Q: I read that testing done on supplements from Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and GNC revealed that the ingredients were bogus. Is there any way a consumer can determine what is in these things?
A: The investigation by the New York attorney general's office revealed that some popular herbal products appeared to lack ingredients listed on the label. A spokesman for the office said: "In a good number of cases, there was no organic material in the product. In some cases, it was sand."
If the analysis holds up, it would be an indictment of the Food and Drug Administration's ability to regulate herbal products. Unlike most other developed countries where health authorities oversee dietary supplements and herbs, in the U.S. there is little monitoring for quality.
There is controversy surrounding the type of DNA testing that was carried out on the herbal extracts. Some experts doubt that the analysis used was appropriate for the material being analyzed. Extracts may not contain intact DNA, which would affect the validity of the findings.
It is hard for consumers to evaluate the quality of the supplements they buy. Consumers Union occasionally tests such products, as does the independent ConsumerLab.com.
Q: My mother has a remedy for styes that I am not sure you know about. We have used it in our family for more than 60 years.
To get rid of a stye, swallow one-quarter teaspoon of nutmeg two days in a row. The stye will dry up.
When I was a kid, I would have several styes on each eye. I would wake up in the morning and my eyes would be practically welded shut after the drainage from the styes dried overnight. I can remember that yucky yellow ointment the doctor gave
me. It didn't work very well at all, but the nutmeg took care of the problem.
A: Styes occur when the oil glands at the base of eyelashes become infected. These red bumps are very tender and usually resolve within a week to 10 days without treatment.
The usual treatment involves clean, warm compresses, though antibiotic ointments sometimes are prescribed. Nutmeg is a new one on us. Too much nutmeg could be toxic, so people should be cautious not to exceed the quarter teaspoon you mentioned. Overdose side effects may include palpitations, dry mouth, confusion, hallucinations and paranoia.
Q: I've been taking gin-soaked raisins for more than two months. I don't know whether or not they are helping my knee joints, but I don't care. They are delicious.
There's only one thing: I don't have a clue why one should take only nine, not eight or 10. Is that instruction a joke?
I've been taking a spoonful at bedtime and will continue so. Am I doing something wrong?
A: We often receive questions about the details of the "gin-raisin remedy" for arthritis. Like you, many want to know why nine raisins are specified. Others worry about the alcohol content or whether the gin-soaked raisins should be refrigerated.
We offer practical answers to such frequently asked questions in our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis. 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. AA-2, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
While nine raisins may be somewhat arbitrary, a teaspoon generally contains between eight and 10 raisins. We think you should be fine with a spoonful.
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."