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Natural Fixes for 5 Common Ailments

Pop a pill every time something hurts? Here are five alternative remedies for headaches, colds, cramps and more.

Photo: Thinkstock / The Nest

Ailment: Headaches

Your Go-To: Tylenol (or Aleve, Advil, etc.)

The Natural Fix: To reduce muscle tension, which may help relieve headache pain, apply an ice pack to your neck and upper back, or ask your partner to massage those areas. Likewise, any stress-reducing activity, like taking a warm bath, going for a walk or lying down can help to treat headache symptoms. If you suffer from frequent headaches, taking magnesium, riboflavin or coenzyme Q10 supplements or herbs like feverfew, lavender and chamomile has been shown to ease headache and migraine pain. But the supplements or herbs must be taken daily (even when symptoms aren’t present) for a few months before they will begin working. For chronic headaches, acupuncture is one of the most effective treatments. One German study of more than 15,000 patients suffering from either migraines or regular tension headaches found that when acupuncture was used in combination with typically prescribed treatments (such as over-the-counter headache meds like Tylenol, muscle relaxation techniques or prescription migraine medications) the frequency, pain and intensity of participants' headaches or migraines decreased markedly compared with those in people who didn’t receive acupuncture.

Ailment: Head Cold

Your Go-To: Downing fluids, soup and a decongestant, like DayQuil or Sudafed.

The Natural Fix: If you wake up with a runny nose, or just feel generally under the weather, make a tea with fresh ginger, garlic and the white portion of a green onion, boil for about 5 minutes and drink while still hot. (Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, while garlic is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial.) Don’t feel like going through the trouble? Any store-bought beverage or food with those ingredients, like ginger tea or soup with garlic (just add a touch of garlic to Mom's chicken noodle soup) will work just as well. If the cold has already had time to set in, there are many Chinese herbs that have been shown to have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties, including Yin Qiao San (for a fever or sore throat) and Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San (for a headache or stuffy nose). In addition to supplements, mild exercise may help open clogged sinuses, while massage has been shown to help improve immune function.

Ailment: Stomach Ache

Your Go-To: Ginger ale, bland foods and Tums or Alka-Seltzer.

The Natural Fix: Chinese herbal treatments, like curing pills or Seroyal's Yellowdock Combination, can be used to treat indigestion. And a recent study found that ancient Chinese herbal medicines, like Huang Qin Tang (a combination of peonies, a purple flower called skullcap, licorice and fruit from a buckthorn tree) can help treat diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. If that sounds too complicated, more commonly found herbs, like peppermint, chamomile and ginger, can also soothe tummy troubles.

Ailment: Menstrual Cramps

Your Go-To: Midol and a heating pad

The Natural Fix: Using a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help reduce mild to severe cramps within two to three menstrual cycles. Cramps and heavy bleeding often result from a hormonal imbalance, and acupuncture has been shown to help regulate female hormones. Likewise, a Chinese herbal formula called Xiao Yao San ("free and easy wanderer") has been shown to help balance out hormonal fluctuations and reduce uterine cramping. You can also try magnesium supplements; studies have indicated they may help relieve PMS symptoms, including bloating and breast tenderness, as well as cramps (since magnesium helps muscles relax).

Ailment: Dry, Itchy Skin

Your Go-To: Lotion, lotion and more lotion

The Natural Fix: To keep your skin moisturized, stay hydrated on the inside by drinking lots of water and consuming seasonal fruits like Asian pears, regular pears and persimmons. A humidifier can also help, especially during the winter when the air tends to be drier.

Nestpert: Wendy Yu, LAc, FABORM, board-certified acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner at Eastern Center for Complementary Medicine, PC.

-- Kristin Koch

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