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People’s Pharmacy: Kimchi conquers leg cramps

Q. For many years, I had excruciating leg and foot cramps that woke me several times each night. I would take a high-electrolyte drink to relieve the cramp, but it would be back a few hours later.

I started to eat kimchi (a Korean peppery, fermented cabbage relish) by chance, because I watched Korean dramas and was curious about the national dish. When I ate some kimchi during the day, I did not have cramps at night.

I started to eat a little kimchi every day. Kimchi is rich in beneficial microorganisms, and eating it improved my condition about 85 percent.

Recently, I read an article indicating that artificial sweeteners may kill gut microbes. I was a big user of the blue and pink stuff. As soon as I stopped using sweeteners, my condition zoomed to 100 percent cured.

Other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or pickles, might work just as well as kimchi. And folks who use artificial sweeteners might get a lot of benefit by eliminating them. I certainly did.

A. Thanks for the unusual tip. Others have written about success sipping pickle juice or swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard. But you are the first to mention kimchi or avoiding sweeteners.

There are many other approaches to warding off nighttime leg cramps in our Guide to Leg Pain. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. RLS-5, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: peoplespharmacy.com.

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Q. I have read that milk can neutralize the flavonoid compounds that make cocoa or chocolate healthful. How does that work? Is soy milk just as problematic? I want to get the maximum benefit from my pricey cocoa powder.

A. The protein in milk can form complexes with the flavonoid compounds in cocoa or those in tea (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, July 27, 2011). However, this does not seem to affect how much of the flavonoids are absorbed; one study showed no significant difference in blood levels whether 21 volunteers drank their cocoa made with milk or made with water (Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, February 2008).

You could use rice milk as a substitute for cow’s milk.

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Q. My body gives me a warning before an attack of shingles: I get pain on the skin in the area where I had full-blown shingles before. I have found if I take L-lysine as soon as I get that signal, I don’t have to deal with shingles again.

I start taking L-lysine three times a day with plenty of purified water and black tea, and zip zap, no outbreak! The pain subsides within a few hours.

I now use 500 mgs of L-lysine a day as a preventive, and it has been years since I’ve had an attack of shingles. I hope this helps others.

A. As far as we can tell, there have been no studies of L-lysine against shingles. The virus behind shingles, varicella zoster, is in the herpes family, and a number of studies indicate that L-lysine can help reduce herpes virus outbreaks (Alternative Medicine Review, June 2007). L-lysine does not seem to have serious side effects at the dose you are using, and we see no reason not to try it.