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Q: I often hear about the medicinal benefits of various herbs and spices. However, I don’t typically hear about pepper, a widely available spice. Has there been any research to suggest what benefits it may have?

A: Black pepper (Piper nigrum) has been prized for millennia. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were mummified with peppercorns in their nostrils, presumably to signify their high status in the afterlife. Venetian merchants were able to build luxurious mansions in large part because they controlled the trade in spices, especially black pepper, during the 15th century.

Although pepper is no longer considered a luxury spice, it does appear to have medicinal benefits. Researchers are exploring the power of piperine, a key ingredient in black pepper, as an anticancer agent (Current Medicinal Chemistry, online, May 23, 2017).

Piperine is an antioxidant and antimicrobial compound. In addition, it lowers blood cholesterol, fights inflammation, improves digestion and increases absorption of some herbal and conventional drugs (Phytotherapy Research, August 2013). One of these is turmeric (curcumin), which is notoriously hard to absorb.

Q: I have a thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s. My TSH is usually normal, but my thyroid antibodies are almost always abnormal in thyroid panel tests.

A year ago, my doctor finally prescribed Synthroid. I consistently had normal tests, but my symptoms got worse. I could not lose weight, and my hair was falling out. I was depressed and tired, but I had problems sleeping. I felt like my brain was in a fog.

Last week my doctor switched me to Armour desiccated thyroid. I am already feeling sharper and more upbeat. My co-workers have asked what’s changed because they’ve noticed the difference as well. Why isn’t Armour used more often?

A: In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. That is why your anti-thyroid antibodies have been elevated. The consequence of this condition is that the thyroid gland may lose its ability to produce adequate thyroid hormone.

An underactive thyroid gland is usually treated with synthetic levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl). This is also called T4. The tissues of the body convert T4 to T3, the active thyroid hormone, when they need it.

Armour and other desiccated thyroid extracts (Nature-Throid, Westhroid) are derived from dried pig thyroid glands. It contains T3 as well as T4, although the ratio differs from that of human thyroids. Some people do not convert T4 to T3 efficiently. They may feel better on a medication that supplies both hormones.

Many endocrinologists worry, however, that controlling the dose with naturally variable preparations is too difficult. They see desiccated thyroid as antiquated.

You can learn more about levothyroxine and Armour, and their use for thyroid problems from our “Guide to Thyroid Hormones.” This electronic publication is available at

Q: I noticed a plantar wart on the ball of my foot two months ago. Salicylic acid plasters did not work. What home remedies could I try?

A: Readers suggest mixing turmeric with olive oil and applying a small amount to the wart under a waterproof bandage. Others have had success with a daily drop of tincture of iodine, tea tree oil, clear nail polish or peppermint oil.