Dear Dr. Roach: I am 60 years old, and for years have had trouble with a Bartholin cyst on one side. It is sore in that gland again, after taking turmeric for two months. It would bother me whenever I took hormone replacement a few years ago. Is it normal to still have trouble at this age? It doesn’t get big anymore, just sore sometimes. — M.L.R.
Answer: The Bartholin glands are small structures located in a woman’s vulva. They secrete fluid that acts as a lubricant during sexual activity. The most common problems with Bartholin glands are cysts and abscesses. If these are symptomatic, they usually are treated with drainage, performed by a woman’s health specialist, usually in the office.
Bartholin glands normally get smaller after menopause. I could not find any reports of, nor any reason why, turmeric might make a Bartholin cyst abscess more likely (turmeric can act as an anti-inflammatory, and appears to have some anti-estrogen activity, so I wouldn’t expect it to cause problems). The one concern I have is that although cancer of the Bartholin gland is very rare (0.001 percent of cancers in women), it can happen. I would suggest that you get an evaluation.
Dear Dr. Roach: My friend refuses to get a flu shot because he says it has mercury in it, which builds up in the body. Is this true? — M.A.S.
Answer: Some flu vaccines do contain a preservative, when they come in a multidose vial. This is to prevent contamination of the vaccine, something that can lead to serious infection. The preservative, thimerosal, has a small amount of ethyl mercury, which the body is, in fact, able to get rid of and which does not build up in the body the way methyl mercury can (that’s the kind that is consumed in some fish, such as tuna). Neither of these is elemental mercury (the kind in a thermometer), which can be dangerous when its fumes are inhaled.
The chemistry is important to understand. For example, cobalt metal can cause nerve and heart damage, but cyanocobalamin is an essential cobalt-containing vitamin, commonly known as B-12.
There is no reason to be concerned about the tiny dose of thimerosal in a vaccine, but people can get a thimerosal-free single-dose vaccine as a prefilled syringe or vial.