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Capsaicin helps heartburn

Q. I have had success with a remedy I read about in your newspaper column. I have persistent heartburn and was on prescription medications for more than a decade. I was surprised to read that cayenne-pepper extract had helped others with this problem.

I have been taking one cayenne pill in the morning and one in the evening for less than two weeks. I have gone from chomping Tums or Rolaids three to five times a day to almost none. It has made a huge difference in the way I feel. The relief came very quickly and was inexpensive. I have even had some pretty spicy food.

A. You have confirmed what others report, namely that capsaicin (the hot stuff in chili peppers) may be helpful for heartburn. Although such an approach seems unorthodox, a study in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (April 2010) showed that regular ingestion of hot peppers reduced symptoms of reflux. Using an extract in pill form might be more tolerable for those who dislike spicy flavors.

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Q. At 40, my health, weight and energy all were normal. Then I began to feel tired all the time and suffered with constipation, very dry skin and puffy eyes. My elderly family doctor ran a blood test and found I had hypothyroidism. He prescribed Armour Thyroid, and I soon felt like a winner.

When my doctor passed away, I found a new doctor. He changed the medication to Levoxyl, and I am once again gaining a lot of weight despite working out an hour a day. My bowels don't work, and my skin is so cracked, I look like an alligator. I told my doctor I'm so tired I fear I will fall asleep behind the wheel, but he doesn't want to switch me back to the medicine that worked for me. He just says I'm getting older.

A. While many patients do well on synthetic thyroid hormone (levothyroxine, Levoxyl, Synthroid), you are not the only one who has found that Armour desiccated thyroid works better. One reader wrote: "I wish I had demanded Armour thyroid sooner. I kept saying Synthroid didn't work. Instead of letting me know about Armour, I was given antidepressants."

To help you discuss this with your doctor, we are sending you our Guide to Thyroid Hormones. In it we discuss the diagnosis and treatment of common thyroid conditions, including the use of Armour Thyroid. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (65 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. T-4, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

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Q. I have been suffering with hives for eight years. No drugstore remedy worked. After reading on your website that vitamins might help, I started to take vitamin C and vitamin D supplements. I am amazed with the results.

I talked with my allergist this morning, and he was surprised as well. Keep spreading the word!

A. We have not found any recent studies of vitamin C for treating hives, but a case series published in the West Virginia Medical Journal (January-February 2011) suggests that many people with hives may have low vitamin D. When this is corrected with supplements, the hives go away. We also have heard from others who have had success using vitamin C for hives.

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Q. I have irritation in my digestive tract, with possible bleeding in the small intestine. Which is better for me to take, baby aspirin or enteric-coated 81 mg aspirin?

I have taken a baby aspirin since the early '80s. At some point I switched to enteric-coated aspirin. When I started Niaspan more than a year ago, I increased it to three per day.

A. Doctors have recommended enteric-coated aspirin to protect the stomach from irritation that could lead to ulcers. The special coating on these pills keeps the ingredients from being released in the stomach. Instead, they are dispersed in the small intestine.

New technology has allowed physicians to view the small intestine and discover that it also is quite susceptible to damage from aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like diclofenac, ibuprofen and naproxen (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, January 2005).

Aspirin, even chewable baby aspirin, may be too risky for you. Please discuss this with your doctor.

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Q. How does a vegetarian achieve a low-carbohydrate diet? I thought I was eating healthily, but my blood sugar is creeping up, and my waistline is over 38 inches.

A. Belly fat is linked to heart disease (Obesity Reviews online, April 27, 2011). Carbohydrates contribute to this problem, so a low-carb diet can help reduce belly fat (presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting, 2011).