Q: I have always enjoyed black licorice sticks as a special treat. It never bothered me until I started eating bagfuls of German salted licorice. Eventually my heart started racing because of a drop in potassium levels.

I haven’t had licorice for a few years now, but last week I bought a bag of licorice sticks on a whim. I cut them into 3-inch pieces and grabbed two large handfuls as an evening snack.

I was awake all night with the worst leg cramps I have ever had. I drank electrolyte water, ate a banana and took cramp pills, and the “fixes” worked temporarily. Then the cramps came back. The next day my legs were still extremely sore. I am now off licorice for good. It’s not worth the pain or the risk to my heart.

A: Natural black licorice contains an ingredient called glycyrrhizin (Glycyrrhiza glabra). It can deplete the body of potassium, trigger irregular heart rhythms, raise blood pressure and cause fluid retention (edema).

We suspect your leg cramps may indeed have resulted from an electrolyte imbalance. Your decision to avoid licorice makes sense since you appear to be especially vulnerable to the serious side effects of this treat.

Q: I have horrible allergic reactions to insect bites. I am so sensitive that bites cause a level of itching that has me in tears. They almost always blister and look terrible.


Today, my brother told me about hot water for itching. It is my saving grace.

A: We first read about hot water for itching over 40 years ago in a textbook called “Dermatology: Diagnosis and Treatment,” edited by a renowned expert, Dr. Marion Sulzberger. Water needs to be hot (120 to 130 F) but not so hot that it will burn skin. A few seconds is all that is needed. A hot washcloth can also help.

The theory is that heat overwhelms nerves in the skin that trigger itch sensations. The relief can last for a few hours.

There are even battery-powered devices that deliver heat to the bite. One is Therapik. Another is Bite Helper.

Q: I’m skeptical by nature. I was hesitant to try Vicks VapoRub on my feet, but for the past three days I have had the worst cough ever. I’ve been coughing nonstop. My ribs feel like I’ve been in the ring with Mike Tyson.

Two nights ago I was really struggling to get any rest. My husband suggested putting Vicks on the soles of my feet. I was desperate, so I slathered on the Vicks, put on socks, and within five to 10 minutes the coughing STOPPED. I was able to sleep all night!


In the morning the coughs started up again and lasted all day long. A few hours before bedtime I tried a prescription cough medicine. Nothing. If anything, my coughs seemed to be getting worse until I was almost vomiting.

Hubby to the rescue again: “Try the Vicks.”

I did and had the same results. Within five to 10 minutes the coughing subsided. I was able to rest comfortably. I wish I knew the science behind this. Whatever it is, it’s worked for me like a charm two nights in a row. I am a believer.

A: You and many other readers agree that this remedy works. We have even come up with an explanation for why Vicks and many other remedies work for common ailments. You can read about the science behind many such approaches in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies at PeoplesPharmacy.com. It is in the Health Guide section.