Breaking news: there’s a miracle cold medicine which is cheap, has no side effects, and is available in any supermarket. It’s more effective than the usual medicines, and cuts a day or two of symptoms off the typical cold - and it’s honey, according to research published recently in the British Medical Journal.

You may be surprised to hear that your granny’s advice was right all along. But the natural world is full of things we can use to treat ailments and illnesses if we look in the right places. I’m a huge advocate of integrative medicine, the practice of looking at lifestyle factors like diet and exercise as well as using drugs to treat my patients in the hospital where I work in Berlin.

Natural remedies might not be as potent as conventional medicine, but they also don’t have the alarming side effects that come with many man-made drugs. If you’re in a medical emergency, then go to the hospital. But if it is something mild bothering you - a headache, stomach cramps or a cough - then turning to your kitchen cabinet might help.

Honey

A small amount of honey can be effective on small cuts and grazes
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It’s no surprise that honey is so good at fighting colds. Bees have evolved to make honey with antimicrobial properties, which keep their hives from being invaded by bacteria and viruses. Eating a spoonful of honey when you have a cold means you can benefit from the antimicrobial effects, too. A small amount can also be effective on wounds to aid healing of small cuts and grazes; there are now several products on the market which suffuse honey into plasters and antiseptic creams.

Peppermint oil

This extract, which can be bought in capsules from health food shops, is effective in treating various types of pain. It is officially recommended by the NHS to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as cramps.

It is not entirely clear yet how this works, but it is thought that peppermint has a relaxant effect on the muscles in the gut, which reduces the spasming that feels like cramping. A recent Australian study also found that the menthol in peppermint can make the pain receptors in the gut temporarily less sensitive, which can reduce discomfort.

This numbing effect can also make peppermint useful in treating other pains, including headaches. Using a few drops topically has been shown to have around the same efficacy as paracetamol has for reducing pain from the tension-induced kind.

Turmeric

A longtime staple of Indian cooking, turmeric contains curcumin, which is as potent as some anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the side effects
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Several spices contain anti-inflammatory compounds which can help treat a range of conditions. A longtime staple of Indian cooking (and now lattes, at certain hipster establishments) turmeric contains curcumin, which is as potent as some anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the side effects.

Chronic low levels of inflammation are linked to a range of health conditions, including arthritis, anxiety and muscle soreness after exercise, so reducing it with molecules like curcumin can have wide-ranging benefits.

Black pepper increases how much curcumin your body can absorb up to 2,000 per cent, according to some studies.

Hibiscus tea

When taking natural remedies in a tea, it’s important to take note of the strength of the brew
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Several studies have shown that drinking a few cups of this sour tea every day can reduce high blood pressure, and often has a significant enough effect to bring it into a normal range. Other smaller studies suggest it may also be beneficial in reducing cholesterol, weight and be protective for the liver. When taking natural remedies in a tea, it’s important to take note of the strength of the brew. You will need to drink well-brewed tea, which has steeped perhaps for as long as 10 minutes, to get the full range of beneficial compounds.

As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde/The Daily Telegraph

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