The People's Pharmacy

Joe Graedon, M.S.,and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.

Q. I read in your column about a woman who burned her hand on a curling iron. She used cold soy sauce to relieve the pain.

Many years ago, I absent-mindedly poured boiling water from the teakettle over my hand instead of in the mug. The pain was incredible.

I grabbed a large pot and filled it with ice and water. I put my hand in the icy water to relieve the pain. When the hand got numb, I took it out of the water, and when it started to hurt again I would submerge my hand again. I continued this for a couple of hours until the pain was gone. My hand never blistered or showed signs of a burn.

A. An article in JAMA (Aug. 27, 1960) recommended ice water as first aid for burns. The physician reported: “In each of 150 cases, pain was immediately relieved and the extent of the redness and blistering visibly reduced. Local cooling was continued for several hours, until pain no longer returned when the part was taken out of the bath ... This form of treatment has advantages in emergency care for lesser burns, since it is easily available, inexpensive, humane, and promptly effective.”

More recent first-aid advice suggests cool water without ice. An animal study showed that ice water cooling “is associated with an increase in tissue damage” (Burns, November 2007).

Q. I work as a nurse on night shift. I plan to do so until retirement, but I am also trying to do everything I can to stay healthy.

I use melatonin to sleep during the day. I have trouble sleeping more than about three or four hours unless I take it. Is this safe to continue?

A. There is concern that shift workers may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer (Current Environmental Health Reports, September 2017). People who work night shifts have their natural rhythm of melatonin production disrupted, and this may play a role in cancer susceptibility. Spanish scientists have suggested that women like you possibly should take melatonin to offset this risk (Molecules, Feb. 6, 2018). They point out, however, that there are not enough clinical trials to evaluate this approach properly.

A painstaking review of the literature concluded that melatonin may help with sleeping problems associated with shift work (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Aug. 12, 2014).

A study of emergency physicians working night shifts found that “Melatonin might have a limited benefit on sleep quality” (World Journal of Emergency Medicine, 2018, Vol. 9, No. 4).

To learn more about using melatonin and other nondrug options, you may wish to consult our online “eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.” It is available at

Q. Purple grape juice and pectin is working great for my arthritis. I saw improvement in both knees after the second dose. I use SURE-JELL, not Certo, because that is what my supermarket carries. It can be found very near the Jell-O.

A. Many readers have asked about substituting SURE-JELL for Certo fruit pectin in this popular home remedy to alleviate arthritis pain. Thank you for letting us know the results of your personal experiment.

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In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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