Q. For years I used terpin hydrate as an expectorant when I had a cough. It worked.

It was sold over the counter and one small bottle would last me the entire cold and flu season.

I would like to buy some before flu season hits this year. Over-the-counter cough remedies on the market today are like water. I drink them and they do NOT work.

Can terpin hydrate still be purchased without a prescription? I’ve never found another cough syrup that works as well.

A. Terpin hydrate was a popular cough medicine from the late 1800s until the mid 1990s. Then the FDA banned it in on the grounds that it had not been proven effective.

As an expectorant, terpin hydrate was supposed to loosen mucus and relieve coughs. It was derived from natural sources such as oil of turpentine or compounds found in oregano, thyme and eucalyptus.

Terpin hydrate is not available in the U.S. Instead, you may want to try a different old-fashioned remedy. Vicks VapoRub contains similar ingredients: oil of turpentine, thymol and eucalyptol. Don’t take it internally. Instead, Rub it on the chest or the soles of the feet to ease a cough.

Another approach is thyme tea. Use half a teaspoon of dried thyme leaves from the kitchen spice shelf per cup of tea. Lemon and honey improve the taste.

Q. I am having trouble adjusting my medicine for hypothyroidism. I was started on Synthroid and then the doctor switched me to Levoxyl, but I still feel terrible. I have gained weight I can’t lose. What I am losing is my hair and, often, my temper. I’m very irritable. What can you suggest?

A. Hair loss, moodiness, depression, weight gain, constipation, fatigue, dry skin, elevated cholesterol, memory problems and cold sensitivity can be symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland. It can be hard to get the dose of thyroid hormone just right. You will need to work with your doctor.

Some people benefit from a combination of T4 (Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid or Unithroid) with a very low dose of T3 (Cytomel). Doctors occasionally prescribe dessicated thyroid (Armour, Bio-Throid) that contains both types of thyroid hormone.

We are sending you our Guide to Thyroid Hormones for a discussion of symptoms and treatment of thyroid problems and guidance on how to understand the tests. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ The People’s Pharmacy®, No. T-4, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Q. I read in your column a question about treatments for vaginal dryness without resorting to hormones.

I’ve been using a product from New Zealand named Sylk for over a year now and find it does a great job in lubricating and relieving pain associated with vaginal dryness during relations.

A. This lubricant is water-based and contains kiwi vine extract. The U.S. distributor can be reached at 866-831-2920.

Q. Is there any upper limit on the amount of magnesium that is safe? I take about 700 mg spread out through the day.

A. The current recommendation is 320 mg for women over 30 with an upper limit of 350 mg.

Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea or abdominal cramps. Those with kidney problems should take magnesium only under medical supervision.

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