Almost Half Of Rural North Carolina Adults Report Using 'Home Remedies'

March 24, 2004

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Almost half of the adults in rural western North Carolina use home remedies, not only for specific ailments but also to enhance their mental health and general well-being, according a report by a Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center researcher and his colleagues in the current issue of Complementary Health Practice Review.

Remedies involving honey, lemon, vinegar or whiskey – used alone or in combination – were the most prevalent, followed by herbs, teas and other “traditional” cures, according to a team led by Thomas A. Arcury, Ph.D. Arcury said the research has implications for how clinicians treat their patients.

“A clinician treating someone may ask, ‘Are you using an alternative treatment?’ ‘Are you going to an acupuncturist?’ ‘Are you using herbs?’ But, many patients may not think of home remedies as alternative treatments, and the physician may not think to ask about specific home remedies that may have an affect,” he said. “For example, a physician would need to know if someone is treating diabetes with honey.”

The study found that the widespread rural use of home remedies contrasted sharply with the use of alternative therapists such as acupuncturists, chiropractors and herbalists, which was estimated at only 8.6 percent.

“That people are using home remedies – and they’re not using the alternatives that end up being talked about in the press a lot – that, to me, is the important finding of this study,” said Arcury, a professor of family medicine. “Honey, lemon, vinegar, whiskey – they are traditional remedies. They are things people grew up using. They are things I was given when I was a kid; when I had a cold, my father gave me lemon and honey.”

The study’s objectives were to estimate the prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use among rural adults, identify characteristics of the adults who use such alternatives, and analyze the health conditions for which alternative medicines and therapies are being used.

Data were collected as part of the larger Mountain Accessibility Project, which surveyed adults in 12 rural counties of North Carolina to assess the geographic, social, cultural and health status factors affecting the use of health care services. Respondents were asked specifically about any home remedies they might use. They described 238 distinct remedies that researchers put into eight “remedy” groups: honey-lemon-vinegar-whiskey (used alone or in combination), herbs, teas, traditional remedies involving such substances as baking soda or turpentine, vitamins and minerals, food, over-the-counter products, and products bought from health-food stores.

From the surveys, researchers estimated that 45.7 percent of the rural adult population use home remedies. They also found significant differences in use by age, gender and education:

  • Adults aged 30 to 44 are most likely to use any home remedies (56 percent); adults aged 65 and older are least likely (35.7 percent).
  • More women than men (50 percent versus 39 percent) use home remedies; and more women than men (7 percent versus 3 percent) use vitamins and minerals.
  • Adults with a high school education or less are more likely to use honey-lemon-vinegar-whiskey remedies but less likely to use vitamin-and-mineral remedies.
Arcury and three colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also reported that respiratory and throat and mouth conditions were treated most often with honey-lemon-vinegar-whiskey remedies, that cardiovascular conditions, infections and allergies and mental health were most often treated with herbs, and digestive and urinary tract conditions and general well-being were most often treated with teas.


This research was supported by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.


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