GRAEDONS | People's Herbal Pharmacy Study: Cinnamon gum will help bad breath

Q. I read that cinnamon is good against plaque. Can you tell me how to take it?
A. Research funded by the Wrigley Company has found that chewing cinnamon gum (Big Red, for example) can kill bacteria in the mouth that cause bad breath. There is no indication, however, that these bacteria are also involved in the tooth plaque that causes tooth decay.
Gum that contains the natural sugar substitute xylitol (Aquafresh Dental Gum, Carefree Koolerz, Spry, Stimorol, etc.) can reduce mouth bacteria that cause plaque and cavities.
Q. Have you ever heard anything about drinking quinine water to combat muscle twitches? I had a stubborn twitch in my eye for months. I went to the doctor, and he couldn't help me.
Then I asked my mother about it. She said I should drink tonic water, which has quinine in it. I tried it, and the twitch disappeared. That was years ago, and whenever the twitch comes back, I drink tonic water, and it's gone.
A. We've not heard about quinine fighting muscle twitches, but it is a classic remedy for muscle cramps. A glass of tonic water in the afternoon or evening is often effective against nighttime leg cramps.
Some people are highly sensitive to quinine and develop reactions to it such as flushing, itching, rash, fever or life-threatening anemia. Such people should avoid tonic water.
Q. My cholesterol levels are great, but my doctor has recommended that I take fish oil because my triglycerides are over 250. He also wants me to take special B vitamins to lower something called homocysteine.
I recently heard warnings about the danger of ingesting mercury from eating too much of certain fish. How much, if any, mercury am I getting from fish oil? What is homocysteine, and why should I be concerned about it?
A. Fish oil can be quite effective in lowering triglycerides. Research has shown that high levels of this blood fat are a risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes.
Tests of fish oil capsules have not revealed mercury contamination. Mercury concentrates in large fish at the top of the food chain, but these fish are not used as the source of most fish oil.
Homocysteine is a byproduct of meat metabolism. There is growing concern that this amino acid increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can lower homocysteine levels.
We are sending you our Guide to Heart Health, with more information on fish oil, homocysteine and other natural approaches to cholesterol control. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.
Q. The tip on using vinegar and baking soda for fire-ant bites worked well the day my toddler was playing hide-and-seek and chose to hide in an ant bed. There were marks for a few days, but none of the usual blistering. The bites did not seem to bother her.
A. We have heard from many people that a paste of baking soda and vinegar applied to a bee sting eases the pain quickly. Yours is the first report that this mixture helps fire-ant bites.
One reader suggests Vicks VapoRub to take the itch and sting away. A young child might require medical attention if there are too many bites or if they cause too much discomfort.
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; 2004 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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