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No buzz for vitamin B-1

>Q. I have found vitamin B-1 to be an effective deterrent for mosquito bites. I was recently in an area where I got multiple mosquito bites daily that itched unbearably. I developed open sores from scratching in my sleep, even when I used Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream.

In less than a week of taking vitamin B-1 (500 mg per day), I have not had any more bites. I know there are studies that say vitamin B-1 has no value for deterring insect bites, but my experience convinces me otherwise.

A. Thank you for sharing your testimonial. Some other readers also have found taking vitamin B-1 (thiamine) helpful against mosquitoes. The research we have found, however, indicates that this vitamin is not effective as a systemic mosquito repellent (Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, June 2005).

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>Q. I am 73 and have had high cholesterol (240-270) all my life. I prefer to avoid statin drugs.

I am fit and stay active biking, swimming, hiking and playing tennis. I also watch my diet.

I've heard that a daily supplement of red yeast rice would help lower my cholesterol without side effects. Any information you could send me would be most welcome.

A. Several studies have shown that red yeast rice lowers cholesterol just as well as some statins (American Journal of Cardiology, Jan. 15, 2010) and is less likely than a statin drug to cause unpleasant side effects (Annals of Internal Medicine, June 16, 2009). That said, some people do report muscle pain or other reactions to red yeast rice.

You'll find more details on red yeast rice along with many nondrug approaches to reducing blood lipids in the Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health we are sending you. Anyone else who would like a copy may send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (64 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

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>Q. Do you know of any good ways to deal with swimmer's ear? I can usually feel it coming on (often after swimming in a lake or pond), but I haven't been able to clear it up before it gets to the point where I need a doctor and some antibiotics.

A. Prolonged exposure to water sitting in the ear canal after swimming can make the outer ear more susceptible to this kind of infection. As you've noted, swimmer's ear is more common after swimming in nonchlorinated water that may contain bacteria.

The key to preventing swimmer's ear is to get the water out of the ear canal right after swimming. When you watch people tugging on their ears and tilting their heads to the side, that's what they are trying to do.

In addition, a drying solution can help. One reader offered this:

"My cousins and I were in the pool all summer long while growing up. Every time we were done swimming, everyone would do the following to remove water from his or her ears:

"1. With an eyedropper, fill each ear canal with a 5 0/5 0 mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar.

"2. Let the mixture sit for a moment while massaging around the ear.

"3. Tilt the head and use a tissue to blot the liquid out of your ear."

Do not use a cotton swab; scratching the lining of the ear can encourage infection. Pediatricians or family doctors often recommend this type of home remedy.

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