Q: My “healthy neighbor in the know” swears that astaxanthin is a better alternative to chemical-laden sunscreens. What say you?

A: Astaxanthin is a type of carotenoid derived from marine organisms. Generally, carotenoids are produced by plants and serve as precursors to vitamin A in animals. However, astaxanthin is not converted to this vitamin. It has anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating activity (Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, January 2020). As a result, dietary supplements containing this ingredient have been promoted for skin health.

We were excited to learn that many carotenoids help protect skin from sun damage (Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine, online, May 5, 2021). According to the scientists, “Oral supplementation with multi-carotene supplements may provide incidental photoprotection with a more uniform coverage over the total body surface area and could potentially help maintain a healthy-looking skin.” However, they warn that supplements are not a substitute for effective sunscreens but should be used in addition for complementary photoprotection.

Q: I spent all day yesterday moving furniture and heavy boxes, so by bedtime I fell asleep exhausted. In the middle of the night, I woke with a massive cramp in my right leg, starting with the foot and moving all the way up to the knee, on both the front and back of the leg. It was much more than a standard charley horse!

I tried to stretch it, but nothing would move. So I limped to the kitchen for a spoonful of yellow mustard. The refrigerator shelf was empty! I had pitched the past-date bottle two weeks ago and not replaced it.

I keep mustard powder in the pantry, so I mixed up a spoonful with vinegar and Tabasco sauce. I must say it tasted vile, but within two minutes my leg relaxed, and I slept the rest of the night without a problem. The muscles weren’t even sore when I woke up. Tell me again why this worked.

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A: Muscle cramps associated with unaccustomed exertion seem to be caused by a glitch in the connection between neurons and muscles. Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in nerves can override and correct that when activated.

Your concoction contained three different compounds that can trigger TRP channels: vinegar, mustard and capsaicin from the Tabasco. Congratulations on coming up with an innovative mixture to take care of the crisis.

You can learn more about the science behind mustard for muscle cramps and other home treatments for common problems in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies. This online resource is found under the Health eGuides tab at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q: When you write about coffee, does instant coffee automatically qualify? I drink instant and worry I may be missing benefits.

A: Many studies showing that coffee can help the heart, for example, don’t separate instant coffee from other preparation techniques. However, a recent analysis found that instant and decaf coffee both provide liver protection similar to that from regular brewed coffee (BMC Public Health, June 22, 2021).

Instant coffee, like filtered coffee, has very little kahweol and cafestol, compounds that can raise cholesterol if consumed in large quantities. That makes instant coffee a reasonable choice.