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Home remedies: Do they work?

Home remedies can range from comical to downright bizarre. But here, NTU experts run the rule over some that might actually work
by Derek Rodriguez

Chicken soup for colds

Chicken soup isn’t just food for the soul. It’s also a cure for colds, according to multiple online recipes. It’s hard to deny a hearty bowl of warm soup goes down easy when your body is having an off day, but whether it actually treats physical symptoms is the question.

“One study has shown that chicken soup might have a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can potentially improve cold symptoms,” says Assoc Prof Wong Teck Yee, Assistant Dean (Year 4 & Family Medicine) at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. “Researchers have also found that hot chicken soup can help break down and expel mucus.”

Still, Assoc Prof Wong, who is also a senior family physician at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, reckons the best treatment for colds is resting in bed, drinking water and eating well.

“Chicken soup is fine, but in my family, porridge does the trick!”

Mayonnaise for burns

For those who tinker in the kitchen, getting burnt by a hot pan is not uncommon. It would be great if there was a quick remedy within reach, such as mayonnaise, which some believe provides quick relief.

But Prof William Chen, Director of NTU’s Food Science & Technology Programme, says mayonnaise should be saved for your sandwich.

“Although it is possible that the oil in mayonnaise could soothe pain to a certain extent, it’s not a good idea to apply mayonnaise on burns. Mayonnaise contains ingredients that could favour microbial contamination. Simply put, it might hinder healing.”

Instead, wash your wound under cool running water to alleviate the pain. If it’s more serious or in a sensitive area, seek treatment immediately.

A spoon of sugar for hiccups

Hiccups can be triggered by a number of things, including eating too much, consuming too much alcohol and even getting shocked by someone. Even more cures for hiccups have been touted. Holding your breath, breathing into a paper bag and, again, getting shocked, are well-known remedies. Another peculiar fix that has been suggested is eating a spoonful of sugar. According to Prof Chen, this might have more than a grain of truth.

“It’s all about distracting your brain. Taking sugar would stimulate our sensory nervous system and thus divert its attention from hiccups,” he says.

Cucumber slices for puffy eyes

A popular home fix is the practice of reducing puffiness around the eyes with slices of cucumber. This works partly because “antioxidants in cucumbers help with inflammation and swelling,” says Prof Chen.

Cucumber also has a high water content that might help moisturise the skin around the eyes. If you do try this at home, remember to remove the cucumber skin first as it may contain pesticides that you might be sensitive to.

Coffee as a cure for...


Many coffee lovers swear by this, and they aren’t wrong. But there’s a big caveat.

Says Prof Wong: “Coffee only ‘cures’ headaches that are caused by coffee withdrawal. Some coffee drinkers experience symptoms of headache, fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating after they stop drinking coffee abruptly. Drinking coffee often rapidly eliminates the withdrawal symptoms.”

If you plan on cutting down on your daily java juice intake, he suggests weaning off it gradually instead.


Coffee is hailed as a magical beverage for many reasons, including being a purported way of controlling your blood sugar level. Some people believe coffee can lower the risk of developing diabetes.

Dr Lee Chia Khee, a physician at the NTU Chinese Medicine Clinic, says: “In traditional Chinese medicine, we won’t advise people to use coffee for this. The warm properties and astringent taste of coffee may not be suitable for certain types of body constitution. Studies have shown that coffee beans contain active compounds that could lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, though these could be destroyed during roasting. It also doesn’t help when patients already suffer from diabetes.”

Weight loss

By itself, black coffee contains no calories. This makes it a good, delicious alternative to sugar-laden canned drinks if losing weight is a priority. But does it play an active role in helping you shed kilos?

Says Dr Lee: “Coffee does help with weight loss in people with a certain body constitution, such as spleen deficiency with dampness. From the Chinese medicine perspective, it can improve the function of the spleen, which results in improved digestion and fluid metabolism. It may also help with bowel movement, since it has a mild diuretic effect. However, overdosing on caffeine or drinking coffee with too much sugar is bad for our health,” she warns.