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Graedons' Pharmacy | Indian spice conquers smelly gas

Q: I have been reading about the problems some of your readers have with flatulence, and I would like to put forward a solution from an Indian kitchen. Placing a generous pinch of asafoetida ("hing") powder on the tongue and washing it down with water removes flatulence in a matter of hours.

A: Asafoetida is a resin from the underground portions of the plant Ferula asafoetida. It has been referred to in English as stinking gum or devil's dung, suggesting its strong, unpleasant odor.

In traditional Indian herbal medicine, asafoetida is used for lung conditions as well as digestive disorders. It contains compounds that prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure (Pharmacognosy Reviews, July 2012).

We understand that Indian cooks add hing to dishes that might otherwise cause flatulence and that it is valued as a culinary spice. Apparently it also has antifungal and anti-inflammatory activity and can be used to lower blood sugar (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Mar. 8, 2011).

Q: I had breast cancer in 2004, and therefore I cannot use any hormone products, not even black cohosh. The doctor prescribed Paxil for hot flashes.

I have found that one of the best products for hot flashes is pine bark extract. I read about it in a newspaper a number of years ago.

It is not a drug or a hormone but the extract from the bark of the white pine found in Europe. Someone renamed it Pycnogenol and charges a lot of money for it. I buy a less expensive pine bark extract, and it has made a huge difference in my hot flashes. It is a better solution than Paxil.

A: Pycnogenol is a standardized extract of French maritime pine bark. The first study we saw of its effectiveness for menopausal symptoms was published in August 2007 (Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica

Scandinavica).

Another clinical trial confirmed that French maritime pine bark extract relieves hot flashes and nighttime awakening in perimenopausal women better than placebo does (Journal of Reproductive Medicine, January-February 2013).

We have more information on Pycnogenol and other nondrug approaches to easing hot flashes in our Guide to Menopause. 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. W-50, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: I have recently begun using an inhaler for asthma and started getting leg cramps at night. I remembered the remedy with soap under the sheet and tried it. It worked almost immediately.

Five days later, I broke out in a red, itchy rash above my ankle. I stopped using Dove soap and waited a few days until the rash went away. Then I used Irish Spring, with the same results. What did I do wrong?

A: You did nothing wrong, but you may be especially susceptible to chemicals in soap that evaporate into the air. Fragrances and other volatile compounds in soap could pass through the sheet and sensitize your skin, leading to a rash.

A chemist suggested to us several years ago that limonene, a common volatile ingredient in soap, might be responsible for the anti-leg-cramp effect. It also can cause contact dermatitis in vulnerable individuals.

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."

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