DEAR DR. ROACH: In a recent column regarding the woman with Parkinson’s disease experiencing a loss of taste, I was wondering if you have read about the Miracle Fruit. It’s an African berry known for enhancing flavor experience, and cancer patients reportedly have experienced an ability to taste food after eating this. I am curious of your thoughts on this. — J.P.

ANSWER: I have to admit to a little skepticism when I first read about Miracle Fruit. But that really is the name for Synsepalum dulcificum. The active ingredient is a glycoprotein called ”miraculin.” (My hat is off to the public-relations genius who named these.)

I found several small studies about it. For a few hours after eating even a single berry, the way taste is perceived, especially sour taste, is profoundly changed. It has been used for people with taste changes due to chemotherapy, as you suggest. However, it is effective at improving taste sensation in only about 30 percent of people, and it did not help people gain weight. (In fact, it was shown in a separate study to enhance sweetness, allowing people trying to lose weight to eat less).

Although the berries are available all year, they go bad within a few days of picking. Extracts of miraculin are available, but all the published research I found is on the fresh berries. These are available commercially but are expensive, especially considering shipping charges.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I’m a 70-year-old avid golfer with arthritis in both knees. The left knee is the worst, so I wear a brace while golfing. I normally walk to get the exercise I need. I’m also on a blood thinner, so I cannot take Aleve, which seems to be the only thing that helps. I recently saw an ad for curcumin, which you appear to endorse. Any additional thoughts or comments on its use? — L.H.

ANSWER: Curcumin, an extract of turmeric, has been proven to reduce pain and swelling in some people, but may also interfere with anticoagulants, especially Coumadin and the newer anticoagulants, so don’t use it without discussing it with whoever is prescribing your medication.

It doesn’t work for everybody (nothing does), but it works for some and is safer than many of the arthritis treatments. I wouldn’t use the term ”endorse”: I haven’t ever endorsed a product. I try only to identify some risks and benefits in hope that readers can get enough information or will be motivated to talk to their doctors to help decide whether a particular treatment might be appropriate.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I have had tonsillitis for 10 years now. I have tried antibiotics, but they give only temporary relief. What do you recommend? — K.M.

ANSWER: That’s a very long time to have had tonsillitis. At this point, I certainly would refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor to consider tonsillectomy. (I’m not a surgeon, so I don’t order surgery. When I think it appropriate, I refer to a surgeon, who makes that determination.) There are only a handful of adults whom I have ever referred for tonsillectomy, but persistent or recurrent infection is a clear indication for surgery. Surgery reduces recurrence rate of tonsillitis from 24 percent to 3 percent in the 90 days following surgery. I don’t know of long-term studies, but my clinical experience says that the surgery has a dramatic effect at reducing long-term symptoms.

READERS: The booklet on asthma and its control explains this illness in detail. Readers can obtain a copy by writing:

Dr. Roach

Book No. 602

628 Virginia Dr.

Orlando, FL 32803

Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to [email protected] or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.

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