A look at how kefir affects digestive problems, natural methods for improving lipoproteins and pickle juice for muscle cramps.

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Q: I’ve read that consuming kefir is good for digestive problems. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but does not require refrigeration. It is available in supermarkets, or it can be made at home.

To prepare it at home, kefir crystals can be found in health-food stores or over the Internet. If you don’t care for the taste, it can be added to smoothies. Considering the side effects of prescription meds, kefir is definitely worth a try.

A: First, let’s settle the question of how to pronounce kefir. Most American say KEE-fur or KEFF-er. The correct pronunciation is kuh-FEAR.

Kefir is made by fermenting milk with a mixture of beneficial yeast and bacteria. The result is cultured milk that has little if any lactose, some carbonation, a tangy taste and a hint of alcohol. (What you would buy in the supermarket doesn’t have measurable alcohol content.)

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This product is traditional in the herding regions of Russia and Turkey. It is, in fact, one way to preserve milk for a day or two, but the cultured kefir must be consumed promptly and the kefir “grains” (the culture) reused immediately if you don’t rely on refrigeration.

A review of the research on kefir has found that it contains probiotics and may boost the immune system and discourage pathogenic bacteria as well as improve lactose digestion (Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, Vol. 44, No. 2, 2013). Regular consumption of kefir also may help people control cholesterol and blood sugar (Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Vol. 53, Issue 5, 2013).

Q: I have a good HDL of 69, and my triglycerides are 126. My total cholesterol is 252, but an NMR lipid test found I have super-high dense lipoproteins in my blood, which is not good.

The doctor gave me a prescription , but I would rather do this naturally. Is there any way to use diet and exercise to make my lipoproteins fluffy?

A: Oddly enough, the conventional medical advice to reduce saturated fat and use vegetable oil instead may lead to small, dense LDL particles (OpenHeart online, March 5, 2014). Saturated fat in the diet promotes larger, fluffier lipoproteins. These seem less likely to damage coronary arteries (Atherosclerosis, October 2015).

A diet high in fish and low in processed foods also results in favorable LDL particle size (Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, November 2013).

Exercise and weight loss also are very helpful for increasing particle size and reducing cardiovascular risk (Atherosclerosis, December 2015; March 2016).

Q: I suffer from extreme leg cramps as well as debilitating hand cramps. One ounce of pickle juice totally eliminates these cramps in about a minute. I have used this remedy for 10 to 15 years, and it has never failed to ease muscle cramps.

A: We don’t know whether it’s the sodium or some other ingredient in pickle juice, but many readers also report similar success.