Home remedies that may be worth a try

Beverly Merz

Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Harvard Medical School embraces evidence-based medicine — treatments that have been shown to be effective through high-quality studies called randomized controlled clinical trials. So it’s always a little surprising when a Harvard doctor proposes a home remedy, as Dr. James P. Ioli did in an interview about toenail fungus. Dr. Ioli, who is chief of the podiatry service at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, suggested that daily applications of Vicks VapoRub might be at least as effective as most of the topical treatments for toenail fungus that are available by prescription or over the counter.

Toenail fungus is representative of the type of condition that may benefit from home remedies. It isn’t usually serious and there are no sure cures for it that don’t have significant side effects. Vicks is also representative of the type of home remedy that isn’t likely to be harmful — a product we know well and have used safely for other purposes.

Why try home remedies?

Home remedies are inexpensive. Even though prescription drugs and over-the-counter products may be available for some conditions, home remedies may also be effective at a fraction of the cost. For example, the retail price of a year’s supply of the medication for toenail fungus called efinaconazole (Jublia) is several thousand dollars, compared with $24 for Vicks VapoRub.

Home remedies are also readily available when you need them. You may already have them in your kitchen cabinet or on your bathroom shelves. If not, they’re likely to be as close as the nearest supermarket.

The evidence supporting some home remedies

Hundreds of testimonials for a home remedy on the Internet may provide some assurance that it may help and probably won’t hurt you, but evidence from a well-conducted scientific study is far preferable. For example, a small study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Physicians in 2011 demonstrated that Vicks can help eliminate toenail fungus. In that report, 15 of 18 volunteers with fungus-infected toenails had significant improvements, and five had complete eradications of the fungus, after daily applications of Vicks for a year. Even the venerable cold therapy chicken soup has undergone scientific scrutiny. A clinical study published in Chest in 1978 demonstrated that drinking chicken soup increased the flow of nasal mucus significantly more than drinking either hot or cold water.

The remedies listed below have been tested in clinical studies that have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

What it is
What it can be used to treat
How used
Comparable medical treatment
Cost per use
Chicken soup Nasal congestion Drink steaming hot soup Vaporizers, oral decongestants $.50 to $1.50 per serving High sodium content
Duct tape Warts Cover wart with tape. Every few days, remove tape, soak foot, sand wart with emery board, and replace tape. Lasers, cauterization, acid therapy Less than $.01 Skin irritation
Pickle juice Muscle cramps Drink one ounce Calcium channel blockers About $.19 High sodium content
Vicks VapoRub Toenail fungus Cover surface of affected nail Oral and topical fungicides $.06 per day None identified

A few cautions

Seemingly benign home remedies can have dangerous side effects. For example, baking soda dissolved in water, once recommended for relieving indigestion, has sent hundreds of people to the emergency room with electrolyte imbalances. If you’re taking any home remedy for an extended period, you may want to check with your doctor to see if there are any risks involved.


  1. Joe

    Vicks works for my fingernail problem. But you have to keep at it forever. If you stop using the Vicks, the nail becomes disfigured again.

  2. Fasiha

    Hello all! By chance see this information. I m a newly diabetic. My fasting sugar is not under control. Doing excercise but try to eat less. Back of my head buzzes when lying down. Pl suggest.
    And I m taking metformin.

  3. Kadie

    I make my own bread using soy powered milk, whole wheat and all-purpose flour, raisins, prunes, one slice of cheddar cheese, one table spoon oil. Also grenoala and other grains. Is that too much starch. Should I avoid bread completely.

  4. R. P. Arora

    Use cinnamon, turmeric and ginger. Boil these in 300 ml water on slow flame till it reduces to 150 ml and drink it in morning empty stomach. See the results after 15 days.

    • Rashid Salim

      The quantity of water is clearly defined, could you please specify the quantity of cinnamon, turmeric and ginger too.
      Thank you

  5. Joan C

    A few years ago, I started eating turmeric spice with food and discovered that my toenail fungus completely disappeared and never returned.

  6. L.A.

    I have a chronic fingernail fungus. Does Vicks work to cure that?

  7. Priyal Perera

    Toenail Fungus.

