Big-toe pain tamed with tart cherries

Q. I am in my early 60s, but I’ve been hobbling around like an old man after a couple of bad bouts with gout. I have been on a prescription to treat it along with various other meds for high cholesterol and blood pressure. I’m sure they all contribute to my aches and pains.

Several months ago, I felt my gout flaring up in my big toe. Instead of getting a new drug to treat this, I went online and read that drinking concentrated tart cherry juice every day can knock gout pain out almost overnight.

I had a hard time finding concentrated tart cherry juice, but finally found a bottle at a health-food store. It made me cringe to pay $17 per bottle, but I took two tablespoons of the stuff before going to bed. The next morning, I woke up with no pain in my big toe. A couple of days later, I realized that the very creaky and painful bones in my feet, ankles, knees and hips were not hurting, and I was no longer hobbling when I walked.

Several months later, I am still almost pain-free. It is so good to be able to walk normally again.

A. Thanks for sharing your story. Eating tart cherries, drinking juice or taking cherry extract seems to reduce the likelihood of a gout attack by around 35 percent (Arthritis and Rheumatism, December 2012).

You may know that staying away from alcoholic beverages and purine-rich foods such as anchovies, sardines, mussels or liver also can help lower your risk of a gout attack (Evidence-Based Medicine online, Feb. 16, 2013). We have more details on cherries and other home remedies for joint pain in our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.

Q. My daughter has severe ulcerated colitis, and her doctor suggested she take Humira. She’s afraid of the long-term side effects.

She read an article about the pros of peppermint tea for her condition and now is drinking it twice a day. She has gone into remission and has stopped bleeding for two weeks.

A. Ulcerative colitis is a very serious condition that requires careful medical supervision. We could find no research supporting the use of peppermint for colitis.

Peppermint oil has, however, been studied for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A recent meta-analysis concluded “Peppermint oil is a safe and effective short-term treatment for IBS” (Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology online, Oct. 4, 2013).

Q. I am severely allergic to wasp stings. I have heard that drinking gin will help repel mosquitoes. I occasionally drink gin and have found this to be true.

Is there something similar that you can eat or drink that will help prevent wasp attacks? Cucumber juice, perhaps? I have read that wasps hate cucumbers.

A. We have serious doubts about the therapeutic value of gin to repel mosquitoes. Perhaps the idea for this goes back centuries to when British soldiers used quinine water (tonic) with their gin to treat malaria.

Anyone with a serious allergy to wasp stings should undergo desensitization treatment to prevent life-threatening reactions and carry an EpiPen. We are skeptical that cucumber juice would discourage wasps enough to protect you.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

2013 King Features Syndicate Inc.

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