Gin-soaked raisins: Are they purely placebo?

The Morning Call - - LIFE / FOOD - By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon In their col­umn, Joe and Teresa Graedon an­swer let­ters from read­ers. Send ques­tions to them via www.peo­ples pharmacy.com.

Q: Some peo­ple have told you that they think gin-soaked raisins only work through a placebo ef­fect. I don’t care! Arthri­tis runs in my fam­ily; I and my five sib­lings have it. We are all in our 80s. I started on a drug many years ago and then switched to raisins as soon as I heard about them. I haven’t taken any drugs for my joint pain since. I live in a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity now, and am one of the few who can still go up and down the stairs from my sec­ond-floor apart­ment. My sib­lings, all un­will­ing to give the raisins a try, are on many dif­fer­ent drugs and are very lim­ited in what they can do. I couldn’t care less if the raisin rem­edy is all in my head. What’s more, raisins, even with gin, are much less ex­pen­sive than the drugs my sibs have taken over these many years.

A: We first heard about gin-soaked raisins for arthri­tis more than 25 years ago. Since then, hun­dreds of peo­ple have told us that this home rem­edy is sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive against joint pain. As far as we can tell, re­searchers have shown no in­ter­est in this ap­proach. There have been no clin­i­cal tri­als to test the ef­fec­tive­ness of gin-soaked raisins.

Q: Af­ter read­ing about green tea hav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect on vi­sion, I won­dered if there were any ad­verse in­ter­ac­tions be­tween green tea and pre­scrip­tion drugs. I take sev­eral heart drugs since hav­ing stents in­serted in 2012. My Google search found an ar­ti­cle sug­gest­ing it might in­ter­act with drugs. I’ve re­cently started drink­ing green tea, but I’m wor­ried that it could in­ter­act with the beta blocker meto­pro­lol I need to take. Should I not drink green tea at all?

A: Luck­ily, green tea and its ac­tive in­gre­di­ent, epi­gal­lo­cat­e­chin-3-gal­late, do not ap­pear to in­ter­act with meto­pro­lol (Euro­pean Jour­nal of Heart Fail­ure, May 2008). It does have other in­ter­est­ing in­ter­ac­tions, how­ever. Green tea can lower con­cen­tra­tions of the beta blocker blood pres­sure drug nadolol (Euro­pean Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Phar­ma­col­ogy, June 2018). This could make the drug less ef­fec­tive. In ad­di­tion, green tea com­pounds might af­fect blood lev­els of the choles­terol-low­er­ing drugs sim­vas­tatin and ro­su­vas­tatin (Jour­nal of Food and Drug Anal­y­sis, April 2018).

Q: I’ve al­ways read la­bels care­fully and avoided an­tiper­spi­rants with alu­minum. How­ever, I thought that nat­u­ral crys­tal de­odor­ants con­tain­ing po­tas­sium alum would be safe. Af­ter all, I’ve used alum for mak­ing pick­les. You have writ­ten that alum is ac­tu­ally alu­minum. Now I feel ter­ri­ble that I have not only used crys­tal de­odor­ant my­self, but I have also given it as gifts to my en­tire fam­ily. I won­der how many other peo­ple have been fooled.

A: Alum is an alu­minum “salt.” One of the most com­mon forms is alu­minum po­tas­sium sul­fate. It is used in wa­ter treat­ment plants to help so­lid­ify float­ing par­ti­cles so the wa­ter looks clear. Alum is also used in pick­ling. Phar­ma­cies sell styp­tic pen­cils that con­tain alum. It can stop the bleed­ing from a shav­ing cut. Nat­u­ral crys­tal ”rock” de­odor­ants of­ten list alum or po­tas­sium alum as the pri­mary in­gre­di­ent. An­tiper­spi­rants also con­tain alu­minum salts such as alu­minum chloro­hy­drate. In fact, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­quires alu­minum salts in all an­tiper­spi­rants. That’s be­cause such com­pounds cause swelling of the pores in un­der­arm skin. As a re­sult, the sweat glands are blocked and sweat can’t es­cape. Although the FDA con­sid­ers alu­minum salts safe, some sci­en­tists dis­agree. They worry that alu­minum salts might act to change the way that hor­mones act in the body, in­clud­ing in breast tis­sue (Jour­nal of Molec­u­lar Bio­chem­istry, 2018).

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