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Originally published Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 5:31 AM

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People's Pharmacy

People's Pharmacy answers reader queries on irritable bowel syndrome, using catnip oil as a mosquito repellent and using sugar to heal wounds.

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Q. Recently, you discussed how to avoid ticks and other creepy-crawlies in the summer. Some studies show that catnip oil is as good as DEET in repelling mosquitoes, and geranium oil likewise is effective for ticks. I use a combination of the two on my dogs and myself, and we've never had any problems with ticks, fleas or mosquitoes. I hope that helps someone else.

A. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a plant in the mint family that is probably best known for its behavioral effects on cats. The oil from the plant, nepetalactone, has been found to be comparable to DEET in warding off some species of mosquitoes, ticks and mites (Phytochemistry, January 2011). There also is research suggesting that catnip oil repels stable and houseflies (Medical and Veterinary Entomology, September 2009). Catnip oil may irritate the skin of some people.

Swedish researchers have found that geranium oil at a fairly high concentration is a good tick repellent (Journal of Medical Entomology, July 2006).

Thanks for suggesting these natural approaches.

Q. I have had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for two years. I have constipation (can't "go" for a week). When I finally can go, I can't stop. At that point, the stool is soft and runny.

I also have cramps, bloating, painful gas and hemorrhoids. When my IBS flares up, it is quite debilitating.

I know there are some prescription drugs I could take, but the side effects worry me. Are there any natural remedies for this condition? I'd be grateful for any information you may have about this disorder.

A. Millions of people suffer from symptoms of IBS as you have described them. It can be difficult to diagnose since there is no obvious cause. Celiac disease (an intolerance to gluten found in wheat, rye and barley) always should be ruled out with a blood test.

Several natural approaches have scientific support. Enteric-coated peppermint oil has been shown helpful in controlled trials (BMJ online, Nov. 13, 2008). Probiotics and soluble fiber (psyllium) also appear to ease symptoms (Clinical Evidence, Jan. 6, 2012).

The book we are sending you, "The People's Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies," describes these and other natural approaches to dealing with digestive distress. It is available online at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q. I have an old chemical burn on my shin that reopened. The wound cultured positive for MRSA, so I took antibiotics for a month.

Despite that, the wound continued to get worse, and nothing seemed to help. I tried several prescription wound gels like Silvadene and Bactroban, to no avail.

I found your article about sugar for wounds and have been using it for several days. The wound is healing nicely now. Thank you.

A. According to orthopedic surgeon Richard Knutson, a mixture of 3 parts confectioners' sugar to 1 part cooking oil can be used to make a dressing that speeds wound healing. He has treated about 7,000 patients over three decades with good results.

Q. I am thinking about taking St. John's wort for mild depression. My only other medication is aspirin for atrial fibrillation. Is there an interaction?

A. It is smart of you to check for interactions before you start to take St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum). It affects quite a few medicines, but it does not appear to interact with aspirin.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website: www.peoplespharmacy.org

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