Q. At 39, I developed solar urticaria. This is a skin allergy to sunlight, with pain and severe itching for days after sun exposure.
One of my friends recently mentioned that taking borage oil helped her depression. I also have depression, so I looked borage oil up and found it has gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in it. I discovered that evening primrose oil also contains GLA. It often is recommended for skin problems such as eczema, autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis and women’s hormonal problems such as menopausal hot flashes.
I decided to try evening primrose oil, and I was shocked. Just four days of taking the pills has made my solar urticaria go away.
I’m a biologist, and I know all about placebos, but I can’t imagine that this uncomfortable condition could be cleared up by blind faith in an herbal remedy. If this information can help just one other person with solar urticaria, I would be thrilled.
A. Solar urticaria is a rare condition in which exposure to sun can produce dramatic hives. Doctors often recommend antihistamines or, in severe cases, immune-suppressing drugs.
Although preliminary data support the use of evening primrose oil or GLA for diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and hypertension, there is not much solid research. One large analysis suggests that this supplement might suppress the immune system and could interact dangerously with the anticoagulant warfarin (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Nov. 13, 2013).
Your experience with evening primrose oil is fascinating and might lead to a new way to manage this uncomfortable skin condition.
Q. I have severe seafood allergies, which probably explains why I became very ill a few weeks ago when I tried taking glucosamine and chondroitin for my aching joints. (I did not know glucosamine is derived from shellfish.)
Is there anything else you can recommend for joint pain? I hate raisins, so please don’t go there.
A. Although people with shellfish allergies are often advised to avoid glucosamine, there is not good evidence of serious reactions. Nonetheless, given your experience, you will naturally want a different approach.
There are quite a few natural products that can help calm joint pain, ranging from the Indian herb boswellia to supplements like SAMe and MSM. You also might consider acupuncture or home remedies like tart cherries or grape juice with Certo.
Q. Here’s how I get the benefits of chocolate without the fat and sugar: I stir 1/2 teaspoon of pure cocoa powder into a serving of low-calorie Greek yogurt. Sometimes I add fresh sliced strawberries.
A. We agree that sounds delicious, and it is a great low-calorie way to get beneficial cocoa compounds. They have been shown to keep blood vessels flexible, lower blood pressure, raise good HDL cholesterol and help prevent blood clots.
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: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.” 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc.