Gumbo does more than taste good


March 19, 2000|By Joe Graedon, and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon, and Teresa Graedon,Special to the Sun; King Features Syndicate

Q. I read in your column that gumbo soup could help some people with migraine headaches. I started to come down with a migraine while I was on a trip and ordered some gumbo soup. The discomfort was gone within a few hours, but I don't want to eat out every time I get a headache. How do you make gumbo soup?

A. There are many recipes for great gumbo, and you can select any that tickle your taste buds. Common ingredients include okra, onion, garlic, celery, green pepper, shrimp and, most importantly, chili peppers. We think the key ingredient against migraines is capsaicin (the "hot" in hot peppers).

About a year ago, one man wrote to tell us about his experience with gumbo as a treatment for occasional migraines that disturbed his vision. They generally occurred in clusters over a period of several days:

"In my town there is a restaurant that serves very good, very spicy seafood gumbo. While waiting for my gumbo to be served one day, I noticed the onset of a migraine. My vision had deteriorated so I could barely read just as my gumbo was served. As I sipped my soup (it was very hot and very spicy), my vision cleared and the headache disappeared. There was no recurrence."

We have heard from others who have also had good results with a hot and spicy soup relieving a migraine. While it might not work for everyone, there is some research to support the value of capsaicin for this condition.

Q. I am trying to eat healthier by eating less meat and more vegetables, but I am not yet a vegetarian. I have noticed that on the days I have a meatless meal -- for example eggplant, zucchini and broccoli cooked with garlic and onions -- I have increased gas and bloating. Can you help me reduce these unwanted side effects?

A. In switching to a healthful diet with more vegetables and fiber, it is a good idea to make changes gradually. That gives your system some time to adapt.

You might also need to keep a diary of sorts, recording what you eat and how often you pass gas. Such a chart is recommended by doctors who deal with these problems because it can help you identify and avoid foods that cause you difficulty.

Products such as Beano or activated charcoal capsules are helpful in some cases. Tea made from common kitchen spices such as caraway, fennel, ginger or peppermint have traditionally been used to ease gas. Cooks from India often add a spice called hing to beans.

Q. Do you have a home remedy for athlete's foot?

A. You might wish to try a cream made with tea tree oil. This Australian remedy has powerful anti-fungal activity.

Garlic also might be helpful. Squeeze six cloves into a cup, add two tablespoons of olive oil and allow it to "steep" for three days. Strain the oil and apply it with a cotton ball every day for a week. If irritation occurs, stop application immediately.

Q. I have been bothered with varicose veins in my legs for many years. My doctor just tells me to use support stockings. I've heard that some herbs can restore elasticity to fragile veins and reduce swelling. Is this true?

A.The support hose your doctor suggested is the first line of defense against these swollen, weak veins. Putting your legs up when you can is also helpful.

Scientific studies show that a standardized extract of horse chestnut can reduce swelling and help varicose veins. European physicians often prescribe horse chestnut or bilberry extract for this purpose. Research has shown that horse chestnut works as well as support hose for relieving symptoms associated with varicose veins.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of The Sun, Features Department, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or e-mail them at their Web site ( on the network.

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