Q. Do you have a suggestion for someone with frequent, odorous flatus? One of my sons has this problem, and besides causing lots of laughs, it also causes the rest of us to groan.
A. We recently received a suggestion from a reader on this very topic: "Has anyone suggested angostura bitters for gas? When I was a waitress and had that problem, someone suggested a teaspoon in a glass of 7UP or just club soda. It worked immediately."
Angostura bitters have been sold for more than a century as a digestive aid. The label suggests 1 to 4 teaspoons after meals to combat flatulence. Bartenders use this herbal flavoring in mixed drinks, and cooks use it in sauces. It can be purchased in grocery stores.
Q. I get terribly dry hands every winter. Cracks in my fingertips and knuckles drive me crazy year after year. My nails are rough, too, and I am at my wits' end. I cannot afford expensive department-store products. Any suggestions?
A. This time of year we frequently recommend "barnyard beauty aids." Dairy farmers learned long ago that the salves they used to prevent cows' udders from chapping also worked beautifully for their own hands.
The oldest is Bag Balm, from the Dairy Association. It is greasy and smelly, though. Udder Cream is nicer to use and also provides good moisturizing at a good price.
We are sending you our Guide to Skin Care, with more on high-powered moisturizers and ordering information. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $1 with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. S-28, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Nails might benefit from another product for animals, Hoofmaker. Horse groomers use this to strengthen horses' hooves and have found that it helps their nails, too. The number is (800) 827-9815.
Q. I just read about a study that says SAMe can help people with depression. But I've been taking it for my joints, although I'm not depressed (at least I don't think I am). Is this OK?
A. "SAMe" stands for S-adenosyl-L-methionine. It is made in the body naturally and is crucial to a variety of important biochemical reactions. If you're not depressed, this dietary supplement shouldn't affect your mood.
According to a research review by the Department of Health and Human Services, "These data indicate that SAMe is more effective than placebo for relief of symptoms of depression [and] pain of osteoarthritis. ... Treatment with SAMe was equivalent to standard therapy for depression and osteoarthritis."
When anti-depressants like Prozac don't work well enough, adding SAMe might boost the drug's benefits (Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, December 2004).
Q. Have you heard of senna-leaf tea for constipation? It seems to work fine, but do you know of side effects if it's used long-term?
A. Senna comes from an African shrub (Cassia senna) and has been used as a laxative for centuries. Although the Food and Drug Administration has approved senna as an over-the-counter product, it stimulates muscle contractions in the lower digestive tract and is considered harsh.
Many gastrointestinal specialists recommend against the long-term use of such products. It can cause dependence and deplete the body of essential nutrients.
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 email@example.com or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org.
& copy; 2005 King Features Syndicate Inc.