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Q: I read in your column that pickle juice can ease muscle cramps. I tried olive juice and found it much more consistently effective. The result is almost immediate.

A: Many olives are sold in a brine solution of salt and vinegar. We suspect that these are the common ingredients in both pickle and olive juice.

The mechanism for stopping muscle cramps quickly could be stimulation of TRP (transient receptor potential) channels in the mouth, throat and stomach. When these sensory nerves are activated, they send a signal to the spinal cord and overwhelm the hyperactive motor neurons responsible for the cramp (Muscle & Nerve, September 2017).

Q: What can I take to reduce my cholesterol besides pills? I would much prefer something natural rather than the statin my doctor suggested.

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A: You probably could please your physician by taking red-yeast rice. This product contains naturally produced statins that have been shown to lower cholesterol (Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, January 2017). A combination supplement (Armolipid Plus) with red-yeast rice, policosanol, berberine, folic acid, astaxanthin and coenzyme Q10 has been tested in randomized controlled trials (Atherosclerosis Supplements, February 2017). It lowers both total and LDL cholesterol.

Other strategies include getting regular exercise; following an anti-inflammatory diet, including nuts, grape juice, cinnamon and chocolate in some meals; and consuming soluble fiber. You can learn more about the details of these approaches in our “Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health.” For 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. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:

Q: I have had jock itch for about a year now. The cream the doctor gave me doesn’t work. Do you have any other suggestions?

A: Jock itch is usually triggered by a fungal infection. Warm, moist areas such as the folds of the groin provide hospitable conditions for these organisms.

Antifungal creams (often the same that are used for athlete’s foot or vaginal yeast infections) are frequently recommended. Other approaches include using Cetaphil cleanser on the affected area instead of soap. The ingredient propylene glycol has both antibacterial and antifungal activity (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, May 1947).

Dandruff shampoo such as Selsun Blue, containing selenium sulfide, also might be helpful. Be sure to rinse the skin thoroughly.

Q: Licorice oil helps heal various bites, burns and even cold sores. It takes down fire-ant bites fast!

I make my own licorice oil using one licorice tea bag to 1 cup of olive oil. I leave that mixture in a covered jar on the counter, though it could be refrigerated. The potency builds up over a day or two while the tea infuses the oil.

Apply the oil at the first sign of a cold sore and keep using it every 20 minutes until the area responds. Best cheap little remedy in your arsenal for all manner of “owies“!

A: Thanks for the tip. Dermatologists report that topical licorice compounds can help protect against UV-B-related sun damage (Experimental Dermatology, June 2016). They also may ease eczema (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, September 2003). Licorice has some antiviral and antimicrobial activity, which might explain your success (Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica. B, July 2015).