Q. I was surprised to see in a recent column a suggestion for swallowing peanut butter as a cure for hiccups. Years ago I read that one should never eat peanut butter unless it is on a cracker, bread, celery, etc. Eaten alone, peanut butter can easily lodge in the throat and can be impossible to remove.
A. If someone has trouble swallowing, it would be prudent to avoid peanut butter. But for most folks, we can’t see how it would matter much if the peanut butter were on a piece of celery or just licked off a spoon.
The idea behind this hiccup cure is to stimulate the vagus nerve in the throat, which could be done just as easily with a spoonful of granulated sugar (a classic remedy) or by sucking on a lemon wedge with a drop of bitters (the bartenders’ standby).
One remedy that doesn’t involve any swallowing was described by doctors in the Journal of Emergency Medicine (Nov. 2004). They suggested taking a deep breath and holding it for 10 seconds. Then, without exhaling, take two additional breaths and hold each for 5 seconds.
Q. What is hoodia? I keep getting email messages that this is a wonderful way to lose weight. Does it work? Is it safe?
A. Hoodia is a cactus that grows in the Kalahari desert in southern Africa. It is being promoted as a marvelous weight loss agent, but there is very little clinical research to support the claims.
One small unpublished study (18 obese patients) demonstrated some benefit, but we would need to see far more evidence before recommending this plant product. Questions have been raised about quality control of hoodia products and long-term safety has not been established.
Q. I have been on acid-blocking drugs for years to treat heartburn. Initially I was on Prilosec, then Prevacid and now Nexium.
I recently saw a naturopathic physician who said that stomach acid is necessary for proper digestion and good health. He said I will be more vulnerable to infections if I keep shutting down my stomach acid and recommended two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water instead. This seems totally illogical to me.
A. Vinegar seems like an odd remedy for heartburn, but this isn’t the first time we have heard that it might work. One reader reported that his doctor actually recommended a tablespoon or two of vinegar in water for heartburn relief. He tried it and the discomfort went away.
Studies have suggested that constantly suppressing stomach acid may increase the risk of pneumonia or severe infectious diarrhea (JAMA; Oct. 27, 2004 and Dec. 21, 2005). Acid in the stomach kills bacteria, and without it they may survive and cause mischief. Nonetheless, some people require such medication to avoid scarring the esophagus.
We are sending you our Guide to Digestive Disorders for other suggestions on non-drug approaches to heartburn. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ The People’s Pharmacy®, No. G-3, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded from www.peoplespharmacy.com for $2.
Q. I heard that locally produced honey could help allergies. How much should be taken each day?
A. Although we too have heard of this remedy, a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (Feb. 2002) suggests it is ineffective.

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