Q. I experienced leg cramps that started in my toes and went up almost to my diaphragm. I tried sublingual homeopathic tablets, without success.
My son, a handball player, told me the professional handball players use pickle juice for cramps. I tried it when I was ready to call 911. (The pain under my diaphragm made it hard to breathe.)
The pickle juice worked almost instantaneously. I now keep a bottle of it in my refrigerator at all times in case of an emergency.
A. Many doctors find such anecdotes silly and hard to believe, but there are no Food and Drug Administration- approved drugs for easing leg cramps.
Home remedies are rarely tested, but scientists at Brigham Young University performed an experiment with 10 college students. The young athletes exercised and then had a mild electrical current applied to induce a muscle cramp. The volunteers were given water or pickle juice. Pickle juice relieved the cramps about 40 percent faster than water (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2010).
Q. I have read recently that low levels of vitamin D could make people more likely to get cancer. But I also have read that too much vitamin D is dangerous. Can you tell me what is an appropriate daily amount of this vitamin?
A. Although there is no clear evidence that low levels of vitamin D cause cancer, a number of studies have found that people with cancer are more likely to have low levels of this vitamin.
A recent study showed such a linkage: Women with more aggressive breast tumors had lower levels of vitamin D in their bloodstreams. Other research found that men with low levels and those with high levels of vitamin D were both more likely to die of cancer (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2010). In this study, the best blood levels lay between 18 and 40 nanograms per milliliter.
The appropriate level of vitamin D supplementation depends on an individual’s blood level. It might range between 800 and 4,000 IU per day. For more information about interpreting the blood test and how much you should take, we are sending you our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (61 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. D-23, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q. Some years ago, I read about the benefits of zinc in reducing the frequency of respiratory-tract infections. I have been taking 100 mg of the mineral daily ever since, along with 1,000 mg of vitamin C.
I used to get frequent, severe and long-lasting colds. Since I began taking the zinc and C combo, I’ve had fewer and milder colds.
I read recently about people experiencing zinc toxicity from denture creams. Am I asking for trouble?
A. It is possible to develop copper deficiency as a reaction to taking in zinc at a level of 100 to 300 mg per day over a long period of time (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 1990). You may be flirting with copper deficiency. Have your blood tested and consider cutting back to under 50 mg of zinc daily. The recommended dietary allowance of zinc for an adult man like you is 11 mg per day.