Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Stupid Remedies

Some of you know that I suffer from some pretty persistent, nasty, frequent migraines… and today is one of those exceptionally evil ones where I’m doing everything to avoid going to the hospital to get injected with dilaudid. I mean, it’s pretty fantastic stuff, but it’s a bit too fantastic, and at this point I’m at least 5% functional… though really high on Fioricet.

CureTogether was mentioned in the Quickies a few weeks ago as a place to gather information from patients/consumers about what treatments and medications work for them. The day it was posted, I looked up what people were saying about migraines. The number one “cure” for migraines is crystal therapy… this made me want to stab people. But worse, the worst rated cure, one that most people said made their symptoms worse, was standing on your head. Yes, standing on your fucking head. With a migraine. The fact that multiple people tried this, made me want to stab people with bears. Especially on days like today. Why would you tell someone with a migraine to stand on their head? Someone who is too much pain to even begin to start the process in their heads that would tell them that this is a terrible idea. The only positive outcome I can think of is that it will hurt so bad, the migraine sufferer will start screaming so loud and so miserably that the neighbors will call 9-1-1 and an ambulance will come, take them to a hospital and they will get injected with dilaudid. It’s the ONLY thing I can think of.

What are the worst/stupidest/most unbelievably irrational home remedies you’ve head of or tried?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

Related Articles


  1. Does it count if they work? Because a tablespoon of vinegar will cure my hiccups every single time, without exception.

    Mind you, I have to down a tablespoon of vinegar to do it. It’s honestly horrifying. But fu*k me it works!

  2. I guess the weirdest I can recall is drinking olive oil to clear out the gall bladder: “I’m having gall stone attacks that are made worse by greasy food, so I’ll drink pure grease to cure them.”

  3. I don’t remember the exact details, but there’s a folk remedy in Central or South America that involves holding a dehydrated baby above a pot of boiling water. Let’s just compound that dehydration with a little scalding!

  4. I’ll have to go with raping virgins to cure HIV/AIDS. Probably the most harmful/least effective remedy I’ve heard of.

  5. Not strictly a “cure”, but a birth control method: visualisation. I’m not too sure about the details, like whether you keep this up during sex or just before or what, but you imagine a barrier of white light over the cervix to keep sperm out. In other words, you hope real real hard not to get pregnant.

  6. There are some pretty awful remedies out there, and whitebird mentions one of the worst, but I haven’t experienced too many myself. The most ridiculous I’ve been told have to do with hiccups. But I was always the kind of child who kept asking, “but why?” and never attempted the “cures” without good reason.
    I don’t really understand anyone who opts for a folklore cure when they could just use some old fashioned common sense, and Tylenol. But there I go, trying to understand people again…

  7. As someone with CFS, I’m almost guaranteed to get a stupid remedy idea from anyone I tell about it. Which is why I usually don’t. They range from “You should get more sleep” (thanks, all I DO is sleep) to Native American spirit healing (my spirit is fine, it’s my brain chemistry that’s the problem) to sleeping on a sheepskin mattress cover. (I have no idea. Maybe lanolin has healing properties?)

    I think “radionics” is up there with the stupidest ideas — and scams — I’ve ever heard. To quote from their website: “Radionics is a method of sending precisely defined healing energy to people, animals or plants, no matter where they are in the world….It is not necessary for a patient to be present for the practitioner to ‘tune in’ to him/her. Something unique to the patient such as a signature or hair sample may be used as a proxy, or ‘witness’. This can happen, we believe, because part of the mind of each of us is linked via a universal mind.” (

    In other words, send us your hair and some money, and you’ll be cured!

  8. 1) The Withdrawly Method (sorry elyse, but it’s cods)

    2) Circumcision as a means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, made even worse by the fact that there are a lot of hokey studies out there claiming otherwise. Usually done by medics with a sub-andrew wakefield grasp of statistics. And in “magical” cultures it reinforces the idea that it makes a man “magically” clean and immune from HIV/AIDS.

    3) Homeopathy. I’ll say no more as once the dam is breached I may never stop.

  9. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): Hmm, Tylex (as we call it in the UK)

    @Elyse, my personal Migraine cure is 400mg Ibuprofen, a Tylex 30 and lay on bed with curtains closed with a damp cloth on forehead.