    I have used a nail file to gently grind down the affected area of the nail and applied olive oil. (actually I intended to use coconut oil because of its anti fungal properties, but didn’t have it at home).
    I applied olive oil every morning and within a month it was gone. You could see changes within a week. At least for me it has worked!

  8. A McCall

    Vicks also helps with nighttime coughing from congestion. Rub it on the bottom of your feet, put on a pair of socks and go to sleep.

  9. Pat niego

    Can you put the Vicks for toenail fungus
    over nail polish?

  10. alxzba

    correction to typo: go to Peoples Pharmacy (www.peoplespharmacy.com) and check out their books and newsletters — home remedies — you will find many answers to related problems — much less costs than Harvard and more information.

  11. Connie Wallace

    Does Vicks actually work on deep toenail fungus under the entire nail? How long would it take for it to work??

  12. Julie

    Has anyone tried fresh ginger and turmeric tea to help with arthritis or joint soreness from inflammation? It helps me with joint soreness, though I have no idea how or why. The taste is not necessarily great, but I rather like it.

  13. Michael Senio

    Another great Home treatment….for sore throat, gargle with warm water and salt….1 teaspoon of iodized salt per 8 ounces of warm water. Tip your head back, fill your mouth with the warm water/salt solution and gargle . Your throat will feel better immediately. This treatment only treats the pain of a sore throat,….it probably does not heal anything, and is not a substitute for medication, but you feel better about the sore throat.

  14. john koroloff

    What about the PubMed article(s) on the synergistic effect of Berberine and d-limonene, both natural products, on several lines of cancer, GERD and AMPK up-regulation. Also recent research demonstrating that besides of how much (calories) and what (proteins, carbos, fats) the results of intermittent fasting, exercise and a whole plant based diet on the beneficial AMPK (catabolic) up-regulation and reciprocal mTOR (anabolic) where down-regulation increases autophagy, fat oxidation, insulin sensivity, etc.

  15. Denice loritsch

    I used Vicks Vaporub on my head for sinus headache and the pain was gone.

  16. Jane Murphy

    Vicks is also good for taking the itch out of chigger bites. Maybe it works on mosquito bites as well, I’ve never tried it for them.

  17. Carol M Henderson

    I have been using Vick’s Vaporub for years for nail fungus, and it has always worked. I learned about it from the NPR radio program People’s Pharmacy.

  18. john manners

    I had diabetes for 10 years using 40 units of insulin every day !
    I ordered the booklet “Smart Blood Sugar”by Dr Marlene Merritt, and stopped eating all “starch” foods. Today no longer on insulin also stopped my BP medication … takes a lot of will power but the results are great … at 87 I bought myself a new lease on life…
    Why did I not get this information before ? Why does Harvard Health and the other heal letters not pass on this information ?

    Diabetes is starch and sugar in everyday foods … not milk and cheese and bacon which I was deprived off for 10 years because of misinformations from the medical authorities !

    • sergio m


      Saw ur post about diabetes. Did u really reverse ur diabetes and get off of insulin by changing ur diet with the suggestions from the book? I am actually pre-diabetic with my glucose hovering just over 100 but less than 110 for the past year. I can’t seem to get over the hump but I have not completely cut out carbs and sugar. I definitely eat healthier but I cheat a lot whenever someone brings yummy dishes. Any advice for me?

      • Gurpal

        Don’t cheat.Any diet that makes you lose weight should help.Exercise regularly also has benefits,more than just sugar control.


      • Jane Rothschild

        Check Michael Moseley ( I think it is BBC) show on a fasting diet reversing diabetes

      • Jennifer Matthews

        Research cinnamon and chromium,then take it.Stop eating SUGAR,bread,pasta,flour-no white foods.Do.NOT cheat. Been doing it for 30 years.This works.Depends on do you want to get well or not.

    • William Connor

      Check the Univ. of New Castle, Great Britain on Diabetes. The U.S. is starting to acknowledge this treatment to reverse type II. The Pharma companies are not too happy about it

  19. Tania Hodder

    I enjoyed your post, Beverley. I always look to natural remedies before otc or prescription medicine for non-serious health issues and who doesn’t love chicken soup? 🙂 I can confirm, too, that the Vicks VapoRub home remedy does work. I’ve also successfully used pure eucalyptus essential oil, which I believe is one of the ingredients.

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