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People’s Pharmacy: Juniper berries for joint pain?

Q. I keep reading in your column that gin-soaked raisins are good for arthritis because of the juniper flavoring in the gin. Why not dispense with the raisins and gin and just eat juniper berries?

A. No one knows why some people seem to benefit from the “raisin remedy.” Speculation ranges from the sulfite preservative in golden raisins to the juniper flavoring of the gin.

We would discourage eating handfuls of juniper berries, though. There are dozens of species of juniper. Although some of the berries have anti-inflammatory activity (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Sept. 7, 2009), other species have berries that are toxic.

Q. My doctor has prescribed several different statins through the years. He started me on pravastatin, but I quit because of muscle and joint pain. I felt fine after I stopped.

Next came Lipitor, which brought my cholesterol down but also caused pain. It, too, stopped when I discontinued the drug. More recently he put me on simvastatin, which is causing terrible pain and stiffness in my hands. Is there any natural way to control cholesterol without statins?

A. There are lots of nondrug approaches to cholesterol control, including psyllium, niacin, cinnamon, fish oil, magnesium, walnuts, using olive oil instead of butter or margarine and cutting back on carbohydrates. There is research to support each of these approaches, but we think the best results might come from a combined effort.

One reader lowered her bad LDL cholesterol 44 points in five weeks without medications by using just such an approach. To find out how she did it, you may want to read “Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy” (