Q. I am confused about chocolate. I read that it's good for me because of its flavonoids. But I've also heard that alkali processing strips cocoa of most of these antioxidant chemicals. If the good stuff is processed out, is chocolate still healthy? How can I find chocolate that is not alkali-processed?
A. Many studies on the health benefits of cocoa flavonoids have been funded by the Mars candy company. It developed a special method (Cocoapro) to retain these antioxidant compounds during processing.
Independent research from Italy confirms that dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and help improve the response to insulin (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2005). Previous studies have shown that cocoa flavonoids can make blood vessels flexible and keep blood platelets from clumping together in clots.
Look for chocolate containing natural-processed cocoa instead of alkali-processed (also termed Dutch-processed) cocoa. Hershey and Guittard make both kinds. Ordinary Hershey's cocoa is an economical choice for making beverages and baked goods at home. Other makers of high-quality chocolates include Scharffen Berger, El Rey and Valrhona.
Q. I'm 31 years old and dealing with anxiety and stress. My doctor put me on Paxil for this.
Within three weeks I felt better, but then I had a panic attack at work. I also lost weight. I went from 196 pounds to 152. When I have panic attacks I have an irregular heartbeat.
This is the worst thing ever. At times I feel like my time is up.
I've started taking St. John's wort and skullcap. Are there any other herbs to help with my panic attacks? I am desperate.
A. Do not take St. John's wort together with Paxil. The combination could lead to a dangerous excess of serotonin. This can cause tremor, agitation, dizziness, high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms.
Tell your doctor about your situation. Although Paxil is prescribed for panic, some people experience anxiety and palpitations as side effects. Ask if another treatment might be appropriate for you. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be highly effective.
Be sure to get guidance on tapering Paxil gradually if you stop. This may help you avoid an unpleasant withdrawal syndrome.
Q. When I was a boy, Mother said we shouldn't wear our hats in the house (and never at the dining table) because this would make us bald. Now I look around any restaurant and see both men and women wearing their baseball caps at the table. Will this cause baldness?
A. Perhaps your mother had manners in mind. We don't know of any studies showing that wearing hats increases the risk of baldness. People who are self-conscious about thinning hair might be more likely to wear hats, though.
Q. My husband used to get awful canker sores. Then our dentist recommended he use baking soda to brush his teeth. He hasn't had a canker sore since.
A. Some people report that avoiding toothpaste containing the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate can help prevent canker sores.
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, NY 10019, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org.
& copy; 2005 King Features Syndicate Inc.