People's Pharmacy answers reader queries about battling a vegetarian's smelly gas; triclosan in soap impairing muscle function; drinking mineral water high in silica to combat aluminum in common products; and whether taking vitamin B-1 supplements can discourage mosquitoes.

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Q: My son is a vegetarian. He relies on beans and dairy for his protein. He eats lots of vegetables, especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and carrots.

I am convinced that his diet is responsible for “our” problem: GAS! He is so flatulent, we can hardly stand it. The smell is overwhelming. Is there anything he can take to reduce the gas and the odor?

A: The healthful vegetables your son eats often produce unpleasant smells. If he is lactose-intolerant, dairy products also might contribute.

The best way to deodorize gas is with bismuth. Products containing this compound include Devrom (bismuth subgallate) and Maalox Total Relief or Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate). The stool will turn black, but this is not dangerous.

There are reports, however, that regular use (or overuse) of bismuth has been linked to reversible neurological symptoms such as tremor, muscle twitches, confusion and memory problems. As a result, your son might want to reserve bismuth for use before social occasions.

Q: I don’t want to use soap with triclosan because I read that it might affect muscles. As an athlete, I don’t want to weaken my performance. I don’t like alcohol-containing hand sanitizers. Are there any alternatives?

A: Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical found in soaps, deodorants, mouthwash and toothpaste. Research in mice and fish suggests that triclosan impairs muscle function (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online, Aug. 13, 2012).

Old-fashioned soap and water is a great way to clean hands. If you would like a sanitizer you can carry with you, consider CleanWell products. They use thyme derivatives as the active ingredient and contain no alcohol.

Q: I listened to your public-radio program on the dangers of aluminum in common products. Something was said about a way to counteract aluminum in the body, but I missed what product is used.

A: Our guest, Chris Exley, professor of bioinorganic chemistry at Keele University, pointed out that aluminum is a neurotoxin. His research suggests that mineral water high in silica might help protect the brain against aluminum damage in animals (Histology and Histopathology, August 2012).

Exley suggested that mineral waters such as Fiji and Volvic are rich in silica and might be worth consideration. You can listen to the interview for free at

Q: I live in Dallas, where West Nile virus is a serious worry. Avoiding mosquito bites is a challenge. I’ve heard that taking vitamin B-1 supplements can discourage mosquitoes. Is this an effective way to prevent West Nile virus?

A: Although we have heard from some readers that 100 mg of thiamine (vitamin B-1) taken orally can reduce bites, research does not support this approach (Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, June 2005).

Because West Nile virus can be so serious, DEET-containing repellents are a prudent protective measure.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website: