Q: I've planted vegetables and herbs this year, but they're getting kind of buggy. Are there safe pesticides I can use? — Claudia V., Boise, Idaho
A: Pesticides are responsible for allowing farmers to grow huge quantities of crops for an ever-expanding population, but — and it's a big but — we keep finding out they have all kinds of unintended side effects that damage bees (fewer bees, less pollination, fewer crops), disrupt hormone function in people, animals, fish and insects (affecting development of sperm, fertility and, some conjecture, sexual identity), cause behavior and cognitive problems (ADHD in children) and trigger cancer (such as leukemia). And they show up in breast milk; some studies find 60 percent or more of samples contain harmful chemicals.
In addition, contamination of ground water by pesticides is a worldwide problem, and pesticides that are banned for use on agriculture in this country (and manufactured by U.S. companies) are routinely shipped overseas for use on vegetables that then are imported back into America.
So for home gardeners, the smart move is to make your own natural pesticides. Some of our favorite home remedies:
•Throw a kegger for slugs! Shallow plates of beer set out around plants (slugs love strawberries, corn, beans, lettuce ... and beer) will distract and drown the plant-munching pests.
•Go Italian: Bugs hate garlic and onions. Save all your skins and ends from cooking, throw in a hot pepper, and soak them in a bucket of water for 48 hours. Strain and spray to discourage thrips, aphids, grasshoppers and chewing and sucking insects.
•Juice 'em up: Use the peel of four organic lemons and their juice; steep in 1 gallon of hot water. (Some people add a teaspoon of natural soap.) Strain and spray to control aphids.
•Counterattack: Plant radishes next to cucumbers to scare away beetles, and rosemary, mint and thyme near cabbage to scare away cabbage worms.
Let us know how your garden fares this year!
Q: I read that taking cox-2 inhibitors or pain relievers like ibuprofen is risky for the heart. Should I stop taking them for my joint pain? — Sally K., Lexington, Ky.
A: You probably are referring to a recent study that got a lot of publicity. The study looked only at patients who were already at increased risk of vascular disease; it wanted to see how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — including the selective cox-2 inhibitor diclofenac, and ibuprofen and naproxen — affected them.
The findings: Naproxen seems to pose the least risk for vascular complications in folks with cardiovascular problems. Cox-2 inhibitors and perhaps ibuprofen seem to be the more risky choices. But you need to know a bit more ...
First, cox-2 inhibitors were developed in part to help protect the stomach (and sometimes intestinal) lining, because traditional NSAIDs can cause internal bleeding. However, almost a decade ago, two cox-2 inhibitors, rofecoxib (Vioxx) and valdecoxib (Bextra), were taken off the market because they increased many people's risk for stroke and heart attack.
But cox-2 inhibitors that are still available, such as celecoxib and the newer versions like diclofenac, have helped a lot of people manage chronic inflammation and pain. When they're prescribed and administered by a competent medical professional, they are useful. And if you are at risk for adverse stomach and intestinal reactions, your doctor may recommend diclofenac.
On the other hand, if you're at risk for a second heart attack or stroke, maybe you need to take naproxen or aspirin instead. Each patient needs to talk with his or her doctor to determine the best choice of medication; it depends on your overall health profile.
And we are fans of aspirin — an effective anti-inflammatory pain reliever that appears to have many other far-reaching benefits, from potential anti-cancer properties to protection against dementia. But it, too, can be hard on the stomach, so always take it with a glass of warm water before and after. And that's not a bad system for taking any NSAID, either!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.