Q. I read a letter from a reader who used Vicks VapoRub on the soles of her child’s feet to help with chest congestion and cough. I’m not sure why it works, but I’ve heard an anecdote that may be relevant.
If you rubbed crushed garlic on your feet, you would have the garlic on your breath in a short while. I guess the feet absorb strong-smelling compounds.
A. We can’t explain why smearing Vicks on the soles of the feet might calm a nighttime cough. The soles of the feet seem pretty tough. But perhaps you’re right that herbal oils in Vicks VapoRub can be absorbed.
Some people use crushed garlic to treat athlete’s foot. We don’t know whether this remedy causes bad breath.
In the 1930s scientists argued about the cause of garlic breath. Some claimed that particles of garlic trapped in the mouth were responsible. Others insisted that smelly garlic compounds circulated in the bloodstream and were exhaled. They devised a clever experiment to test their hypothesis:
They put fresh raw garlic into double capsules so no particles stayed in the mouth. People who swallowed these garlic capsules developed garlic breath within two hours.
The clincher was an experiment carried out in labor and delivery rooms. Women in the first stage of labor took garlic capsules and developed garlic breath. When their babies were born, they too had garlic breath lasting from 4 to 20 hours.