Q. As a veterinarian, I am dismayed that some "human doctors" scoff at the idea of home remedies.
An explanation that can't be seen isn't necessarily imaginary. People doubted "invisible" causes of disease before learning about bacteria and viruses. We know pheromones can affect behavior; these can't be seen, either. Would the doctors also scoff at dogs that can detect when a person will have a seizure or low blood sugar? What is hard to believe about molecules off-gassing from soap affecting our bodies? Many scientists are studying volatile compounds believed to be harmful. Please, doctors, think like the diagnosticians you were trained to be. Keep an open mind and listen to your patients. You're lucky - yours can talk!
A. Like many readers, we have been puzzled by the observation that a bar of soap under the bottom sheet might prevent nighttime leg cramps. Although we had no explanation, we found this remedy helpful. We've received testimonials from hundreds of people who agree (www.PeoplesPharmacy.com). An anesthesiologist did some research on this question and found that soap could relieve muscle-cramp pain (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008). He then tested soap fragrance for relieving fibromyalgia pain (Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, September 2008). We still don't know if soap-scented oil explains the benefit from soap against muscle cramps, but it is an intriguing hypothesis that deserves further exploration.
Q. I have scars on my arms and legs after a bad outbreak of poison ivy. Are there any natural remedies for scars?
A. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons report that no single therapy has been proven effective for reducing scars (Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America, August 2011). Although some research suggests that onion extract (found in several over-the-counter products) might help, the evidence is not consistent. Vitamin E oil research also is inconclusive. Many visitors to our website (www.PeoplesPharmacy.com) report that vitamin E applied topically has been helpful, but it can trigger a nasty rash in up to a third of those who use it. If you try vitamin E, test it first for several days on the inside of your forearm.
Q. My doctor has taken me off calcium because of studies showing that calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart disease. Is it safe for me to take calcium carbonate for heartburn? What else can you recommend?
A. Many people were surprised by research showing that calcium supplements were associated with a higher risk of heart attacks (BMJ online, April 19, 2011; Heart, June 2012). Taking calcium carbonate for occasional heartburn should not put you in danger, but there are other options. These range from herbal tea to sugarless gum, ginger or baking soda. For more information about handling heartburn, we are sending you our Guide to Digestive Disorders. Anyone who would like a copy can download it for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.