Q. I grew up adding milk to my tea, and prefer to drink it like that. Does milk in tea reduce the beneficial effects of the tea? What about soy milk?
A. Both green and black tea stimulate the production of nitric oxide in blood vessels. This helps blood vessels relax and lowers blood pressure; tea drinkers also are less likely to develop atherosclerosis (Basic Research in Cardiology, January 2009).
Although your question has not been studied extensively, a few intriguing experiments have shown that adding milk to black tea can interfere with the cardiovascular benefits (European Heart Journal, January 2007). Skimmed milk added to black tea reduces its antioxidant activity much more than whole or part-skim milk (Nutrition Research, January 2010). Soy milk also suppresses the activity of tea compounds (Atherosclerosis, September 2009).
To maximize the health benefits you get from tea, you'll need to drink it without milk. Adding lemon appears to boost its antioxidant activity (Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, April 2000).
Q. I have suffered from bursitis in my right hip for about four years. I had six cortisone shots in my hip during this time. The first shots helped a lot, but the later ones did virtually nothing. I started taking turmeric daily, and the bursitis is gone! I saw benefit within a few months. Regular turmeric intake keeps my hip well.
A. Turmeric is the yellow spice in curry as well as yellow mustard. One important component, curcumin, has anti-inflammatory activity and has been used for relieving arthritis, bursitis and other joint pain, stabilizing blood sugar, preventing cancer, treating warts and wounds and alleviating eczema and psoriasis. You should be aware of its potential side effects and interactions as well.
We provide details on how to use it safely in our book "The People's Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies" (www.peoplespharmacy.com). In it, turmeric and curcumin, in the guise of curry, are discussed as our favorite food No. 23.
Q. You wrote about using hot water to relieve the itching from poison ivy. I, too, have found that very hot water relieved the itch.
However, my doctor told me it was one of the worst things I could do. We initially catch poison ivy from contact with the plant, but he said it spreads through our bloodstream. Since hot water increases blood circulation, it also will speed the spread of poison ivy.
A. Dermatologists disagree with your doctor. They state unequivocally that a poison ivy rash results from skin exposure to urushiol, the sticky irritating oil from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac plants.
Because there is no evidence that poison ivy spreads through the bloodstream, using hot water (not so hot that it burns) to ease the itch should not make a mild case worse.
Q. After many years of having very intense gas, a friend advised the use of fennel seeds. I found the gas intensity was reduced considerably. After a pinch of the seeds, most of the discomfort is gone, sometimes for several days.
A. Fennel seeds have been used for centuries to ease indigestion and flatulence, though the mechanism remains mysterious. We're pleased to learn it was so effective for you.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.