Q. I have high cholesterol and diabetes (controlled through diet). I’ve been using cinnamon to help keep my blood sugar and cholesterol down. I’d like to continue, but I read in your column that it might be dangerous.
Is there a specific brand or type that does not have the damaging ingredient in it? I hate to buy yet another expensive supplement when cinnamon is so readily available in the spice aisle of the grocery store.
A. Research shows that cinnamon may be helpful in controlling blood sugar, but German regulatory authorities have warned that the kitchen spice may sometimes contain high levels of coumarin. This compound could be damaging to the liver or kidneys, especially if a person were taking fairly high levels on a daily basis.
The water-based extract called Cinnulin PF does not contain coumarin. This nutritional supplement is available in health food stores.
Q. I once suffered from GERD and took Prilosec daily. Even so, I had severe heartburn and often food got lodged in my esophagus, even after it was surgically stretched. I had a few other minor health problems and I was a bit overweight, so I was ready to make some changes in hope of improving my life.
A friend suggested a low-carb diet. Though I expected little, I opted to try it. After three days, I realized that I had no heartburn, so I discontinued the Prilosec without ill effects. I’d tried to quit the drug before but the heartburn had gotten worse after stopping it.
A short time later, I found I could swallow without choking. After years of suffering, my life was normal once again. It has now been a year and I have lost 45 pounds. I’m still fine.
My message is simple: If you’re having heartburn, GERD or swallowing difficulties, ask your doctor if it would be ok for you to try a temporary low-carb diet. I strongly believe it will help many people.
A. Thanks for sharing your story. In one study, people on a carbohydrate-restricted diet had significantly less heartburn (Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Aug. 2006).
We discuss other non-drug approaches to heartburn in our Guide to Digestive Disorders. 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’ People’s Pharmacy, No. G-3, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded for $2 from the Website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q. Can you confirm that drinking three quarts of lemonade daily may help prevent kidney stones?
A. Kidney stones form when calcium and oxalate in urine combine and precipitate. Making the urine less acidic can help cut this risk, and doctors sometimes prescribe potassium citrate to lower urinary acidity.
People sometimes object, however, to taking a lot of potassium citrate pills. Investigators have reported that drinking two liters (just over two quarts) of lemonade daily worked nearly as well as potassium citrate tablets in changing urinary composition (Journal of Urology, Sept. 1996).
Q. I just read your column in which a person with sinus problems advocates using a saline solution twice a day. I have been doing this for years when my sinuses start to act up. The only difference is I make my own saline with water and table salt.
A. One recipe for saline solution to wash nasal passages calls for ¼ teaspoon salt to 8 ounces of water.