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A good potion for poison ivy

Q. I've used milk of magnesia to clear up poison ivy.

I used to get poison ivy all over after clearing the weeds and grass from my mowers in the Texas winds. I had to go to the doctor for a steroid shot to clear it up.

One weekend, out of desperation, I first wiped all the rashes down with rubbing alcohol and then rubbed milk of magnesia all over them. It worked much better than calamine lotion. The rash stopped weeping and spreading, and best of all, the itching stopped, too! It all cleared up quickly.

Now milk of magnesia is the first thing I grab as soon as blisters appear.

A. Calamine lotion contains zinc oxide and ferric oxide. It is an old-fashioned mainstay for poison ivy treatment, but there has been controversy about its effectiveness.

Other readers agree that topical applications of magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) can be helpful for soothing poison ivy rashes: "I heard that milk of magnesia (MoM) can be applied to underarms as a deodorant. I tried it, and it worked!

"Later I heard it is good for pimples. So when, two years ago, I had an attack of poison ivy, I thought MoM might work on poison ivy, too.

"It is GREAT! It stops the discomfort immediately and dries it up within a day."

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Q. I have had toenail fungus for years. It started with a big toe and eventually spread to all my piggies. My wife complained, but since no one else ever sees my ugly toes, I wasn't too concerned.

Now I have fungus on one fingernail, and I fear it may be spreading. My doctor was willing to prescribe antifungal medicine, but the cost and the side effects have scared me. Will the same remedies that you write about for toenail fungus work on fingernails? If so, please send me a copy.

A. We can't think of a reason why nail-fungus remedies wouldn't work as well for fingers as for toes. Daily soaks (hands or feet) in a solution containing original amber Listerine mouthwash and white vinegar are a popular approach to home treatment of nail fungus. You should be able to reuse the solution several times.

If this approach doesn't solve the problem, you may find one that does in the Guide to Nail Care we are sending you. 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. H-31, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

One popular home treatment is Vicks VapoRub. When tested in a small clinical trial, this was found to be effective (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, January-February 2011).

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Q. I put baking cocoa in my morning coffee instead of eating high-calorie dark chocolate. Is cocoa as good as the chocolate that is touted as beneficial to our health?

A. Cocoa that has been processed with alkali (termed "Dutch process") is lower in the antioxidant cacao flavonoids that offer health benefits. Natural processed cocoa can be rich in these compounds. They help make blood vessels more flexible, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity.

Adding cocoa to coffee provides the benefits of chocolate without the sugar or fat associated with candy.