People’s Pharmacy on tart cherries as a source of melatonin; the power of soy sauce for kitchen burns; and vitamin B-12 deficiency.

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Q: Is tart cherry juice useful for insomnia? If so, what is an appropriate daily amount, presumably taken at bedtime? I’ve heard and read everything from 1 to 16 ounces!

A: One study found tart cherry juice improved sleep time and quality. The researchers gave subjects a dose of 30 ml (roughly 1 fluid ounce) of Montmorency cherry concentrate upon arising and another 30 ml of concentrate half an hour before the evening meal (European Journal of Nutrition, December 2012). This was diluted to taste in 200 ml or so of water.

Another study used a Spanish product containing 18.85 g of pitted, freeze-dried powdered cherries per dose (Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, June 2013). This, too, was diluted in water and given twice daily at lunch and dinner.

Tart cherries are a good source of melatonin, which may explain why both studies found cherry juice helpful in promoting sleep.

Q: One night, after a bad burn on my hand (with big white blisters on four fingers), I doused my hand with soy sauce, wrapped my fingers in paper towels soaked in soy sauce and went to bed with a baggie and rubber band on my hand. I’m used to soy sauce stopping the pain of burns, but when I took the baggie off my hand about 3 a.m., the blisters had disappeared.

I’m curious about what happened: Did the salt pull the fluid from the blisters and allow the surface skin to reattach to the fingertips? I was amazed that the next morning (though the fingertips were slightly sensitive), I had full use of my hand. What an effective treatment!

A: Like you, we have been impressed with the power of soy sauce for kitchen burns. Many people report that it eases pain and prevents blisters.

The mechanism remains mysterious. Your hypothesis is as plausible as any we have encountered.

Q: I suffered with severe fatigue and weakness for two years before being diagnosed with vitamin B-12 deficiency. My regular physician didn’t diagnose me. The neurologist I saw after having a concussion actually tested my B-12 level, which was at 38!

I read up on this condition and found that most doctors don’t test B-12 levels, even when many symptoms are present. If my doctor had tested me soon after I reported fatigue and weakness, it would have saved me a lot of suffering. I had become so weak and tired, I could barely get out of bed. I had trouble breathing, and I would lose strength in my legs and collapse. My comprehension was poor, and I experienced memory “blackouts.”

People should ask their physician to test for B-12 if they are having unexplained symptoms like this.

A: Vitamin B-12 levels below 150 can result in cognitive impairment as well as severe fatigue, weakness, loss of reflexes and neuropathy. This deficiency might be more common as a cause of mental difficulties among older people than most health professionals imagine. People experiencing symptoms like yours are justified in requesting a test for vitamin B-12.