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FAMILY DOCTOR

Q: Would you care to comment on the contents in a garlic capsule purchased in a health food store? Does it have anything to do with real garlic? My father-in-law claims garlic is the secret to his healthy longevity, and I am trying to determine if garlic pills may do the same for me without some of the associated "fragrance."

A: The tales of the beneficial actions of garlic are legend, and many scientists are trying to determine the ifs, whys and hows of this common ingredient in many ethnic cuisines. The Egyptians listed 22 medical uses for the bulb, and even Louis Pasteur was aware of garlic's ability to destroy bacteria way back in 1858.

The material in a pill labeled "garlic powder" is identical to that found in cloves of garlic that have been dehydrated and then ground into a fine powder. This substance contains the chemical allicin, which is credited with so many of the reported beneficial effects of garlic. As allicin breaks down, it creates compounds with the characteristic garlic odor as well as many other chemicals researchers are studying. While you may have some of this chemical oozing out of your sweat pores for a day or so, the "fragrance" won't be quite as strong.

Q: Please help me. I have noticed that of late my urine has taken on a reddish tinge. I have heard this is a sure sign of cancer. My present finances are tight, and I don't want to begin something that will require endless visits to the doctor and produce bills I can't afford.

A: You are putting the cart before the horse, making the worst possible diagnosis an obstacle to obtaining a few simple and inexpensive tests that might prove your fears are without foundation.

Many things can color your urine and have no serious implications. Some foods -- beets, blackberries, rhubarb -- can impart a reddish hue to urine, as can certain medications (quinine sulfate, Pyridium, rifampin). If you are on anticoagulant medications such as coumadin or heparin, they may be the cause of red blood cells in your urine.

Although many conditions can cause bleeding in your urinary tract, tumors are among the rarest. You must see your doctor and have a simple test performed to determine if indeed there is blood there and allow him to take a full history and perform an examination that may provide the clues to a diagnosis that is far more benign than you now fear. An easy-to-cure bladder infection may be the cause.

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