A reader writes in with an unusual tip for staying alert behind the wheel. Plus: Could putting a topical cough suppressant on your feet help you sleep through the night?
Q: I’ve tried different things to stay awake while driving and found that sunflower seeds worked better than anything else. If I know I have a long trip or will be driving late at night, I make sure I have sunflower seeds in my car. They work every time.
A: To our surprise, we found that Israeli scientists have published research comparing energy drinks and sunflower seeds for combating driver fatigue (Accident Analysis and Prevention, September 2009). Both approaches worked equally well, although manipulating the sunflower seeds to shell them could get in the way of quick driving maneuvers in the simulator.
Q: I just spent a week taking care of my two grandbabies, 2 and 6 years old. The littlest one had a horrible night cough.
After two sleepless nights listening to his coughing spasms, I rubbed his feet with Vicks VapoRub and put his little sockies on. He didn’t cough that night. We repeated this the following night, and he had only one little three-minute episode. He slept through all the coughing.
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Then the 6-year-old started coughing at night, so I did the same for him. No coughing. We all slept well thanks to Vicks.
A: We first heard about this home remedy from a nurse. She admitted that it sounded wacko, but it worked for her children. Since then, we have tried it ourselves and found it helpful. Many other readers also report success with this old-fashioned drugstore product.
We suspect that the menthol, eucalyptol, camphor and thymol are stimulating sensory nerves on the soles of the feet. These connect to the spinal cord and may help calm the cough center at the base of the brain.
We offer many unique treatments for coughs, colds and other ailments in our book “Quick & Handy Home Remedies.” It is available in libraries and online (www.PeoplesPharmacy.com).
Q: You have written about using table mustard for muscle cramps, but you should discuss its applicability for alleviating acid reflux. I was taking Zantac for occasional reflux when a friend mentioned swallowing a tablespoon of common yellow hot-dog mustard as a palliative.
When I tried it, I was astonished at how soon the reflux subsided in response, far quicker than Zantac takes effect. Now I keep a fast-food packet of mustard in the car for emergency treatment. (I also keep Zantac in the medicine cabinet as a backup.)
A: We are not aware of any scientific studies explaining this remedy, but scores of readers have testified that it works for them. We don’t know if the “active ingredient” is the vinegar in mustard or the turmeric that provides its bright-yellow color.
Curcumin is the source of turmeric’s color. The compound has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the digestive tract (Current Gastroenterology Reports, April 2016).
Research conducted on laboratory rats showed that curcumin could ease esophageal ulcers under specific conditions (Journal of Natural Medicines, July 2006). We don’t know if that might be the reason it seems to help heartburn symptoms.
Q: I read in your column that pumpkin-seed oil could reduce both urinary-tract infections and nighttime bathroom visits. Is there a possibility that eating pumpkin pie would have the same effects as eating the seeds? That sure would be a tasty way to solve the problem!
A: Although pumpkin pie is very popular this time of year, we’re afraid that it doesn’t contain any pumpkin seeds. We doubt that it will be any help against frequent nighttime urination.