Sulfite preservatives in some foods could represent a health hazard

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

April 29, 2001|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN; KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

Q. I read in your column about the use of coconut milk and coconut macaroon cookies to stop diarrhea. As a physician, I find this recommendation irresponsible. This practice could be dangerous or even deadly for some people.

Coconut is almost always preserved with sulfites to retain its color and freshness. Many people are allergic to sulfites, and some experience life-threatening asthma after ingesting them.

A. It is certainly true that many packaged foods may contain sulfite preservatives. People with a sulfite allergy must also be careful about eating out in restaurants.

Hash browns, french or home fries, dried fruit, guacamole, shrimp cocktail, jam, molasses, soup mixes, canned vegetables, vegetable juices, beer, wine and maraschino cherries might also contain sulfite preservatives. Sulfites in golden raisins mean that anyone with such an allergy must avoid the popular gin-soaked raisin remedy for arthritis.

The liquid and meat from a fresh coconut are free of preservatives and offer one way for a sulfite-sensitive person to try this home remedy for diarrhea.

Q. A couple months ago a woman wrote about an herbal remedy for menopausal symptoms. All I can remember is black cohosh, but I don't know anything about this herb or others that might relieve hot flashes.

A. Black cohosh is a native North American herb that has been used to alleviate symptoms of menopause. In one clinical trial, this herb was nearly as effective as hormone replacement therapy in suppressing hot flashes. One standardized extract, Remifemin, has been tested in Europe and is being sold in the United States by GlaxoSmithKline.

Q. Is it possible to consume too much vitamin A? I usually snack on three bags of baby cut carrots each week, each one containing 5.5 servings of carrots with 350 percent of the daily allotment of vitamin A per serving.

A. It is possible to overdose on vitamin A, but you don't need to worry about your carrot habit. Carrots and other vegetables contain beta carotene and other carotenoids, which are building blocks for vitamin A, but your body won't make too much of it.

If you eat too many carrots, you might notice your skin turning orange. That might be a signal to cut back, although it is not dangerous. Most vitamin A poisoning has occurred when people took too many vitamin pills or too much of a concentrated source of vitamin A such as cod liver oil.

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