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Avoid carcinogens when using grill

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Question: Our family is big into grilling, even the kids. Our son loves to cook burgers or chicken, and my husband is noted for his spare ribs.

Last week my sister and her family were over, and when we fired up the grill there was a look of horror on her face. She says charbroiled meat causes cancer. I have a hard time imagining this. What's the story?

Answer: Your sister isn't wrong. Cooking meat on a grill can create carcinogenic chemicals. But that does not mean you have to give up the barbecue.

For safer grilling, use the three M's — marinate, microwave and manipulate the meat. Marinating the meat can reduce the surface temperature during cooking. High heat contributes to the formation of carcinogens.

Turning meat frequently also keeps surface temperature lower but allows the interior to cook thoroughly. Defrosting or precooking the meat in the microwave reduces the amount of potentially cancer-causing chemicals formed on the grill.

Question: Several months ago one of your readers told about using Listerine Mouthwash on her skin to relieve the pain of shingles. I have suffered with nerve-ending pain following a double mastectomy 18 months ago. My doctor prescribed Neurontin, which is barely better than nothing.

I tried Listerine on my upper arms and armpits and absolutely cannot believe how well it works. I have not had such relief since my surgery. Now, two months later, I use it once in the morning, and it seems to hold most of the day. Occasionally I use it again in the late afternoon. Yea for Listerine!

Answer: We are pleased to hear that Listerine eased your nerve pain. The agony that lingers after a shingles infection is caused by nerve damage. We can't explain why Listerine might help, but it is a low-cost approach.

Question: I used to have really bad heartburn until I remembered a home remedy my mother used to make. I mix a couple of ounces of water, an ounce of apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar until the sugar dissolves. Then I add half a teaspoon of baking soda, stir it briefly and drink immediately. This offers fast relief.

Answer: Thanks for an inexpensive remedy for heartburn. Baking soda is a time-honored approach to neutralizing stomach acid that has splashed into the esophagus and is causing heartburn.

We discuss heartburn and various treatments for it in our Guides to Digestive Disorders and Home Remedies. Anyone who would like copies, please send $4 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. GR-32, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Question: You have warned those of us on Coumadin that cranberry juice might interact with this drug. Does that apply to all cranberry products? During the summer, I enjoy cran-apple and cran-raspberry juice, and I have a delicious Jell-O recipe that uses cranberry sauce. Should I be avoiding all of these?

Answer: There are several cases of people who had bleeding problems after consuming cranberry juice while taking Coumadin (warfarin). One man died of a hemorrhage.

There has been no follow-up research explaining this interaction. Although it is hard to tell if it is coincidence or real, we urge caution until scientists can sort out this potential incompatibility. Till then, we would urge you to avoid cranberry in any form.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them at pharmacy@mindspring.com or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org. Their newest book is "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press). © King Features Syndicate, Inc.