Q: I want to tell you my success story about using coconut for treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I have suffered with debilitating IBS for 20 long years. I was often sick five days out of seven.
Then I saw your column on eating shredded coconut to quell diarrhea. I love coconut, so I decided to try it. I made it especially enjoyable by using macaroon cookies or Mounds bars in place of plain shredded coconut.
I was shocked when I realized that it was working! It’s been three weeks, and I’ve not had a single sick day.
A: We first heard about using coconut for difficult-to-treat diarrhea in 1998. A reader discovered that two Archway Coconut Macaroon cookies helped control this symptom of Crohn’s disease.
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Q: I have been taking black cohosh for hot flashes for about six months, with great success. Hot flashes were creeping back at about four months, so I discontinued black cohosh for a couple of weeks and then resumed. Once again, it is highly effective.
Now I wonder when I should discontinue it permanently. How will I know when the worst is over and I don’t need it anymore? Am I simply postponing hot flashes, as women do when they take hormone replacement therapy?
A: Some studies show that this herb is effective against hot flashes, while others suggest it is no more than a placebo. A review of 16 randomized controlled trials with more than 2,000 women found the evidence inconclusive (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Sept. 12, 2012).
Because black cohosh does not appear to act via estrogen, it is unlikely that you are simply postponing your hot flashes. It may take a year or two before your symptoms abate.
Q: I am writing from Kenya, where a lot of women eat clay. It is even packaged and sold at supermarkets. Whether they are pregnant or not, many women go through these 200-gram packs of dirt at an alarming pace. I was one of them myself. When I went to the doctor, he said I was anemic, but iron did not help. The cravings just got more intense during my periods and after.
I went back to the doctor. He put me on a zinc supplement for a while, and the cravings for clay disappeared. Women do seem susceptible to cravings when we have mineral deficiencies, and it does not matter which part of the world we come from.
A: You might be surprised how many women in North America also have these cravings. When they can’t get clay (it is not sold in supermarkets here), they often eat cornstarch. But the biological basis is the same: Iron or zinc deficiencies are often at the root of this behavior. Correcting the deficiency may help women overcome the craving.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website: www.peoplespharmacy.org