Exploring Natural Remedies with Dr. Donohue

When we’re sick, suffering from allergies, or just a little “under the weather,” we all want the same thing: to just feel better. But many of us prefer to look to natural remedies, herbal treatments, or vitamin supplements before we consider taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines. So we asked Dr. Colleen Donohue, as a Doctor of Osteopathy in our Vestavia Primary Care office, to weigh in on some of today’s most common, most-talked-about natural remedies.

Remember: For any question about treatment, natural or otherwise, Dr. Donohue and Brookwood Baptist recommend you always consult your primary care physician. : )

Does eating local honey/honeycomb actually help build our immune system, or help our bodies defend against seasonal allergies?

The logic behind it is certainly reasonable: in the same way that the dead virus in a vaccine teaches our immune systems to fight the live virus, the local pollen in honey is supposed to condition our bodies to combat airborne allergens. And yes, local honey does seem to help some of our patients. Their body “learns” the local flora, and allows a decreased response to the pollen. The most important thing is that the honey be local.

What about tea for an upset stomach? Any particular type of tea?
Peppermint tea can be helpful, as well as ginger tea. You can also use ginger in many other forms to help an upset stomach. For nausea, studies have shown that Vitamin B6 supplements can be very effective. Personally, I would recommend the B6—I loved it for soothing my pregnancy nausea.

Essential oils are very popular lately. What about essential oils for boosting immune system, treating cold/flu, or just treating symptoms?
For a long time, we’ve known that peppermint oil is helpful for patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Currently, there are no modern studies that give us conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of essential oils, but I have patients who are strong believers in them for many uses. I try to encourage my patients to educate me on everything they take/use. By doing that, I’m able to learn about something new, and at the same time I can assess that they are safe. And I always love to hear what patients think is working for them.

Some people swear by neti pots, others are terrified. How do you feel about their value in seasonal allergy/cold/flu prevention?
I like Neti Pots for people with sinus issues—but it’s very important to use bottled water. Neti pots are helpful in rinsing mucus that’s clogging the sinuses, and sometimes can even prevent sinus infection. I’ve even gotten my mom using one!

Echinacea and Vitamin C are two natural remedies that you hear a lot about for boosting immune systems. Are some consumption methods more effective than others?
One gram of vitamin C prior to illness has been shown to help some, but the duration of its effectiveness has not been determined. There is a product called Chizukit, which combines Echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C, that has been shown to decrease the duration of viral illnesses in children. It’s often recommended for adults too, but we don’t have the conclusive results for adults that we’ve seen in kids. For adults, there is a South African medicinal plant called Pelargonium Sidoides that has been shown to decrease the duration of viral illness.

Are there any other natural remedies you want to address? Myths you want to debunk, or lesser-known remedies you would recommend?
Yes, probiotics! I have found them to be very beneficial, and some specialty groups encourage patients to use them. A recent meta-analysis showed that probiotics, if taken while healthy, can decrease viral infection and cough in children. We’ve also seen that probiotics can help if patients—both children and adults—have a viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu). In addition to getting a flu shot, I always take probiotics during flu season.

So, are you a believer in any of these natural remedies? Did we miss one of your favorites? Is there anything you want to try after reading this? Talk to us on Facebook and let us know!

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