Q: I was surprised to read in your column that someone just discovered that chocolate or cocoa could act as a laxative. I discovered that decades ago.

One of the things I routinely do if I feel my body needs a little nudge is to eat an ounce or so of dark chocolate. I am usually in the bathroom within about 20 minutes.

A: There is research to support your observation (Nutrition & Metabolism, April 18, 2012). The authors conclude that “regular consumption of cocoa products increases dietary fibre intake and … improves bowel habits.” Researchers have also shown that probiotic chocolate can improve bowel function in constipated rats (Food Research International, February 2019).

Q: For the past few years, I have experienced varying degrees of pollen reactions in the spring. I live in the middle of an old southern pine forest, with other hardwood trees mixed in.

I experience lethargy, throat tightness and mild nausea for several weeks when the yellow stuff starts falling. Has anyone else experienced these symptoms? I take quercetin for relief, but it only helps a bit. When the pollen lets up, so do the symptoms.

A: Experts will sometimes tell you that pine pollen is too big to cause allergy problems. It turns out, though, that is not quite true. While allergies to pine pollen are less common than other pollen allergies, some people do suffer (Clinical and Experimental Allergy, September 2009).


You may need to keep your windows closed and stay inside, at least until the afternoon, to minimize your pollen exposure. Some people find it helpful to use a saline nasal rinse morning and evening. Others have told us that a daily shower with shampoo before bed during pollen season helps.

Quercetin is a natural compound found in many plants, including berries, fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, kale, onions and tomatoes, green tea and red wine. Supplements containing this antioxidant have been used to treat allergy symptoms and don’t appear to have serious side effects (Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology, May 14, 2020).

Other options include stinging nettle supplements or NasalCrom. This drugstore nasal spray was originally derived from a plant called bishop’s weed.

Q: I have high blood pressure. I was alarmed by a recent reading of 206/96. Every day, my pressure changes throughout the day, from 125/69 at one point up to 175/81 at another. Some days I get great readings.

My doctor has just put me on losartan three times a day. I lead a quiet life. Before the pandemic I was swimming three times a week, and I’m planning to go back when it’s safe. My diet is vegetarian, and I have reduced my salt. I don’t drink alcohol, just one cup of coffee a day. What natural approaches could help me lower my blood pressure without additional medication?

A: Your blood pressure is extremely variable. Your doctor may need to do a more extensive work-up to discover why.

Natural ways to lower blood pressure include exercise, meditation and periods of deep breathing. Eating magnesium-rich foods, drinking beet juice, pomegranate juice or purple grape juice may also help.

You will find a list of foods high in magnesium along with many other nondrug approaches in our eGuide to Blood Pressure Solutions. This electronic resource is available in the Health eGuides section at www. PeoplesPharmacy.com.