Crazy or Brilliant? Extreme Home Remedies for Pain

Dr. William Zempsky, an associate professor at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, said he has seen patients who try to treat earaches with the coating properties of olive oil -- just squeeze a few drops of olive oil at room temperature to ease the pain.

But this actually works, said Zempsky. In fact, studies have shown olive oil is more effective than some anesthetizing ear drops.

"It's a pretty good way of decreasing ear pain," said Zempsky.

Products for Sale

Natural remedies -- like the olive oil trick -- are all the rage now.

"One out of three people are seeking alternative care -- including some physicians," said Dr. Joseph Shurman, chairman of pain management at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Cali.

"There are all kinds of herbs, homeopathic remedies being used in the home," said Shurman.

Along with the natural plants, is a growing side business of selling cures from natural metals. One big business to treat arthritis pain involves magnets, which supposedly draw blood to the inflamed site to heal the joint. But while magnets are not likely the key to pain relief, they do have natural properties that may be more pain than they are worth.

"Magnets for arthritis and bone pain placed under beds or in hip pockets resulted in one patient demagnetizing all his credit cards," said Cope.

More serious damage can be done when patients try to drink metals.

"I have had one patient taking a known toxin for his complaints -- a silver compound that has been repeatedly outlawed by the FDA," said Collins.

Side effects from using colloidal silver products may include seizures, kidney damage, stomach distress, headaches, fatigue and skin irritation, according to the U.S. National Institutes for Health. And some consuming the concoction have even been known to turn themselves blue -- the result of a buildup of the substance in the skin.

Emotions at Stake

"Very often the scenario is that they're looking for a magic wand," said Dave Patterson, a psychologist who treats chronic pain patients at the University of Washington's Department of Rehabilitation Medicine in Seattle. "They tend to seek medical solutions when there are no medical solutions."

While emotions and thoughts can drive some people into harmful scams, the same feelings can help heal them.

Clinical studies have shown that people's belief about a treatment can actually improve their condition. It's called the placebo effect -- when a person's pain symptoms get better even on a sugar pill.

"It can be higher than 35 percent," said Shurman, who notes that PET imaging of the brain have shown similar effects in the brain whether a patient takes a narcotic or a sugar pill.

"Even though ethically we cannot prescribe placebos -- we'd have to tell the patient -- placebos are very effective," said Shurman.

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