Q: I had a full hysterectomy at age 49. My health is excellent otherwise, with no smoking, regular exercise and alcohol in moderation.
My gynecologist put me on Estratest. I felt great on this, but my skin became extremely oily with acne, and my hair also was too oily. I chose to go off the hormones.
My gynecologist is very much in favor of hormones, but my friends keep sending me articles about blood clots, breast cancer and other frightening complications. How dangerous is HRT? Are bioidentical hormones better?
A: The male hormone in Estratest (a combination of estrogens and testosterone) was probably responsible for your oily skin and hair.
Doctors continue to debate the pros and cons of HRT. A recent review from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that hormones reduce the risk for fractures but increase the chance of gallbladder disease, urinary incontinence and blood clots leading to strokes and heart attacks (Annals of Internal Medicine, July 17, 2012).
We have seen no well-conducted trials demonstrating that bioidentical hormones are safer than conventional therapies.
Q: I heard about eating coconut macaroons to help with irritable bowel syndrome on your radio program. Our dog was having trouble with recurrent bouts of diarrhea, and the vet could not find a reason.
I gave her coconut flakes twice a day, and it worked great. So this remedy also seems to work for dogs with sensitive digestive systems.
A: We have heard from many readers who have found that coconut helps quell diarrhea. We first heard about this remedy from Donald Agar, who used Archway coconut macaroons to treat diarrhea from Crohn's disease. Others have found that plain shredded coconut works just as well.
Although we could find no scientific support for the use of coconut to stop diarrhea, it is used in some traditional medical systems (Journal of Ethnopharmacology online, Nov. 23, 2012).
Q: Using soap for muscle cramps was the stupidest idea I'd heard in a long while. I tried drinking tonic water for the quinine, eating lots of bananas for the extra potassium and anything else I had heard about, but nothing worked.
I was ready for stupid ideas. The pain was awful in my feet, so why not? I cut a small soap chip to put in each sock at night. So far, the results have been magical. I'm now a believer.
A: No single remedy works for everyone who has muscle cramps, but soap chips in socks or under the bedsheet seem to help a lot of people. Anesthesiologist Dr. Yon Doo Ough placed crushed Ivory soap on a homemade skin patch over cramping muscles and found that the pain was relieved (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008).
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via peoplespharmacy.com.