Willow bark or aspirin for the heart?

Q. My doctor has encouraged me to take baby aspirin daily to reduce my risk of heart problems and colon cancer. Both run in my family.

I prefer natural remedies. It is my understanding that aspirin comes from willow bark. Would willow bark be gentler on my stomach and as effective as aspirin when it comes to protecting against heart attacks or cancer? Would it work for arthritis, too?

A. Thousands of years ago, Chinese and Egyptian healers were using willow bark to lower fevers, ease inflammation and reduce pain. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, told women in labor to chew willow bark to ease the pain of childbirth.

In 1828, a German pharmacologist isolated the active ingredient in willow bark and called it salicin (later renamed salicylic acid). It is a chemical cousin to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).

Scientists believe that it is the acetyl addition to salicylic acid that provides the anti-clotting benefits of aspirin. Although willow bark can ease the inflammation of arthritis, it may not protect you from a heart attack, stroke or cancer, and it can be irritating to the digestive tract. We would suggest following your physician’s suggestion to stick with low-dose aspirin.

Q. I have been plagued with the ugliest fungus- infected nails you have ever seen. My podiatrist removed several nails surgically last year, but the fungus is now back. Please help with a remedy that is less drastic.

A. Readers of this column insist that foot soaks help cure their nail fungus. Here is just one story: “My 5-year toenail fungus made it painful to walk because the nail curled inward and was ugly as sin! The blue-black thick nail is being replaced by healthy pink new growth thanks to Listerine-and-vinegar soaks every night.”

We are sending you our Guide to Hair and Nail Care with details on lots of remedies, from hydrogen peroxide and Listerine to vinegar and Vicks VapoRub. It can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q. I was a victim of frequent nosebleeds. My doctor suggested I soak a small wad of cotton with a few drops of Afrin and put that in my nostril. It worked.

I was more interested in eliminating the nosebleeds than dealing with a bloody mess, so I began rubbing a little Vaseline in each nostril. I’ve done that for two years and have only had two slight nosebleeds during that time. Apparently, keeping the membranes moist does the trick.

A. Regular use of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) in the nose could lead to inflammation of the lungs (lipoid pneumonia). Instead, moisturize dry nasal passages with a saline solution.

Afrin Nasal Spray contains oxymetazoline, a compound that constricts blood vessels. This would be helpful in stopping a nosebleed. Used too often, however, Afrin can lead to rebound congestion that can make your nose feel stuffy.

Many readers report that a home remedy can be helpful against nosebleeds. Although some people laugh at the idea of putting a ring of keys down the back of the neck, others insist it works.

One reader offered this: “As a youngster in England 50 years ago, I got a bad nosebleed while walking home. As I passed a baker’s shop, the owner noticed my problem, took me inside, put me on the shop floor and slipped a huge, cold door key down my back. My nose stopped bleeding immediately.”

2012 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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