Tasting garlic through your feet offers insight into Vicks for cough

Q: I saw your article about putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet to stop a nighttime cough. Then I was listening to NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” radio show. It is often a fun source for the latest wacky science studies.

This week’s show included a story about tasting garlic … with your feet! Scientists associated with the American Chemical Society performed a cool experiment. They reported that if you put a freshly cut clove of garlic in a plastic bag, rub it on the sole of your foot and then tie the plastic bag around your foot, you will taste and smell garlic after about an hour.

Could Vicks have a similar compound that can be absorbed through the skin to calm the cough response?

A: We love this experiment. It demonstrates that garlic penetrates the skin and circulates through the bloodstream until it eventually reaches the taste buds.

There are two possible ways that menthol and the other herbal ingredients in Vicks VapoRub might be working to calm a cough. One is absorption through the skin into the bloodstream, as with the garlic. We would expect that it would take a similar amount of time to exert its effect.

Most readers report that smearing Vicks on the feet eases a cough within 10 minutes. A different mechanism might explain that. Your skin contains nerve endings that react to heat and cold. They do this through TRP channels in nerves that also are sensitive to compounds like menthol and eucalyptol, found in Vicks VapoRub. We suspect that stimulating these TRP receptors sends a message to the cough center at the base of the brain and calms the cough.

Q: I take Synthroid for a long-standing hypothyroid condition. My insurance company wants me to take generic levothyroxine instead. It is much more affordable, but the generic is not as effective for me. I have heard similar comments from others.

It would be less costly to buy my Synthroid from a Canadian drugstore. Is this safe?

A: Purchasing brand-name prescription drugs from Canada is often much less expensive. Using www.PharmacyChecker.com, we found that Synthroid costs between $30 and $40 for 90 pills. In the U.S., a similar supply could cost more than $100.

The Food and Drug Administration discourages Americans from buying their medications from Canadian online pharmacies. Some unscrupulous websites sell counterfeit drugs, so you should verify that any pharmacy you use is legitimate. To help you better understand this complicated system, we offer our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine, available online at www. PeoplesPharmacy.com for $2.99.

Q: I have been bothered with dry eyes for a number of years. Recently, I asked my optometrist if I could use Restasis, which I’d seen advertised on TV. He wrote the prescription, and I’ve been using it for 10 weeks, one drop in each eye twice a day.

Quite honestly, I’ve noticed no improvement in the dry-eye problem, but there is a disturbing side effect: blurred vision, which is getting worse by the day. Because of the blurred vision, I’ve decided to stop using Restasis.

A: Restasis contains cyclosporine, an immunosuppressing drug. It was first approved in 1983 to keep people from rejecting transplanted organs. The eyedrops are modestly effective at increasing tear production. Side effects include blurred vision, burning, pain and itching.

Your eye doctor needs to know that you are having difficulty with Restasis. There are other approaches to dry-eye syndrome.