7 Natural Remedies for Your Eyes, Nose, and Mouth

Remedies to soothe mouth sores, ease dry eyes—and more.

coconut-beaker-remedy
Photo by Jamie Chung

Hundreds of scientific studies now confirm what holistic doctors, alternative-medicine experts, and your grandmother have known for years: Minerals, plant-based medicines, and many of the foods you already have in your kitchen have the potential to heal you as effectively as pharmacological options—and, in many cases, without the side effects that can come with prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Here are seven expert-recommended* remedies that can help with common issues.

Important: some supplements can interfere with prescription and OTC medications or may not be safe if you’re pregnant, nursing, or have a medical condition. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking them.

For Your Eyes

Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Found in leafy green vegetables, this antioxidant duo accumulates in the retinas, the light-sensitive tissue of the eyes, where it prevents damage that could otherwise cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Studies conducted at the National Eye Institute showed that a daily lutein and zeaxanthin supplement may reduce the risk of AMD by up to 20 percent.

Dose: Opt for a supplement containing 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin, or eat one cup of cooked kale, spinach, or collard greens a day. Heating these vegetables makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These ultra-healthy fats (found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts) may protect the retinas from inflammation and reduce the risk of age-related vision problems, according to a 2011 Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism study. Omega-3’s also help lubricate dry eyes.

Dose: Fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel, is the best source of omega-3’s. Eat two to three four-ounce servings a week, or supplement daily with 500 to 1,000 milligrams of EPA and DHA, which are beneficial, fish-based forms of omega-3 fatty acids.

For Your Nose and Sinuses

Butterbur
Butterbur relieves seasonal allergies by shrinking swollen nasal membranes and blocking the release of histamine, the chemical that triggers sniffles. Several studies have shown that butterbur can be as effective as popular allergy drugs.

Dose: 50 to 75 milligrams twice a day.

Check the Label: Choose an extract that contains 7.5 percent petasin and that’s free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Echinacea
Made from purple coneflowers, echinacea contains phytochemicals that may possess antiviral activities and stimulate the immune system. That’s why research shows it may reduce the severity and duration of a cold.

Dose: 700 milligrams three to four times during the day until symptoms like sniffing and coughing have cleared up.

Check the Label: Buy Echinacea purpurea, which is made from the above-ground parts of the coneflower.

Zinc
This mineral prevents cold-causing viruses from multiplying, which is why it can shorten the duration of a cold by a full day, especially if you take it in the first 24 hours after you become ill.

Dose: The minute you feel the tingle of a cold, suck on zinc lozenges containing 13 to 23 milligrams of zinc gluconate or zinc acetate every two to three hours. Zinc can leave a metallic taste in your mouth and cause an upset stomach, but if you use it only while you’re sick, the side effects will disappear once you stop taking it. Don’t take zinc for more than 10 days, as it can inhibit absorption of copper.

For Your Mouth

Vitamin B12
Frequent canker sores? Supplementing with this B vitamin could help. Experts aren’t sure why, but some believe canker sores are a sign of a B12 deficiency.

Dose: Take 1,000 micrograms before bed.

Lemon Balm
Applying lemon-balm cream to a cold sore right after it surfaces helps it to heal faster, according to research published in the journal Phytomedicine. Scientists speculate that the mintlike herb has antiviral properties.

Dose: Apply one drop of lemon-balm essential oil or a cream containing 1 percent lemon-balm extract five times a day.

*Real Simple’s Natural Health Expert Panel:

Suzy Cohen, R.PH., licensed pharmacist, functional-medicine practitioner, and author of Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients—and Natural Ways to Restore Them. (suzycohen.com)

Tod Cooperman, M.D., founder of ConsumerLab.com, which provides independent test results on nutritional supplements.

Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter, Inc., and author of Tales From the Medicine Trail: Tracking Down the Health Secrets of Shamans, Herbalists, Mystics, Yogis and Other Healers. (medicinehunter.com)

Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., chair of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention Dietary Supplements Admissions Committee, author of Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions, and former member of the White House Commission on Complementary & Alternative Medicine Policy. (drlowdog.com)

*Real Simple’s Natural Health Expert Panel:

Suzy Cohen, R.PH., licensed pharmacist, functional-medicine practitioner, and author of Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients—and Natural Ways to Restore Them. (suzycohen.com)

Tod Cooperman, M.D., founder of ConsumerLab.com, which provides independent test results on nutritional supplements.

Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter, Inc., and author of Tales From the Medicine Trail: Tracking Down the Health Secrets of Shamans, Herbalists, Mystics, Yogis and Other Healers. (medicinehunter.com)

Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., chair of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention Dietary Supplements Admissions Committee, author of Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions, and former member of the White House Commission on Complementary & Alternative Medicine Policy. (drlowdog.com)