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8 Natural Remedies for Coughs, Headaches, and More

You probably don’t think twice about grabbing an antihistamine when your allergies are driving you crazy, or taking a sleep aid when stress has kept you up for a week straight. But a new study reveals a serious drawback to so-called anticholinergic meds like these and certain antidepressants: Taking them for a long time or at high doses can significantly increase your risk of age-related dementia. Plus, the damage doesn’t seem to go away once you stop taking the drugs. (Check out four other Scary Side Effects of Common Drugs.) 

Occasional use of these remedies probably isn’t anything to worry about. (And, of course, if you’re taking them or any other drugs, daily or at higher-than-intended doses, you should get your doctor’s OK first.) But the news did inspire us to round up eight natural alternatives to commonly used store-bought cures.

Ease a Cough with Spiked Tea
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We don’t mean whiskey (though if you want to add a shot, we won’t tell!). Tea, lemon, and honey are folk remedies with the power of research behind them. “There’s proof that they act as mild antibiotics and even antiviral agents,” says natural physician Fred Pescatore, M.D. Also helpful: mixing two to three drops of oregano essential oil with a cup of warm water, and using to gargle. (Here are six other Hot and Healthy Drinks to Warm You This Winter.)

Cure Headaches with Lavender Oil
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To nix in-the-moment pain, Pescatore recommends inhaling lavender oil, which will relax away ache-inducing stress and muscle tension. And migraine sufferers may benefit from taking 75 mg of butterbur daily, which can reduce the frequency of your episodes by 48 percent, research in the journal Neurology shows. Just be sure to check with your doctor before taking any new supplements. (Or Naturally Relieve a Headache with Yoga.) 

Decongest Your Nose with Steam
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Try a humidifier, suggests Dr. Pescatore. “They add moisture to the air, which thins the mucus in your nose,” he says. (Ideally, you’d have one by your bed and a mini version at your desk.) Menthol gels can help clear the airways too, he says. Just slather some on your chest or under your nose as needed.

Fall Asleep Faster with Yoga
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These 7 Yoga Poses to Help You Catch More Zzzs really do work! In one study, six months of yoga practice helped older insomniacs fall asleep 10 minutes faster, and they stayed asleep an hour longer than they did before learning the exercise.

Fight Allergies with Pine Bark
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Pescatore’s top pick is pine bark extract, like Pycnogenol ($40; gnc.com), for which he is a spokesperson. “It acts as an anti-inflammatory by reducing itching, swelling, mucus production, and the hives and rashes associated with many allergies.” (It can also work for cold and flu symptoms, he says.) Two other plant-based supplements he says have antihistamine-like properties: quercetin and nettle leaf extract. (But first, make sure you know for sure What’s Taking You Down: Allergies, Cold or the Flu.) 

Soothe Sore Muscles with Ice
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Sometimes, the simplest remedies are best: Icing your muscles post-workout (or taking a dreaded ice bath) can go a long way toward easing both just-exercised and delayed-onset muscle soreness, says Pescatore. (Find more great Ways to Ease Sore Muscles.) 

Treat a Cold or Flu with Elderberry
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Elderberry has anti-viral properties, and, when taken at the first sign of symptoms, might help shorten the duration of colds and flu, research indicates. Pescatore also recommends the tried-and-true vitamin C pills and zinc tablets. Just be careful with the latter; they can cause stomach upset. 

Chase Away the Blues with Curcumin
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If you’ve been feeling depressed, it’s essential to work with your doctor to find a combination of treatments—talk therapy, prescription meds, exercise—that’s best for you. But supplements can be a big part of that treatment, adds Pescatore. His favorite for mood is curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric. Studies have shown that it can boost the effectiveness of prescription antidepressants. (Learn more about curcumin and three other Fall Spices with Health Benefits.)

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