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Hot peppers for heartburn?

Q. I was on reflux drugs like omeprazole (PPIs) for more than 10 years and even had surgery for severe reflux. I was determined to get off the PPIs, so I started drinking ginger tea, eating crystallized ginger when acute pain hit, snacking on several almonds every few hours and taking a teaspoon of honey at night before bed. It definitely helped ease the symptoms but did not eliminate the heartburn.

Feeling discouraged, I ate some jalapeno-topped snacks even though my doctor had warned me to avoid anything hot. My reflux is now kept in check by jalapenos every few days without needing anything else! The reflux pain only returns if I go a week without eating any jalapenos.

I have been PPI-free for more than 18 months now and feel so much better. Why would jalapenos make such a difference so quickly? The pain eases within an hour of eating them and lasts for several days.

A. There is research suggesting that capsaicin (the hot stuff in jalapeno peppers) may be protective for the stomach lining (Journal of Physiology, Paris, January-December 2001). Although some people experience discomfort when they eat hot peppers, regular use appears to decrease reflux symptoms (Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, April 2010). You can learn more about mustard, vinegar and hot peppers for heartburn in the book "Best Choices From The People's Pharmacy."

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Q. I'm 33 and had a partial hysterectomy at 27. I started a medication at 28 that affected my libido and caused vaginal dryness. This is very hard, especially at my age.

My doctor recently recommended using Crisco shortening before intercourse. This really shocked me! I'm so embarrassed to ask this, but what products will help with the dryness and not have a bad taste (if you catch my drift)?

A. Olive, almond or coconut oil might do the trick. Other options include aloe vera gel or a commercial product called Sylk that contains kiwi fruit vine extract.

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Q. I was sitting in church Sunday right next to someone who was sniffling and sneezing. It was not possible to move without creating disruption.

Even though I washed my hands as soon as I got home, I am afraid I may be coming down with her cold. Are there any natural treatments I can use?

A. There are quite a few treatments for colds that can help ease symptoms or speed their disappearance. One of our favorites, supported by research (Chest, Oct., 2000), is chicken soup. We also have found ginger tea helpful.

There is evidence that Andrographis, astragalus, elderberry, garlic and zinc each may be beneficial, while scientists have found that conventional cough medicines don't work as well as honey for children (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, December 2007).

The Guide to Colds, Coughs and the Flu that we are sending you has details on all these treatments and many more. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (64 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. Q-20, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:

Each cold is different, so you may need to experiment to find the best remedy. For a nighttime cough, we favor Vicks on the soles of the feet.

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