Graedons' Pharmacy: Juniper berries for joint pain?

April 30, 2013 

Q: I keep reading in your column that gin-soaked raisins are good for arthritis because of the juniper flavoring in the gin. Why not dispense with the raisins and gin and just eat juniper berries?

A: No one knows why some people seem to benefit from the "raisin remedy." Speculation ranges from the sulfite preservative in golden raisins to the juniper flavoring of the gin.

We would discourage eating handfuls of juniper berries, though. There are dozens of species of juniper. Although some of the berries have anti-inflammatory activity (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Sept. 7, 2009), other species have berries that are toxic.

Q: My doctor has prescribed several different statins through the years. He started me on pravastatin, but I quit because of muscle and joint pain. I felt fine after I stopped.

Next came Lipitor, which brought my cholesterol down but also caused pain. It, too, stopped when I discontinued the drug.

More recently he put me on simvastatin, which is causing terrible pain and stiffness in my hands. Is there any natural way to control cholesterol without statins?

A: There are lots of nondrug approaches to cholesterol control, including psyllium, niacin, cinnamon, fish oil, magnesium, walnuts, using olive oil instead of butter or margarine, and cutting back on carbohydrates. There is research to support each of these approaches, but we think the best results might come from a combined effort.

One reader lowered her bad LDL cholesterol 44 points in five weeks without medications by using just such an approach. To find out how she did it and learn more about how natural approaches can improve heart health, you may want to read our book "Best Choices From The People's Pharmacy" (online at

Q. I have suffered terribly during the past few years with nighttime cramps of my inner thigh muscles. I would move the wrong way and then end up in excruciating pain for up to an hour, trying to stretch out my legs or walk around the house.

I read about keeping mustard in my bedside drawer. I was extremely skeptical, but I prepared and put a packet of mustard there anyway. Last night, I got a cramp, and the mustard worked in seconds!

This seems unbelievable, even though I experienced it.

A. We are not sure why yellow mustard works so quickly against muscle cramps. Perhaps the vinegar is responsible, since some people get benefit from drinking a shot of pickle juice. On the other hand, the benefit may be coming from the turmeric that gives yellow mustard its vibrant color. Turmeric contains curcumin, a known anti-inflammatory compound.

All we know is that it often helps, doesn't hurt and doesn't cost much.

Joe Graedon, a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon, a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert, answer readers' questions in their column. Email them via their website:

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