Health News

Graedons' Pharmacy: Mustard versus ice-pick headaches

I have had an ice-pick headache for days. I just read on your website that a spoonful of mustard might help, and at this point I am desperate to try anything.

I never buy into home remedies like this, but as they say, any port in a storm. So I swallowed a spoonful of yellow mustard 15 minutes ago. Now I have no more stabbing pains.

A. Ice-pick headaches are described as sharp, sudden, excruciating pain. It is somewhat unusual for them to last for days.

Some time ago, we heard from an individual who found that swallowing a teaspoon of yellow mustard offered relief from long-lasting ice-pick headaches. We are glad to learn it helped you, too.

Q. I recently read an article about a physician who is advising people on strategies to avoid developing Alzheimer's disease. Besides cutting sugar and carbs, he advises eating berries and drinking cocoa. The doctor puts CocoaVia in his own daily coffee.

Dark, unsweetened CocoaVia turns my black decaf coffee into a very pleasant-tasting mocha hot drink and only adds 30 calories. Have you any information about this product, side effects and results?

A. We checked a report from on cocoa powders and extracts. CocoaVia from Mars Symbioscience scored very highly on tests of purity and flavanol concentration. Cocoa flavanols are the antioxidant compounds responsible for lowering blood pressure, preventing blood clots and increasing good HDL cholesterol.

Preliminary research indicates that cocoa extracts may help prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid compounds that accumulate in the brains

of Alzheimer's disease patients (Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2014).

Other fruits and berries also contain such compounds. We can think of no adverse effects from putting cocoa in your coffee.

Q. I heard a rumor that leaves of nopal cactus and a drink made from hibiscus (jamaica) are useful in helping control blood sugar in diabetes. Is there any truth to this?

A. Hibiscus extract lowered both blood sugar and total cholesterol in one study of people with insulin resistance, a preliminary stage before diabetes (Phytomedicine, June 2010).

In another study, when people with type 2 diabetes ate nopal (prickly pear cactus leaves) with a high-carb breakfast, their blood sugar did not spike (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics online, Aug. 12, 2014).

There are many other nondrug approaches to blood-sugar control, including cinnamon, vinegar, bitter melon, fenugreek, low-carb vegetables and oolong tea. We provide details in the Guide to Managing Diabetes we are sending you. 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. DM-11, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Q. I suffered with anal itch for a very long time. Prescribed creams didn't help. Finally, one doctor told me to avoid caffeine. I switched to decaf, and it changed my life. He also recommended no spicy food and no chocolate (sorry, no can do), but the switch to decaf was the life-changer.

A. Although we found no research on caffeine causing anal itch, we discovered a recommendation that patients be warned about caffeine (Postgraduate Medicine, November 1995).