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Natural pest prevention

Q. Is there anything natural that I can use to keep away ants, roaches, flies and bees? I don't like using pesticides if I can avoid them.

A. Readers of this column have offered a variety of remedies to keep away insect pests: "I was at a child's birthday party, and wasps and bees were flying all over while the food was out. Someone said to get self-sealing zippered plastic bags, fill them with water and put them on the table. The wasps disappeared. If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I never would have believed it." Another said you need to put a shiny penny in the plastic bags, fill them with water and hang them so that the sunlight reflects off the bags.

Some people maintain that cinnamon can deter ants. One reader wrote: "I have always used toothpaste to repel ants. Just put a dab where they seem to be entering."

Another advises: "Sprinkle baby powder to prevent ants. Ants will not cross the powder, and it seems safe for animals. Dried cucumber peel deters roaches. I put it in kitchen drawers and behind appliances."

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Q. During a visit to an amusement park last fall, I developed severe leg cramps while walking around the park. This happened several times during the day, and each time I got a little cup of mustard from a food vendor, swallowed the mustard and washed it down with water. The cramps were gone within seconds, and I enjoyed the time at the park with the grandkids.

A. Yellow mustard is a favorite People's Pharmacy remedy for muscle cramps. Many people report success like yours. Some even keep individual serving packets on their nightstand just in case they are wakened with leg cramps.

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Q. I will be starting chemotherapy for breast cancer. What can I do to improve my chances for the best result? I am especially interested in healthy anti-cancer foods. I don't just want to be passive in my treatment!

A. We applaud your initiative. Cancer treatments often involve surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Diet may seem inconsequential compared with those powerful treatments, though we think it is important for post-treatment survival. The American Cancer Society has just issued guidelines to encourage more attention to diet and exercise to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

We have developed a list of anti-cancer foods such as garlic, leeks, brussels sprouts, scallions, cabbage, beets and broccoli. We think that limiting sugar intake is advisable because it can stimulate growth factors that may encourage abnormal cell proliferation.

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Q. At 39, my brother had knots come up on his shins. His ankles and knees got swollen, and the pain was so excruciating that he could barely walk. Tests showed his uric-acid levels were extremely high, and he was diagnosed with gout.

He couldn't afford prescription medicines, so he took pure cherry extract instead. Within three days, the knots and pain disappeared. His uric acid came down to normal, and he has had no problems since.

His doctor agreed that the cherries must have worked since he had no other treatment. I have used cherry extract successfully for joint pain. If you try this, be sure to use pure cherry extract, not watered-down juice.

A. Gout is a painful irritation of the joints due to excess uric-acid accumulation. Many people agree that tart cherries or cherry extract can be helpful. Anyone who tries this remedy should seek genuine cherry extract. Imitation cherry extract used for cooking is unlikely to work.