Question: : I learned in Colombia that inhaling the steam of strong, freshly brewed coffee (not instant) is beneficial for nasal and sinus irritation. The steam soothes and heals the mucus membranes. This remedy has worked wonderfully for me.
Answer:: This is the first we have heard of coffee steam being beneficial for sinus irritation, but ordinary steam has long been recommended to ease nasal congestion. Since coffee is such an important crop in Colombia, it probably makes sense that people there have experimented with it as a remedy.
Question: : I was adjusting my sprinkler timer and did not realize my arm was bumping against a wasp nest. That's how I got stung on the elbow by four or five wasps.
Last weekend, I heard on the People's Pharmacy radio show that people have used soy sauce on burns. I rushed into the house and emptied one of those little soy packs you get with takeout Chinese food. It wasn't very much, but it reduced the pain by about 90 percent.
Answer: : Thank you for sharing your innovation. We have suggested several other home remedies for wasp stings, ranging from a cut onion to meat tenderizer or baking soda. But we had not imagined using soy sauce on a sting.
Soy sauce is quite helpful in reducing the pain and redness from a burn. A really serious burn requires prompt medical attention, of course, and so would an allergic reaction to an insect sting.
Question: : I have read in your column that Pycnogenol may be helpful for hot flashes. Now a major warehouse club is selling it as a powerful antioxidant that is supposed to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, osteoarthritis, skin care, asthma and allergy relief and diabetes. Has any of this been proven? Are there any health risks associated with its use?
Answer: : To our surprise, there are studies suggesting that Pycnogenol, extracted from French maritime pine bark, is better than placebo in making blood vessels more flexible (Hypertension Research, September 2007), improving blood-sugar control and reducing cardiovascular risk factors (Nutrition Research, May 2008) and reducing knee pain from osteoarthritis (Phytotherapy Research, August 2008). Any uses it may have for skin care or asthma and allergy relief still seem fairly speculative. Side effects are uncommon.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site: PeoplesPharmacy.com.