Q. I just ate a bar of sugarless dark chocolate. It was low-carb and gluten-free, so I assumed it would be a healthy treat. I suffered severe stomach cramping, gas and diarrhea! What happened?
A. Sugarless candy is often sweetened with maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol or xylitol. These sweeteners are called sugar alcohols, although they are neither sugar nor alcohol. They have fewer calories than table sugar and were originally derived from natural sources such as sweet potatoes, pineapples, birch bark or beets. These compounds are not absorbed well, so they attract water into the lower digestive tract. This can result in cramping and diarrhea if too much is consumed.
Q. Years ago, I read in your column about using plain old yellow mustard for leg cramps. When I get cramps in the calves of my legs at night, they are so severe that I just about break my neck trying to get out of bed as quickly as possible. Standing up and walking around does help a bit, but the cramps still leave me in agony.
Once I swallow a tablespoon of French’s mustard, it generally helps me within a minute or so. My daughter suffers from occasional leg cramps as well and also has found relief by taking a spoonful of mustard. When I’m traveling, I make certain that I have a small bottle of mustard in the car with me.
A. We don’t know why mustard works so well against muscle cramps. It may be the turmeric included for its yellow color, or it could be the vinegar or the salt. However it works, many readers agree that this remedy has rescued them from excruciating leg cramps.
Here’s one story: “Several doctors have run full metabolic panels on me but never found an electrolyte imbalance to explain my horrible leg cramps. One doctor prescribed potassium just in case, but it didn’t help. Another suggested calcium – also no help.
“I took quinine tablets for 10 years until the Food and Drug Administration banned its use for cramps, but it gave only partial relief. Luckily, a friend had read about mustard the same month I stopped quinine, and the years since then have been wonderful.
“Muscle cramps have multiple causes. No one answer seems to work for everyone. But nothing has matched mustard for me. I even keep it in my car for long trips.”
Q. One of your readers wrote about success using Listerine for acne. I had equal success using Listerine for my psoriasis.
Large red areas on my legs itched severely. The doctor could offer no cures except to enter a clinical trial. Instead I used Listerine. I applied it twice a day, and the itching stopped almost immediately. It took about six or seven weeks for the redness to disappear. That was seven years ago. The psoriasis has not recurred.
A. Your story is intriguing. We suspect that dermatologists would be skeptical. Nevertheless, we have heard from others that old-fashioned amber-colored Listerine does help ease the itching of scalp psoriasis. Other natural approaches to psoriasis include moderate sun exposure or consuming turmeric, flaxseed oil, cilantro or salsa.
Q. I was searching for natural asthma relief and read that turmeric could tame wheezing. This is the main ingredient in curry powder. I have been swallowing spoonfuls of them both for several days. I found that together with my inhalers, they give more relief than I get from inhalers alone. But I have found that I bleed much more easily. Could turmeric do this?
A. We have received a number of reports from readers taking warfarin (Coumadin) that combining turmeric with this anticoagulant increases its anti-clotting effect. The INR number used to measure how well the warfarin is working may climb unexpectedly. We have not seen studies showing that turmeric has anticoagulant activity on its own, but it sounds as though you may be experiencing such an effect. You may want to reduce the dose you are using.