Q: My husband is a pancreatic-cancer survivor, so he has regular blood work done for his oncologist. A recent blood-panel result showed that his liver enzymes were very elevated. We had to figure out what he might have taken that raised his liver enzymes.
The answer turned out to be cinnamon-topped coffeecake. Who would have thought that cinnamon could be dangerous and do damage to your liver?
I suppose not everyone is affected by eating cinnamon, but certainly many think they can sprinkle it on cereal every day. It should be more widely known that cinnamon in regular quantities is not always as healthful as you might think.
A: Cinnamon from the spice rack is usually cassia or Chinese cinnamon. It often contains coumarin, a natural compound that can be harmful to the liver.
Several years ago, Germans were alarmed to learn that some of their favorite Christmas cookies, the zimtsterne or cinnamon stars, contained dangerously high quantities of coumarin. They were warned to limit cookie consumption to protect their livers.
Your husband might be especially susceptible to this effect; it would be wise to reserve cinnamon-topped coffeecake just as a rare treat.
Q: My feet sweat excessively, wetting my socks and making my feet cold. I am noticing this especially now since I'm wearing closed shoes and socks in the cold weather.
I have to change socks several times a day just to have dry ones. I have tried putting talc powder on my feet in the morning, but it doesn't seem to help. Any hints?
A: Some people find that using an anti
perspirant on the soles of the feet helps keep them dry. Antiperspirants contain aluminum salts, however. If you prefer to avoid aluminum, you might try tannic acid. Soak your feet for half an hour in very strong brewed black tea. Or mix fluffy tannic acid and bentonite in equal parts with your talc and use the resulting powder on your feet.
Evening soaks in a warm Epsom-salt solution for several nights also might reduce the amount your feet sweat.
Q: About 15 years ago, I was told I had high cholesterol. I have been taking simvastatin and fish oil since then.
At that time I was told to eat nothing with palm kernel oil or coconut oil. I have heard recently, though, that coconut oil is healthy. Is this true? Is it safe for me to eat products that contain coconut oil?
A: The prohibition of coconut oil was based on its high content of saturated fat. It seemed logical to conclude that saturated fat would clog arteries and cause heart disease. A review published last year shows, however, that the evidence supporting this association is flimsy (Advances in Nutrition, May 2013). The author points to analyses showing that coconut oil has health benefits, such as raising good HDL cholesterol more than risky LDL.
We offer a range of strategies to lower blood cholesterol levels in our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
We don't imagine it would be healthy to gorge on coconut and products containing coconut oil, but it seems you need not be strict about avoiding them completely.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Email them via PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is "Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them."