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Q: My husband and I are in our early 60s and lead an active lifestyle, working in town and living on a homestead with livestock. My husband spent 25 years in the military and also was a competitive runner, so he has flat feet and hip pain.

Both of us worry about our cardio and brain health (fearing dementia, as do most older Americans). I’m hoping you might advise on the ideal smoothie we can drink daily. I already put in turmeric, black pepper to activate it, yogurt and flaxseed meal with fruits, kale and coconut milk. Should there be other herbs or spices to help with pain and brain health?

A: Your smoothie already sounds packed with good stuff. We like berries in a smoothie, and for brain health, you might consider adding a teaspoon of rosemary. That will influence the flavor, so you may have to experiment a bit.

You can learn more about rosemary, turmeric (and why black pepper helps) and many other spices in our book, “Spice Up Your Health.” We also offer a recipe for Joe’s favorite smoothie in “Recipes & Remedies.” Find them at

Q: I have suffered with chronic insomnia my entire life. A few years ago, I heard about a melatonin supplement (GNC Melatonin 1 mg) that is held under the tongue until it dissolves. To my surprise, it worked and changed my life.

A: Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the brain. It helps to regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm.

Research supports the role of melatonin in helping people overcome jet lag. Night-shift workers sometimes find it helpful in combating sleep disorders (FP Essentials, September 2017).

Controlled-release melatonin has been recommended for chronic insomnia (American Family Physician, July 2017). Although we could find no clinical research on the use of sublingual melatonin for insomnia, the 1-mg dose that you are using appears to be safe.

Q: I read in your column that pickle juice can ease cramps. However, you left out a lot of details.

1. What is the recommended dosage?

2. How many times a day should it be taken?

3. When should it be taken — morning, evening, bedtime, before meal, with food or after meal?

A: It is always tricky to pin down the details of a home remedy, but we will do our best. The first study we noticed that tested pickle juice for cramps used electricity to cause a cramp in the big toe (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, May 2010). The researchers found that giving the young men pickle juice as soon as the cramp started shortened it from about 2 ½ minutes to not quite two minutes. They drank about 1/3 cup of pickle juice (approximately 75 mL).

The makers of HotShot, a product designed to treat muscle cramps, now recommend drinking 1.7 ounces of their formulation half an hour before starting a strenuous workout as a cramp preventive. This product increased cramp threshold frequency, or CTF, in a placebo-controlled trial (European Journal of Applied Physiology, August 2017). CTF is a measurement of cramp susceptibility, and a higher threshold means a person is less likely to cramp.