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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Kudzu extract may help control alcohol cravings

Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon King Features Syndicate

Q. Some time ago you had a letter from a woman who was drinking too much wine in the evening and wanted to cut back. You told her about a tea or an herbal concoction to diminish her desire to drink. She had tried it and was thrilled with the results. What was it?

A. She took kudzu-root extract (available in health-food stores). Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is famous as an invasive vine in the South. In its native China, kudzu has long been used to help people control their desire for alcohol.

New research (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, May 2005) has found that young adults who were given kudzu pills for a week drank less than two beers at a simulated party situation. Those who had taken a placebo pill averaged 3.5 beers.

While kudzu extract won’t magically turn alcoholics into nondrinkers, it might help others cut back on booze.

Q. I have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and have taken two different medications, Zocor and Lipitor. I had to quit them because of muscle weakness and pain.

A friend told me about policosanol, a product she found in the health-food store. Her doctor recommended it since she also cannot take statin drugs. What can you tell me about this supplement?

A. Policosanol is a natural compound derived from sugar-cane wax, beeswax or yams. While it might not lower cholesterol as well as statin-type medicines, data suggest it can lower bad LDL cholesterol and even raise good HDL cholesterol.

Side effects are relatively uncommon and include mild stomach upset, headache, insomnia and skin rash. Policosanol may interact with blood thinners and increase the risk of bleeding. Finding a quality product may be a challenge, since the Food and Drug Administration does not monitor dietary supplements.

Q. I cured my toenail fungus using a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and Listerine. I combined them in a quart jar with a screw-on lid and used a clean paintbrush to apply the liquid to the affected toes morning and night.

Then I put my socks on to keep it acting a while longer and protect the bedsheets at night. The fungus took about three months to clear up. It is slow-growing, but it is also slow to cure. I hope this helps someone else.

A. You combined a couple of favorite remedies. Many people have reported success soaking infected nails in 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. Others got good results soaking their toes in Listerine. Such remedies won’t work for everyone and take several months to produce results.

For anyone who would like to learn more about a variety of simple approaches for nail fungus and other common problems, we offer our Guides to Home Remedies and Nail Care. Please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. HR-311, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Q. Ever since I read that too much vitamin A could be bad for bones, I have been arguing with the makers of Centrum and other vitamin manufacturers. They all say that 5,000 IUs is just fine. Help!

A. Several studies have indicated that even recommended amounts of vitamin A might weaken bones and lead to fractures. But new research (Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, June 2005) suggests that normal doses of beta carotene and vitamin A (like those in multivitamins) are not related to fracture risk.

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