Q. A while ago I was diagnosed as prediabetic. My weight was normal, and I thought I was pretty good at limiting sugar. However, my dad and grandfather were both diabetic in later life, despite physically active jobs.

Anyhow, no way did I want to do daily blood tests and possibly even injections. I cut back even more on sugar, and now I am no longer testing as prediabetic.

I do like cocoa and was drinking an occasional cup made with unsweetened cocoa powder and low-fat milk added. Recently, I’ve tried adding xylitol to it and really enjoy the sweet taste. What do you think about xylitol? It does seem strange to me to be drinking something apparently squeezed out of a birch tree. On the other hand, my husband loved maple syrup, and I never thought that was a strange flavor source.

A. Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in plants and birch bark. Unlike sugar, xylitol has little impact on blood sugar or insulin levels (Foods, Nov. 2, 2020). If you enjoy it in your cocoa, there is no reason to stop. Do be careful about the dose, though. Like most sugar substitutes, xylitol can have a laxative effect. Too much could cause diarrhea.

Be sure to keep xylitol well away from pets. It is extremely toxic to dogs.

Q. I am suffering from a bum knee and hip arthritis. Going up and down stairs has become challenging. It takes me several days to recover from a vigorous walk.

Because I have high blood pressure, I am reluctant to take ibuprofen or naproxen. I don’t want to risk a heart attack.

What natural approaches can I try that won’t give me a bellyache or affect my blood pressure?

A. You are wise to avoid NSAIDs with your medical history. Such drugs can be hard on the stomach, kidneys and heart.

There are arthritis remedies that might also help control blood pressure. One is tart cherry juice. It has anti-inflammatory activity and has been shown to ease knee pain due to osteoarthritis (Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, August 2013). It can also help improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduce fasting blood glucose (European Journal of Nutrition, April 2021). You can learn more about tart cherries and many other natural approaches to inflammation in our 104-page book “The Graedons’ Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.” It’s in the book section on www.Peoplespharmacy.com.

Another option to ease joint pain without increasing blood pressure is Certo and grape juice. Grape juice can even help lower blood pressure (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, September-October 2017).

In addition, the yellow pigment curcumin from the Indian spice turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory activity. It has also been shown to help lower systolic blood pressure in people with hypertension (Pharmacological Research, December 2019).

Q. I read on your website that soap can help muscle pain. I have had trouble with muscle cramps on my forehead. So I took a bar of Irish Spring and wet it, then rubbed it on my forehead. (I made sure it didn’t drip in my eyes.) This is a really weird remedy, but it did help resolve the cramping pain.

A. We’ve not heard of forehead muscle cramps before. Many readers have written about using soap against nighttime leg cramps, while others have used soap to combat hand cramps. You might not even have to wet the soap to get the benefit for your forehead pain. People with hand cramps simply hold a bar of soap in the affected hand.

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:

www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

— King Features