DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a longtime GERD sufferer and have used omeprazole (up to 80 mg daily) for years. I have tried everything else over 50 years, with limited success. I tried a product containing caraway oil and menthol three months ago, and have had no symptoms since. Just a food supplement? It’s hard to believe. How would you explain it? — P.M.
ANSWER: Since gastroesophageal reflux disease is so common, I try hard to stay current with new treatments, but had not read about using caraway oil and menthol.
Caraway oil is reported to relax the smooth muscle in the duodenum and menthol has anti-inflammatory effects. In a study from 2019, looking at the effectiveness in 95 people with functional dyspepsia (many of whom are likely to have had GERD), after 28 days treatment, 61% of the subjects taking caraway oil and menthol had improvement, but 49% of the control subjects did as well (these took a placebo, an inactive substance that looked just like the medication). Similarly, 7% to 10% of people taking medication improved their symptoms scores (compared with placebo).
It seems you may be in the lucky group that improved with this product, although in any one person it is impossible to exclude a placebo effect. There were fewer adverse events in the active medication group compared with the control group, and no serious adverse effects in any subjects. Other studies have shown that caraway oil may decrease blood sugar, so people with diabetes who try using caraway oil should monitor their blood sugar to be careful of dangerously low blood sugars — which is unlikely, and I am not recommending this product for treatment of diabetes.
There are other products containing caraway oil and peppermint oil that have also shown some benefit. The current studies cannot determine which product is better or which component might be most active, or whether a combination is best.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a healthy, active 86-year-old woman. I am a lifelong volunteer, and a 35-year volunteer in a hospital in a project involving patient contact. As a child, I had a severe allergic reaction to egg whites. Because of that, I have never had a flu shot, and except for one longer bout in 1970, I can remember only two or three other times having the 24-hour flu. In recent years, my doctor has been advising me to try a flu shot, but I have refused. The memories of my battle as a child are still vivid and nasty. I have been hospitalized several times with reactions to medications, so am hesitant to try things new to my system. Am I being unreasonable in my fear of the flu shot? — Anon.
ANSWER: Thank you for your hospital service. We love our volunteers.
I understand completely why you are leery, given the severe reaction you had, but the amount of egg protein in modern flu vaccines is so small that allergic reactions are no more common with flu shots to people with egg allergies than to those without. You should be able to get a flu vaccine safely.
However, there is a flu shot made without eggs, and you can ask about it if it would make you feel more comfortable. The brand name is Flucelvax.
Of all the years to get a flu shot, this is the year, given the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not too late.
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 ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.