    Ibuprofen and Tylex 30 make it all better…

  10. Instilling a few drops of breastmilk to cure an ear infection is one I’ve heard around the crunchy-mamasphere.

    And my migraines respond well to Vicodin 5/500 taken with caffeine.

  11. In a supermarket yesterday I saw a “natural headache cure” called 4head.

    I can’t remember the name of the sole ingredient, but it would appear to be a minty smelling wax. You’re supposed to rub it on your forehead.

    I picked up the paracetamol instead.

  12. @niffer, when my first baby had a really stuffy nose, my mother-in-law insisted on holding him over a boiling pan of water with a dollop of Vicks Vapo melting in it… while still ON THE STOVE. I went nuts and my husband had to hold me back from trying to rescue him. The redneck version of a vaporizer? Her excuse was she’d done that with all her kids and mine would be fine. Technically it worked, but I never took my kids around hubby’s family again when they were sick. No telling what other “home methods” they had.

  13. I was once a 200 lb US Marine, outweighing my sweet, kind, Pregnant wife by about 70 lbs and in the best shape of my life.

    I tried to “scare her into labor” on advice of a friend by standing in the doorway of the bathroom and yelling “Boo!” as she opened the door.

    Like a scene out of Kill Bill, she
    1. stepped back and yelled “OH!” In surprise,
    2. Grabbed her belly as it cramped up and yelled “OH!” Again.
    3. Yelled “You!” at me as she came back up with a solid punch to my gut.

    I hit the deck like a rock. And no, it didn’t work.

  14. Hands down the all time master of dubious, if not utterly disgusting cures, is Pliny the Elder. His remedies include feeding boiled mice to children to cure bed wetting.

  15. The silliest ‘cure’ I’ve tried was for pain induced by Swimmer’s Ear, which was to press against the sides of my head just in front and above my ears, hold for about twenty seconds and release. It didn’t do diddly, but I was desperate at the time and regular pain meds weren’t helping.

    The silliest one I have heard of but not tried has got to be crystals.

    I’m 100% sure that the anecdotal ‘cures’ for pain is a result not of the specific cure working, but from the patient calming down enough so that the pain isn’t aggravated. This is especially true of headaches, and to a lesser degree, migranes. I hardly ever use pain meds for headaches. Calming myself down and relaxing does more than anything else. This is probably true for many other woo cures out there. If you take away the placebo effect, what you’ve got left is tension and anxiety. Getting rid of those can go a long way with any illness. Of course, for most life-threatening illnesses, you still die… but you’re more relaxed when it happens.

  16. hmmm… well I HAD a cousin that believed that eating an all fish diet would keep her from getting lung cancer. She smoked, and she read somwhere that the Japanese do not get lung cancer (or at least at our US rates). So, she paid to import very expensive Japanese cigarettes, and ate a “Japanese” diet. she lost a lot of weight and was pretty healthy except for that darn lung cancer she got when she was 42. You see, it runs in the family (that’s called “genetics”). She KNEW a lot of relatives had died in their 40’s and 50’s from lung cancer. But yeah, she found some weird web site that was all how you could smoke and never get sick from it by basically pretending you were Japanese. didn’t work.

  17. After my head injury, I was desperate to make the pain stop. I went to an acupuncturist.

    Once I heard the whole “chi” crap, I knew it was bogus. However, laying extremely still whilst having needles stuck in you did produce an interesting placebo effect–I felt a lot better.

  18. Just last weekend I was picking figs with my aunt, and a big ‘ole hornet stung her finger. She said…”oh well it’ll help my arthritis.”

  19. The thing that makes me want to stab people with bears is the “advice” on dealing with infertility. “Just relax” being my most rage inducing advice nugget, followed closely by “if you don’t think about it, it’ll happen”. Yeah.
    Anyone who’s gone through IVF knows it’s nearly a 24 hour a day job (especially for the woman) timing the meds, blood work and daily ultrasounds, and you think about it a lot.
    When we decided to adopt, we were told, “Now you’ll have one of your own for sure!”. Give me the strength to put down the steak knife.

  20. @bug_girl: However, laying extremely still whilst having needles stuck in you did produce an interesting placebo effect–I felt a lot better.

    Acupuncture can have a stronger effect than placebo. The explanation as you say is hooey and there it really doesn’t matter exactly where you stick the needles, but for mild to moderate pain it’s been shown to work about as well as massage or Ben-Gay.

