Q. You recently wrote about using sugar for slow-healing wounds and bedsores. As a nurse, I learned years ago that the best way to use this home remedy is to make a thick paste of antibiotic ointment and sugar and pack the wound with it. Old wives' tale or not, it works. The antibiotic ointment helps to prevent infections.
A. We heard from other nurses and even a vet who have not forgotten this old-fashioned treatment.
One wrote: "As a nursing student in 1961, I worked at a small hospital that routinely used a mixture of milk of magnesia and sugar to cure bedsores. It seemed to be successful in many cases."
Another objected to our terminology: "Using sugar for bedsores is not a wives' tale. I have been a registered nurse for 45 years. When I was a student, it was very common practice to use sugar packs."
The veterinarian said: "Many wounds have been shown to heal three times faster with the use of sugar granules on a saline wet-to-dry bandage. The sugar helps to pull the bacteria from the wound, and the saline feeds the tissue to promote rapid healing of the skin beneath."
Q. There seems to be conflicting information on the relationship between consuming shellfish and cholesterol. What does the latest research show? If shellfish is a high-cholesterol food, how much is too much?
A. For years dietitians counseled people to avoid foods high in cholesterol. The theory was that eating cholesterol would raise cholesterol in the blood. As a result, many avoided eggs and shellfish, even though there was little, if any, data to suggest that such foods posed a problem.
There was a flaw with this advice, however. The old tests that were used to determine that shellfish was high in cholesterol were inaccurate. Clams, lobster, mussels and crab contain relatively little cholesterol. Even shrimp is not considered worrisome anymore.
Eating cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, does not necessarily raise cholesterol (Journal of Nutrition, October 2006). In one study, people ate lots of red meat and eggs with almost no starch. Their bad LDL cholesterol did not go up and their triglycerides actually came down (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, November 2003).
Q. Do you have any suggestions for relieving constipation? I have tried many different things, but nothing really seems to work for long.
A. For controlling constipation, the basics are fluid and fiber. If you can't get enough fiber from your diet, you might consider a product such as Metamucil, Citrucel or Unifiber with lots of water.
Some people find that simmering 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds in 3 quarts of water for a quarter of an hour makes about 2 quarts of solution. Two ounces a day in juice is reported to move everything along.
Sugar-free gum containing mannitol or sorbitol also can be useful.
Q. The best hiccup remedy I have found is dill pickle juice — 1 to 2 ounces does the trick.
A. You are not the first reader to sing the praises of pickle juice for hiccups. Perhaps the salt or the vinegar is responsible.
Some people also maintain that this unconventional approach helps their leg cramps.
One reader shared this: "I have tried nearly everything for cramps in my legs and feet (including Ivory soap under the bottom sheet), all to no avail. I was speaking with my aunt and expressed my dilemma with this crippling pain. She told me that she had solved the same ailment with dill pickle juice!
"At the next inkling of a cramp, I hobbled to the kitchen, swallowed a hearty shot glass full of pickle juice, and the pain almost instantly went away. I was not troubled again that night and slept soundly."
Pickle juice is high in sodium, so people with high blood pressure or heart failure should stay away from this remedy.
Q. Help! My menopausal hot flashes are becoming unbearable and debilitating.
I have tried many remedies. Some helped a little (like cutting down on caffeine), but others, like soy, did nothing.
I work with liver transplant patients, and the specialists say that the herb black cohosh can damage the liver. That's why I'm afraid to try it.
I finally broke down and tried an estrogen patch my doctor prescribed. I had an adverse reaction to it in less than a week.
What can you recommend?
A. Although there are reports of liver problems associated with black cohosh, this appears to be an uncommon complication.
A new study suggests that a patented pine bark extract can help ease hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. The compound is Pycnogenol, derived from the French maritime pine.
The study included 155 women aged 45 to 55. After six months of treatment with Pycnogenol or placebo, those treated with the pine bark extract had significantly fewer symptoms and lower cholesterol levels than those taking placebo (Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, August 2007). It might be worth a try.
Q. I took red yeast rice to control my cholesterol. It worked wonders for me. My doctors couldn't believe my perfect readings.
After taking the red yeast rice for eight months, I started having an ache in my leg. I tried taking magnesium, which helped a bit. Then my hip and leg both started aching, so I stopped the supplement.
I know red yeast rice is somewhat similar to statin drugs and they can cause muscle pain and arthritis. Since it did such a good job controlling my cholesterol, I would like to use it again. But I do not want to hurt myself.
Would CoQ10 be helpful?
A. Many people report disabling pain from statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs like Crestor, Lipitor or Zocor. This reaction is less common with red yeast rice, but some people experience pain and weakness with the supplement.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an essential natural compound that can be depleted from the body by statin-type medications. Taking extra CoQ10 may diminish pain and weakness.
We discuss the science behind red yeast rice for lowering cholesterol and the value of CoQ10 for people taking statin-type drugs in our book "Best Choices From The People's Pharmacy." It is available in libraries or bookstores or on the Web at www.peoplespharmacy.com
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert.