Dill pickles heal corners of mouth

Q. I saw your column about cracks at the corner of the mouth and was surprised to learn this actually had a name. About 17 years ago, I had cracks – almost like a paper cut – in the corners of my mouth. The next day they were gone. This seemed impossible!

I reviewed what had been special about that day and remembered I had been served a dill pickle with my sandwich. I was really hungry and ate it. (I do not really like dill pickles and don’t usually eat them.)

I have confirmed this healing power of pickles a number of times through the years. Now I keep a jar in the refrigerator for occasional use. I checked the label – I am a chemist – but I don’t know what it is that helps. Still, you can’t knock success.

A. The medical term for cracks at the corner of the mouth is angular cheilitis. This condition may sometimes be triggered by a deficiency of B vitamins. Dill pickles are not particularly rich in those nutrients, so we are mystified as to why they might help. As you say, though, success speaks for itself.

Q. I am an internal-medicine physician. For a year, I had progressive worsening brown discoloration of the medial and distal third of the right great toenail. On the advice of my dermatologist, I used Vicks VapoRub topically and had complete clearing after about 12 weeks.

I stopped using it regularly, and now I’m starting to see some recurrence. I’ll be using it again daily to keep my nails clear.

A. We are gratified when a physician benefits from a home remedy, especially if it is recommended by a specialist such as a dermatologist. Canadian researchers assessed a number of treatments for nail fungus and concluded: “Vicks VapoRub has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of onychomycosis [nail fungus] without side effects and is a reasonable option in patients who choose to forgo conventional treatments” (ISRN Dermatology online, Jan. 26, 2012).

For more information about Vicks and other remedies for nail fungus, we offer our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (66 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. H-31, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.>

Q. You ran a letter from a correspondent in Kenya who told about dirt being sold in the supermarket there. You said it isn’t sold in grocery stores in the U.S.

I was in a market in Georgia last week while I was traveling and noticed “white dirt” prominently displayed for sale. I checked it out and discovered it is a gourmet item for dirt eaters and commonly available via the Internet as well. You guys should be up on this stuff.

A. Thanks for bringing us up to speed. According to the online New Georgia Encyclopedia, white dirt is kaolin. The antidiarrheal medicine Kaopectate used to contain kaolin, although now it contains bismuth subsalicylate instead.

Although white dirt may be regional to Georgia, people across the South sometimes eat clay. As we mentioned, those who can’t get the clay of their choice may substitute cornstarch. Craving nonfoods (pica) may be linked to a deficiency of zinc or iron and often disappears when the deficiency is corrected.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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