Q. I am disappointed in your response to the person who claimed that swallowing a teaspoonful of mustard cured severe leg cramps in two minutes. You agreed with the writer that it was most likely the turmeric in mustard, or perhaps the vinegar, that eased the leg cramps. Explain please how anything that is swallowed could go through the digestive system, enter the bloodstream, reach the writer’s legs and ease cramps – all in less than two minutes. This sounds like junk science and should be relegated to the trash bin, along with putting a bar of soap at the foot of the bed, under the sheets, to cure leg cramps. That’s another magic cure with no evidence.
A. You are certainly correct that we don’t have a good explanation for how mustard helps ease leg cramps. Despite your skepticism, we have heard from hundreds of people who have done their own experiments.
Here is just one example:“I suffer from frequent, very painful leg cramps. When you recommended a spoonful of mustard as a source of relief, I thought it was just some form of folk snake oil. But what did I have to lose in trying it?
“It works remarkably well and has never failed me. It usually takes two to three minutes before relief is noted.”
Even though we can’t explain why mustard or soap under the bottom sheet can be helpful against leg cramps does not mean these remedies are bogus. The mechanism of action of many prescription drugs also is unknown.
For eye disease
Q. I have recently been diagnosed as having early macular degeneration. My ophthalmologist has suggested I take a dietary supplement to hold off this eye disease. The one he recommended contains vitamin A, beta carotene, lutein, zinc and bilberry. What is your opinion on this product?
A. Research has shown that dietary supplementation can slow the progression of moderate or advanced macular degeneration (but not the early stage of the disease, like yours). Your eye doctor did not specify the most recent evidence-based formulation, though. The study called AREDS2 (the second Age-Related Eye Disease Study) showed benefit from a daily dose of 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 10 mg lutein, 2 mg zeaxanthin, 25 mg zinc and 2 mg copper (JAMA, May 15, 2013). Beta carotene, vitamin A and bilberry may not be necessary.
Q. I read your “brain freeze” article just days before waking up with a migraine. Whenever I get a migraine I wake up with it, so I have no warning and begin vomiting within five or 10 minutes. Usually I can’t keep any medicine down long enough for it to take effect. My husband ran and got me some ice cream. Intentionally creating brain freeze is not as easy as it sounds! I had to hold it in my mouth to the roof and back of the throat. That worked after about five minutes. I took ibuprofen instead of my migraine meds (because they make me feel awful). This migraine stopped, and I was able to go to work on time, without any headache. I never vomited. Thanks for the tip.
A. You are not the only one to report relief from migraines by inducing brain freeze. Having a cold substance in the mouth (ice cream, ice water, etc.) makes blood vessels above the roof of the mouth dilate rapidly and then constrict. This could explain why it helps some migraine sufferers.
Reach Joe and Terry Graedon at PeoplesPharmacy.com.