takes a breath and holds it for 10 to 20 seconds.

Through the years, I’ve tried this remedy about six times, and it’s worked every time.

A: We have not encountered this hiccup cure before, but it could be worth a try. Other simple approaches include swallowing a spoonful of granulated sugar, sucking on a lemon slice sprinkled with a few drops of Angostura bitters, drinking water from the far side of the glass and drinking water while someone stands behind you and presses on your ear flaps (tragus).

One reader reported: “I have been a bartender for almost 30 years. I found the lemon, bitters and sugar (yes, all three) in the mid ’90s and it has worked on every single person but one. That’s a 99 percent cure rate.

“Here’s another: Stand up, bend over and drink a glass of water from the other side. This has about a 75 percent cure rate, but it’s much more fun to watch!”

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website:www.peoplespharmacy.org



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