GRAEDONS | The People's Pharmacy Don't let urban legend quash a garlic-rich diet

Q.A friend of mine sent me an article about garlic being toxic. He says it slows reflexes and impairs concentration.
I am a great fan of garlic and use a lot of it when I cook. Now I am concerned about what my love of garlic might be doing to my health. Is this a real problem or an urban legend?
A. We think this is an urban legend. Garlic has been used in cooking and healing for thousands of years. If garlic were really hazardous, cooks around the world would be in big trouble, especially in southern Europe, China, India and Latin America.
Researchers have documented the cardiovascular benefits of garlic. It also seems to help control blood sugar and might reduce the risk of certain cancers.
High doses of garlic, either as a dietary supplement or in food, can irritate the digestive tract. Heartburn and nausea have been reported. Surgeons sometimes warn patients to avoid large amounts of garlic before an operation to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding.
One reader sent us his testimonial that eating garlic cured his ulcers. He hypothesizes that the garlic killed the Helicobacter bacteria in his stomach, and garlic extracts are capable of fighting this germ in the laboratory.
Q. My skin is so dry and itchy that sometimes I have to stop and scratch in the middle of a tennis game. This annoys my partner, and of course it bothers me more than I can say. What suggestions do you have for dry, itchy skin?
A. For very dry skin, dermatologists often recommend a heavy-duty moisturizer. Plain petroleum jelly (Vaseline) works well and is inexpensive. Aquaphor is also very effective, though some people find it greasy.
The best way to use such products is by applying them after a bath. Blot, don't rub, excess water off the skin and then put the moisturizer on.
Many people also find barnyard moisturizers such as Bag Balm or Udder Cream helpful and cost-effective. We are sending you our "Guide to Skin Care" for more tips on these and other skin creams to fight dryness. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $1 with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. S-28, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.
If moisturizer doesn't cure your itchy, dry skin, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Some skin conditions, including eczema, scabies and hives, can cause itching. But so can serious diseases such as liver problems, diabetes, thyroid abnormalities and certain cancers. Your doctor should rule out such causes of persistent itching.
Q. I'm a 39-year-old woman in need of an herb that can decrease sex drive. I think you've written about this before, but I can't recall the herb you suggested. I'm in excellent health, taking only Flonase, Ortho Tri-Cyclen and an occasional Advil.
A. In the past, we asked herb expert James Duke, Ph.D., who suggested an extract of chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus castus). Vitex has a progesteronelike effect.
As you might guess from the name, folklore holds that these berries, once called monks' pepper, can lower libido. Although there is no science to support this belief, progesterone can interfere with normal sex drive. Please check with your doctor before adding this hormonelike herb to your birth control pills.
XIn their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, or e-mail them at or via their Web site: Their newest book is "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press).
& copy; 2002, King Features Syndicate Inc.

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