  21. I can’t think of anything that hasn’t already been mentioned off the top of my head. But then, I’m married to a Wiccan, so I’m probably pretty heavily inoculated against being flabbergasted by wacko, out-there remedies.

    If someone were to suggest tyeing a frozen halibut around your head to cure a headache, I’d probably say “Pffft. I’ve heard worse.”

    But I’ve been pretty much crippled by allergies all weekend. So while I may never know the pain of migraines, I can say without hyperbole that I sympathize.

    Somewhere in this house, I’m not sure where, are homeopathic allergy pellets that my wife made me get one time a few years back. You’re supposed to put no more than five pellets under your tongue, and let them dissolve. This was before I knew anything about homeopathy, but I was still pretty cynical. But I bought them anyway. Never used them.

    A few months later, while my wife was at work, my allergies were so bad, and I was getting desperate enough to try almost anything. So I searched the house frantically for the little purple tube. When I finally found it, I could not for the life of me get a single pellet out of the tube. It’s physically impossible! So not only would it not have worked anyway, but I couldn’t even get at them to give them a chance to not work! The only benefit was that the effort expended momentarily took my mind of the sensation that my sinus cavity was about to explode.

    So my vote goes, not for an entire category of supercilious bunk, but a single tube of pellets as the single worst allergy remedy I’ve ever encountered.

  22. Today’s AI has been made possible by the American Cabbage Juice Council, which reminds you to drink three gallons of cabbage juice daily. It’s good for what ails you.

    (The FDA has not reviewed these claims.)

  23. In the very old Barbara Stanwyk movie Night Nurse, to treat malnutrition she gave a child a bath, in milk.

  24. I’ve got 2 of them, one which always works for me – standing back flat against wall with hands over head while someone feeds me a glass of water, to cure hiccups. Works every time. The second one – yogurt inserted in hoo-ha to cure yeast infection – not so much. In fact, it made things worse. I’ll refrain from elaborating as to how I got the yogurt up there to begin with.

  25. I haven’t tried this, but my ex-mother in law swore sticking a cut clove of garlic in your kids ear would cure an ear infection. She also had my ex eatting spoonfulls of a cumin/turmeric mix for sinus issues. I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that.

  26. @Mowgli: The second one – yogurt inserted in hoo-ha to cure yeast infection – not so much. In fact, it made things worse.

    The yeast must have been thrilled, “Protein, carbohydrates, and sugar? Our lucky day! Grow big and strong like bull. Make many babies!”

    Maybe she got the yeast infection cure mixed up with her smoothie recipe.

  27. Certain strains of Lactobacilli are important in maintaining the proper pH of the vajayjay and suppressing bad bacteria and yeast. But they are not the same ones as in the usual brands of yogurt. I suppose you could grow your own, but…

  28. Not one I’d recommend, but my mother was suffering terrible allergies triggered by my dog. She lives in another state and visits a couple of times per year. She spent about 18 months getting allergy shots, but her sneezing, coughing and wheezing persisted whenever she was around my particular dog (which made me assume that it was some other allergen in my home that she was not getting inocculated against). At any rate, a couple of years ago she made the mistake of petting him on the head when he had an earache and he nipped her hand, which promptly swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. No amount of begging would get her to go to the hospital. A dose of benedryl seemed to help with the swelling a bit.

    Wouldn’t you know it, but from that time on, she has not had an allergic reaction to my dog. Perhaps the dog’s bite functioned like a really specific allergy shot. I don’t know. I certainly am not going to attempt any double-blind, controlled experiments to test the theory.

  29. My mom sometimes gave us whiskey to get us to sleep as infants. I think it was bad information and not child abuse, since she meant no harm. And it was just a little whiskey in a bottle with milk.

    Once at work with a bad headache, one of the cooks did acupressure on my hand. It did help temporarily. Chefs and cooks rarely have health insurance, so they know every non-traditional “cure” out there.

  30. The worst one I ever tried was apple cider vinegar for a UTI. (I was desperate and couldn’t see the doctor until the next day.) Most people said to put a shot in an 8 oz glass of water.

    However, one person recommended just drinking the shot itself so you wouldn’t have to endure a horrible 8 oz mix.

    Good thing I was standing over my kitchen sink as it came right back up.

    At least, I know what to do if I need to induce vomiting.

  31. Ice cream headache when a migraine first hits. Usually just a glass of ice water that I drink really fast with a straw. The theory is that you scramble the migraine nerves by freezing the ones that lead up from the palette.

    This has worked about 20% percent of the time. BUT I usually use the ice water to take vicodin and a OTC headache remedy with caffeine, prior to heading for a dark quiet room. It may not be helping at all. Doesn’t matter, I’ll still do it every time. Once the migraine hits, I don’t really care about being rational.

  32. @daedalus2u: Certain strains of Lactobacilli are important in maintaining the proper pH of the vajayjay and suppressing bad bacteria and yeast. But they are not the same ones as in the usual brands of yogurt.

    I’m sensing a new and potentially revolting line of new products for Yoplait.

    More seriously I’ve seen this flavor of woo cropping up more and more. Yes, our bodies are filled with and depend upon our microscopic pals and yes some of these share names species names with similar bugs in food. To think, however, you can eat or, dear fsm, douche with yogurt to replace your body’s flora is absurd. We can only make estimates of the number of different strains of lactobacilli in the world, but the ones in our guts are only distantly related to the ones that make milk delicious and tasty and never invite them around for tea.

  33. I remember that my high school gym teacher would tell us that exercising is the best way to get rid of menstrual or abdominal cramps. It may theoretically work by heating up and loosening muscles, but just how are you supposed to exercise while you’re in extreme pain?

  34. For curing hiccups, I just hold my breath for as long as I possibly can. It works every time. Many other cures are basically just ways to make you hold your breath, such as chugging water or eating/drinking something disgusting.

  35. @kittynh:

    The other day a co-worker was lamenting the stains his cigarettes were leaving on the interior of his car.

    I said to him “Just imagine what they’re doing to your lungs.”

    He said “It’s ok, I’ve been drinking acai juce”

  36. I had a social studies teacher in high school who told us (on the down low) that when he got sick he’d drink brandy, wrap himself in blankets, and sweat it out. Prolly not a good idea to dehydrate yourself to a cure.

  37. @catgirl: I’ve seen that advise in books too. Makes me all stabbity.
    I have found, just from personal experience, that about an hour of rather intense exercise every day for the week before does help tonnes with the cramping.

  38. @Sean:
    That reminds me of a “cure” for ringworm some of my colleagues swear by (it’s a veterinarian thing). They apply undiluted bleach to the skin lesion. Never had to try it myself.

    A lot of people try to prevent/cure fleas on their dogs by feeding garlic. I’ve had the following conversation multiple times:
    “Are you using a flea preventative?”
    “Well, I feed him garlic.”
    “But no flea preventative, you know like Frontline or Advantage.”
    “No, I don’t like to put toxic pesticides on my dog.”
    “But garlic is toxic and your dog still has fleas.”
    “He doesn’t have fleas.”
    “Yes he does. See these?”
    “But I give him garlic!”

  39. They’ve come up in this thread, and have appeared in several threads here: Magic Cures for Hiccups.

    I’ve got a question about them though. I’m not a med guy at all so correct me of I’m wrong, but aren’t hiccups in some way caused by, or exacerbated by, or controlled by a specific nerve located somewhere in the back/side of the neck? And (if true) is that not why most of the oddball hiccup cures involve some kind of pressure on that area via bendy-twisties, and backward water drinking, etc.?

    Or is all of that just, ahem, Old Wive’s Tales?

  40. @SicPreFix:

    Hiccups are just muscle spasms in the diaphragm. Most of the “hold your breath” type stuff serves as a mechanism to help relax the muscle… I’d say that most of the remedies are merely correlation and/or confirmation bias.

    I’ve never heard of it having anything to do with the neck. Could be wrong, but it sounds strange to me.

  41. mxracer652: Re the “LSD for migraines” – not exactly. As a life long migraine sufferer, I was prescribed cafergot (yes, a mix of caffeine and an ergot derivative, but as with the lactobacilli example above, we’re talking a distant ergotamine relative of LSD) after having a stroke-like hemiperetic migraine. (Speech centre temporarily affected.) The idea is that it dilates constricted capillaries, IIRC. (Or is it the other way around?) But these days, taking Advil, IF taken early enough, stops it from getting going. The cafergot only worked if taken at early onset, too.

  42. My German immigrant grandmother apparently didn’t read English very well for awhile. My dad recalls that, when he had a cold, he had to take a spoonful of Vick’s Vaporub and hold it in his mouth until it melted, then swallow it.
    I haven’t checked the ingredients, but I’m pretty sure it’s intended for external use only…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button