The People’s Pharmacy answers question about cold sores, cramps, and gout.

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Q. I suffered from recurring cold sores for years. No dermatologist or other health care provider had a good answer.

Then my ophthalmologist informed me that the herpes virus is easily triggered by sunlight through the retina. This corresponded perfectly with my outbreaks happening immediately after being on a glacier or a day of kayaking.

I began wearing dark sunglasses (and, in the case of climbing, wraparound alpine glasses to stop snow glare) to keep the sunlight from entering my retina and triggering an outbreak. It has made a world of difference. Since gaining this awareness, I now have maybe one outbreak a year versus five or six a year.

A. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (sunlight) has long been known to trigger herpes outbreaks. UV exposure may stimulate viral activity while simultaneously depressing the immune system. Many lip balms contain sunblock, presumably to reduce cold-sore outbreaks.

Analyzing the results from the Herpetic Eye Disease Study, a long-term randomized controlled trial, showed that exposure to strong sunlight was linked to the risk of a herpes eye lesion recurrence (American Journal of Epidemiology, Jan. 15, 2014). We have been unable to find any studies supporting the use of dark sunglasses to prevent cold-sore recurrence, but we’re glad to learn how well it works for you.

Q. What started as bad leg cramps years ago escalated and moved up my body. I get cramps underneath my breast (scary because it is so close to my heart), and have even had one in my neck. I had to hold my head with my hands; it felt like it was going to start spinning.

I have found two things that are effective: Taking apple-cider vinegar (1 teaspoon in some water with stevia) makes the cramp go away within a minute.

This one is the real miracle: Milk of Magnesia (used under my arm in place of deodorant) will stop cramping! If you get a cramp, grab some Milk of Magnesia and put a thick coat on the bottoms of your feet and put on some socks. Cramps gone within a minute!

A. Some magnesium may be absorbed through the skin. For people who are low in this vital mineral, providing additional magnesium can help muscles relax.

We are not quite sure why apple-cider vinegar is helpful for muscle cramps, but we have heard from many people that pickle juice or apple-cider vinegar can get rid of them promptly.

Q. Have you ever considered writing a book containing the remedies you write about in your newspaper column? It would be much easier for me than sifting through the clippings I have saved. It is not always convenient to use the website. I would reach for your book like an encyclopedia and give it away as a gift.

A. We have indeed written a few books on a variety of health topics. The one you might like is “The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies,” from National Geographic (

Q. I take HCTZ for high blood pressure. It gave me gout in my big toe. Would tart cherries counteract this side effect?

A. Diuretics like HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide) can raise uric-acid levels and increase the risk of gout. One small study showed that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily reduced levels of uric acid in blood and urine (Journal of Functional Foods, November 2014).