One minute you're just browsing — browsing! — a natural remedies forum, and the next you're in line at Whole Foods buying baking soda, Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar, Arrowroot tea, and some borage oil to treat a dry patch on your elbow. You have fallen down a Google natural remedy K-hole, and you are convinced you are now in the possession of a cure.
It makes some kind of sense. When it comes to the everyday ailments we suffer from due to diet, genetics, lifestyle, environmental toxins or bad luck, we have approximately three choices: 1. Accept it and change nothing. 2. Get a prescription for something you might have to take forever. 3. Tweak lifestyle, diet, self-care routine ad nauseam with natural things until a solution is found.
For choice #3, we must stalk our bodies, noting and tracking every symptom and its response to supplement or medicinal like amateur mad scientists. But this is where we're at now. The more we pay attention to our diets and the ingredients in our food, the more we grow wary of antibiotics and read one more time about how we need to start probiotics, not to mention the myriad diets tailor-made for every particular food intolerance or allergy or lifestyle goal, it feels like we're driving our own individual health more than ever. And to do that, we must be hyper-attuned to this machine we're retraining. Did the orange oil in the Earl Grey I drank give me this headache? Did the Parmesan flakes in this salad make my sinuses flare up? Should I do a cleanse for a "reset"?
Is this an LA thing? Or is this an everyone thing?
And of course, thanks to the Internet, everyone with wifi and a little time on their hands can cure eczema — how couldn't you when there's at least 43 home remedies? What's more, the scads of personal anecdotes online attesting to success create the illusion that this cure-seeking pastime is normal. They too tried western doctors, but didn't want to take the thing prescribed, or it didn't work, anyway, or it worked, but only for a while, and now they're back to square one, but the perfect routine is out there, they just know it, and it's natural.
Besides, all of those remedies worked for someone, somewhere, sometime. It's just a matter of tweaking the recipe right for you, right? As far as I can tell, it seems like the following conditions and ailments are particularly vulnerable to this Google K-hole syndrome:
Acne and psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, what have you, are torture. What can you do? You go to the doctor, get your creams, topicals, antibiotics, facewashes, and slog through the months trial and error to see what sticks, or drop mad $$ on laser treatments and peels. You can take antibiotics on and off for pretty much forever. You can take Accutane which can sometimes be all you need. Or you can turn to the Internet rabbit hole of supplement recommendations — way more natural, yet often just as expensive after you try borage oil, saw palmetto, vitamin D, a good B complex, zinc, and of course vitamins A and E. I also hear literally never washing your face works too. Either remedy takes the same body stalking: You wait, and calculate results, and adjust, and agonize and wait. People spend years tweaking and analyzing every possible cause and potential solution, and it is brutal.
As far as I am concerned, sinuses/allergies are the acne of the inside of your head. Sorry, that's maybe the grossest sentence I've ever written. What I mean is that figuring out your particular intolerances is as complicated as figuring out acne, and if you have both acne and allergies, you should be given some kind of annual tax deduction for simply enduring them.
Is it allergies or a cold? Is it seasonal or chronic sinusitis? Something you ate or something you breathed? Online, people have all kinds of answers: Nasal irrigation, vitamin C, Sudafed, Claritin, Zyrtec, no dairy, drink water, take a probiotic, try to sleep while running and/or standing up in a steam bath. You get a regimen and then wait it out, suspecting every sniffle is the onset of yet another brutal sinus infection. Then, oops, seasons changed. Back to these 103 remedies! You gotta know one of them is going to do the trick eventually right?
Do you know about BV? If not, you're the luckiest person in the universe. Because people who are stricken with bacterial vaginosis can spend YEARS trying to chase down the cause, after boiling their underwear, douching with hydrogen peroxide, taking a probiotic (which I now suspect is the answer to literally everything) and coating a tampon in yogurt. Doctor visits come and go. Antibiotics giveth, antibiotics taketh away. But so many anecdotes are from people for whom the BV immediately came back no matter what they did and how many times they dropped a co-pay. The cause always seems vaguely "lifestyle," which means vaguely hell. Body stalk agony. Go here. We'll see you in a few months.
Was it something you ate or the fact that you simply exist in the world today with all the things floating around? Who cares, where's the bathroom? Bowel issues garner a lot of my sympathy, because I understand that they create utter havoc in your life without rhyme or reason, but aren't totally objectively pinpoint-able, because, you know, life. You should probably eat more vegetables. Get some fiber. Drink more water. Get moving. But vegetables are also terrible for you because they will cause more gas and bloating. So here's 34 home remedies. I really think one of these is going to work!
Are you a raging bitch or is it Mirena™? Is that a zit you would've gotten anyway or is it your birth control pill? Do you still look like you're in your first trimester because you're retaining water or is it the infamous Mirena pooch? Love Yaz, hate blood clotz ™. Ugh, I have read message board after message board about the crazymaking experience of birth control for women and the people who love them, as every day is a new chance to ask: WTF is happening to my body/sex drive/face/feelings/energy level. It can take years to sort out and in the end, the best version you get still comes with a load of shit. God bless.
Optimal Health Food
Eat well! It's that simple. That's what they say! Unless you want to avoid acne, seasonal allergies, bacterial vaginosis, or bowel issues. Trying to suss out the right food to eat for your lifestyle goals and various hot issues is more difficult than understanding Common Core. It's not even the conflicting information out there about how to lose weight, it's even the conflicting information about eating in general. For the love of all that's holy is pasta bad or not? Something something dirty dozen.
I'm an advocate for eating however the hell you damn well want to for your lifestyle goals, even when people hate you for it, but the days of simply being a "smart consumer" about food are a fading memory. None of us knows anything, and everything we think is good is bad in some way if consumed too much, like kale or cold-pressed juice. Soy milk solves one problem (it's not cow's milk!) but could create another (lots of estrogen) and this is what makes the internet so appealing: At least you can comb through millions of anecdotes of other people just like you, if you have the time and energy to give their routine a try.
But are they just like you? It's worth nothing that the Internet's tales of woe are often deceiving: They are full of outliers whose experiences were extreme enough to warrant documenting. Absent is everyone who tried Mirena and thought it was perfectly OK, or who used Accutane with no ill effects, or can just eat blueberries and is in better shape than he's ever been.
And in case I need to say it more clearly: I'm not anti-doctor. Google K-holes are often in conjunction with seeking medical treatment, especially when it's a 6 minute doctor visit where you were just told to take X medicine and were never asked about your diet, lifestyle or anything in between. Doctors will treat your diagnosable condition, but it's hard to find doctors to work with longterm about vague issues like fatigue or acne when most derms just want to put you on meds. And nutritionists are pricey!
But for many people who don't have that kind of dough or time or access, the Internet has become a kind of acting nutritionist. You know, the terrible kind who sends you home with 12 books to read and no reliable guidance. Every now and then, you luck out, get a routine down, figure out the right thing to take so you never get migraines again.
Speaking of migraines, what other ailments did I leave out that send you to the deep dark Internet of natural remedies after doctors leave you feeling dismissed? And is it true that Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar and probiotics can cure literally anything?
Image by Jim Cooke.