Q. My sister has had two recent episodes of gout. Because she has no health insurance, she could not afford to go to the doctor. I gave her some samples of an anti-inflammatory medicine I had. She took them, but got relief only when she started eating sour cherries. Someone told her it was an old remedy to eat six cherries a day. What gout remedies do you recommend?
A. Gout is a painful condition in which uric-acid crystals form in joints and soft tissue. The slightest pressure on a big toe or ankle can be excruciating. Once someone has had an attack or two, he or she may be more prone to others, unless uric-acid levels are lowered.
Many readers have reported that sour cherries can ease the pain associated with gout and even arthritis. Fresh, dried or frozen cherries, cherry juice or even cherry-extract capsules may be helpful. None of these home remedies has been clinically tested, however.
There are helpful medicines to lower uric-acid levels, but they require a prescription. A diet low in red meat, fish or other seafood and high in low-fat dairy products seems to help some people avoid gout attacks. Alcohol, especially beer, increases the risk of gout (The Lancet, April 17, 2004).
Q. Does cocoa powder from the grocery store have the same health benefit as dark chocolate?
A. Powdered cocoa rich in the antioxidant compounds (flavonols) found in chocolate offers many of the same health benefits. Cocoa compounds help keep blood vessels flexible and prevent blood platelets from clumping together to form blood clots. They also help discourage inflammation.
A recent study found that eating dark chocolate increased dilation of an artery in the arm (American Journal of Hypertension, June, 2005). The scientists conclude that chocolate consumption may help protect the cardiovascular system. Drinking a cup daily of hot chocolate made with high-flavonol powdered cocoa should provide some benefits. Alkali processing destroys many of these compounds, so buy cocoa not processed with alkali.
Q. Does internal cleansing (colon hydrotherapy) work? That is, does it improve health? Is there really many years' worth of fecal matter impacted in my colon?
Along the same line, should I try to clean parasites out of my body? We treat our pets for worms yearly, and I've read that intestinal parasites are responsible for just about every malady known to man.
A. According to the doctors who specialize in gastrointestinal problems, the idea of fecal matter accumulating in the colon for years is an urban legend. No studies demonstrate that colon cleansing results in better health. While pets do sometimes pick up intestinal parasites, modern sanitation makes this unlikely in people in the United States. If a stool test reveals parasites, appropriate medication is needed.
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.