Q: I had such a terrible allergy attack that I couldn’t get my head off my desk to drive myself home. It was 1987, and I was very reluctant to take any medication. My boss gave me a pill she said was safe because it was plant-based. It was quercetin.

When she checked on me after 20 minutes, my headache was gone! My energy returned, and I was able to go on with my day.

I took 500 mg every day for three months that summer. I never had another attack.

Unfortunately, quercetin doesn’t help everyone. But it worked for me. The bonus is that there are no side effects, so I didn’t feel sleepy or groggy like I used to with allergy medicine.

A: Quercetin is a fascinating compound found in foods such as onions, broccoli, berries, grapes, apples and tea. It has potent antioxidant activity and prevents the release of histamine from mast cells (Molecules, May 2016). One test tube study found that it is more effective than cromolyn (NasalCrom) at inhibiting histamine release from mast cells (PLOS One, March 28, 2012).

Many of our readers report that NasalCrom can be helpful for allergy symptoms. It’s nice to know that quercetin might be as helpful.

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There are only a few clinical trials of quercetin for allergy relief. Japanese scientists have compared a quercetin metabolite, isoquercitrin, and placebo for red itchy eyes due to allergies (Allergology International, September 2009). Another study of the same compound also found it helpful against allergy to Japanese cedar pollen (International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, March 17, 2009). We are pleased to hear quercetin worked so well for you.

Q: I used a recipe for fennel tea that I found on your website. It really does help me with gas.

I have a problem with irritable bowel syndrome. The doctor didn’t have anything to prescribe but suggested I use IBgard. It’s OK, but I’d rather use a nondrug approach. What can you recommend?

A: IBgard contains enteric-coated peppermint oil. An analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials found that this natural product is safe and effective for IBS (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Jan. 17, 2019). The most recent placebo-controlled study found that only peppermint oil designed to be released in the small intestine reduced abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms (Gastroenterology, January 2020).

You can learn more about fennel tea, peppermint oil and managing IBS in our eGuide to Digestive Disorders. It is available in the Health eGuides section at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q: I have been diagnosed with degenerative joint disease and also have tarsal tunnel syndrome in my left leg and foot. The pain is truly unbearable.

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When I read in your column about people who put soap under the bottom sheet of the bed, I decided to try it. After a month, I now have much less pain and more energy.

A: In tarsal tunnel syndrome, the tibial nerve running into the foot through the ankle gets compressed. That causes significant discomfort, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. Symptoms include pins-and-needle sensations, shooting pains, electric shock sensations in the foot or a burning feeling.

We can’t explain why soap might help, but we were delighted to hear that something so simple could be beneficial. Doctors often treat this condition with NSAIDs, steroid injections or, in extreme cases, surgery.