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People’s Pharmacy: Eating raw onion saved brother’s life

Q. When my brother was young, he took a drink from a bottle of pop, not realizing there was a wasp inside the bottle. It stung him far down his throat, which quickly began swelling up.

We had a general store at the time. My dad grabbed a raw onion and made my brother eat it. Luckily, the swelling went down almost immediately. I think it probably saved his life, as his throat was closing up. He always loved raw onion after that.

A. Such an emergency requires immediate medical attention rather than a home remedy. That said, we are glad eating a raw onion counteracted the swelling from the sting.

Freshly cut onion has been used to soothe bee or wasp stings for a long time. According to one reader, Swiss farmers have been using this remedy for centuries. A study of 301 Turkish beekeepers found that two-thirds use cut onion or garlic on stings (International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology, July 2014). Years ago, world-renowned onion chemist Eric Block, Ph.D., told us the enzymes in fresh-cut onion break down the inflammatory compounds in a sting.


Q. My favorite People’s Pharmacy cure? Archway coconut cookies for diarrhea. Normally, one small cookie does the trick for me, small children and, oh yes, even my dogs.

I gave one to my daughter’s beagle when she had a bout of the runs, and it did the trick. Her vet didn’t approve and said I had given Josie (the beagle) more sugar than she needs in her whole life, but it stopped the problem immediately. It was super easy to administer and had no discernible side effects.

A. We first learned about this remedy from Donald Agar in Pittsfield, Mass., who discovered it through self-experimentation. We have since heard from many readers who have found coconut helpful, in cookies or alone. There are more details on this and hundreds of other remedies in our book “Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy.” It is available in libraries and online (


Q. My husband and I both take fish-oil supplements and Benecol Smart Chews to lower our cholesterol, but our doctor wants us to raise our HDL. I started restricting my carb intake to see if that might have an impact.

Since I have celiac disease, I have to eat gluten-free foods. I was looking for something I could use as a pasta substitute when I found tofu shirataki noodles. They have just enough tofu in them to make the texture like pasta. They are sold in our regular grocery stores and Asian markets.

My husband and I both showed a marked improvement in our HDL levels from the prior year after eating these noodles a few times a week.

There is a bit of a trick to preparing them. Rinse them in very hot water when you take them out of the package, and dry them out in a nonstick skillet so they don’t make the sauce too watery. For less than 100 calories, I can have a plate of pasta for lunch, and it’s healthy for me!

A. A low-carb vegan diet was tested against a high-carb vegetarian diet (BMJ Open online, Feb. 5, 2014). After six months, volunteers eating the low-carb vegan diet had lost more weight and had better lipid levels than those on the high-carb diet.

The vegan diet included soy products as well as vegetables. This may help explain the benefit you and your husband have experienced from eating noodles made from soy and yams.