Q. About a year ago you wrote that some people use spicy gumbo soup to alleviate migraines. I have been looking for a solution for food allergy headaches and was willing to try almost anything. I started eating green chili peppers daily. Within two weeks I began to dream about sex!
I am 72 and haven't had sexy dreams for ages. I still have my allergy problem, but now I have a sex-awareness problem as well. For some reason I can't stop eating green chili peppers. Do you think there's a connection?
A. You might have discovered a new use for hot peppers. As far as we know, though, there is no research to suggest that capsaicin (the hot stuff in hot peppers) stimulates sexuality. On the other hand, researchers have not devoted much time or effort to studying capsaicin as an aphrodisiac.
There are many studies on other therapeutic uses of hot peppers. Capsaicin is used topically to relieve arthritis pain, diabetic neuropathy and the pain after an attack of shingles. And some readers tell us that spicy soups can cut short a migraine if eaten before the headache takes hold.
Q. I have been on just about every cholesterol-lowering drug there is, from Pravachol and Mevacor to Zocor and Lipitor. They all give me muscle pain. Now my doctor wants me to try niacin. He says it is an old-fashioned approach to lowering cholesterol. What can you tell me about it or other natural ways to get cholesterol down?
A. Before there were statin-type cholesterol medicines like Pravachol and Lipitor, doctors frequently prescribed niacin. In high doses this B vitamin is quite effective at lowering total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, another risk factor for heart disease. It also raises good HDL cholesterol. Another benefit of niacin is that it is inexpensive.
Using niacin is not a do-it-yourself project. Because it can affect liver enzymes, your doctor will need to monitor your progress carefully.
Q. Our pediatrician has recommended flaxseed oil from the health food store for our 8-year-old. She said it is helpful for children who suffer from asthma but didn't tell us anything about using it. What is flaxseed oil, and why would it be helpful?
A. Flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Such compounds are also found in fish oil and walnuts. Researchers have found that these fats have anti-inflammatory action, which might be helpful against asthma. Studies in Japan and Australia suggest that children prone to asthma might benefit from omega-3 supplementation.
You can grind flaxseed in a coffee grinder and add it to cereal, pancakes or muffins. This should be done daily, because ground flaxseed goes rancid quickly.
Flaxseed oil is available in health food stores, but the capsules tend to be large and might be hard for a child to swallow. Using dietary supplements may be helpful but cannot substitute for proper asthma management.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them at their Web site (www .peoplespharmacy.com) on the HealthCentral.com network, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.