Questions and answers


Q. I have seen commercial after commercial for enhancing sex life. Personally, I think sex is a struggle for many men much of the time. They want it when they should not, and they want it with people they should not have it with.

Is there a medication or natural remedy to lessen the male sex drive? I am not interested in a female hormone.

A. The female hormone progesterone can dampen desire, but it does have several side effects, including psychological depression, increased cholesterol, blood clots and headache. We can understand why you would not be interested in such an approach.

People who suffer from compulsive and inappropriate sexual activity (sex addicts) might be prescribed SSRI-type antidepressants. Drugs like Prozac, Serzone and Zoloft have been reported to reduce sexual compulsions and lower libido.

Two natural products are also reported to reduce sex drive. The herb Vitex agnus-castus, also known as chaste tree berry, may have progesteronelike activity. Licorice has been reported to lower testosterone levels, but regular consumption of licorice can raise blood pressure, deplete potassium and produce other serious side effects.

Q. I love gardening, but arthritis is slowing me down. It's hard to get up and down to do planting and weeding. My fingers are stiff, and my knees get sore.

I took Motrin to help with the joint pain and developed a really nasty rash. My doctor suggested Aleve instead, but the rash only got worse. She prescribed prednisone, which helped the rash for a while and even eased the arthritis pain. But they both came back when I phased off.

Now my doctor wants me to take more prednisone. It gives me insomnia, and I worry about other side effects. What can you tell me about prednisone, and what else can I do for my arthritis?

A. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren) and Celebrex are often used to alleviate arthritis, but they can cause rash in susceptible people. Once you develop such a reaction, you will probably have to avoid all NSAIDs.

Prednisone can relieve many allergic conditions, including drug-induced rash, poison ivy, eczema and asthma. But there are many side effects associated with long-term use. Cataracts, glaucoma, weight gain, high blood pressure and insomnia are just a few potential complications.

We are sending you our Guide to Alternative Treatments for Arthritis with much more information about benefits and risks of prednisone, NSAIDs and other options for arthritis treatment. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. AA-2, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Q. I am extremely sensitive to the chemicals in antiperspirants. They make my underarms itch. What else can I use?

A. We have heard that applying milk of magnesia (the antacid/laxative) to underarms can control sweating and odor. One reader wrote that "Your suggestion for milk of magnesia as a deodorant has been a lifesaver!"

Q. I cannot digest dairy products. They give me gas, bloating and diarrhea. I believe I am lactose intolerant. Will this milk sugar cause an abnormal blood-sugar reading?

A. Lactose (milk sugar) that is not digested can cause digestive distress, but it should have no effect on blood sugar.

Q. I've got a comment about the dark chocolate controversy on whether it is irresponsible to recommend chocolate for health benefits.

I started eating Hershey's dark chocolate when it was on sale a few weeks ago. I enjoy about five of the little squares twice a day. Both my systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers went down about 15 or 20 points each.

A. Chocolate will never substitute for blood pressure medicine, but some data support your experience. Studies have demonstrated modest benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate in lowering blood pressure (Hypertension, August 2005; Archives of Internal Medicine, Feb. 27, 2006).

Your reaction to chocolate is much greater than average. The amount needed to affect blood pressure ranges from 10 g (the size of one Ghirardelli chocolate square) to 100 g (the size of a Ritter Sport bar).

Q. My sister-in-law has begun to have increasingly frequent migraines and is considering using feverfew to see if it helps. She gets serious side effects from prescription medicines. Are there any drugs that interact with feverfew?

A. Feverfew has the potential to interact with a great many medications, especially blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin), aspirin or Plavix (clopidogrel). No one should take feverfew with prescription medications unless a physician supervises closely and checks for safety.

A reader shared her success with this herb: "I started taking feverfew for migraine headaches in 1998 and haven't had a migraine since then. When I have a colonoscopy, I stop taking the feverfew to reduce the risk of bleeding."

Q. Can you stand another toenail fungus cure? I found one that works for me after trying them all, including prescription Lamisil pills.

I read somewhere that oil of oregano will kill anything, so I tried putting a drop down between the nail and the skin every day. Slowly but surely the toenail is growing out normally! I hope someone else can benefit from this as well.

A. Thanks for the recommendation. Here's one from another reader: "When examining me my doctor noticed that I had nail fungus affecting toes on each foot. He recommended that I make a batter by mixing cornmeal and water in a shallow pan, let it sit for an hour, and then soak my feet for an hour. Do this once a week for a month.

"If the fungus is not gone, apply Vicks VapoRub once a week for a month. I did the cornmeal therapy for three weeks and the fungus was gone. I don't know why it works, but it's cheap, harmless, and it worked for me."

We have collected a number of remedies for nail fungus and other common problems. To get more information, request our Guides to Nail Care, Home Remedies and Unique Uses for Vicks. Please send $4 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. HRV-3176, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Cornmeal seems to have antifungal activity. We have heard from gardeners who use it to fight black spot on roses.

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