Taming man's unusual hot flashes a challenge

By JOE GRAEDON AND TERESA GRAEDON, Ph.D. Published:

Q. I always thought hot flashes were a woman's problem. Ever since treatment for prostate cancer, I have suffered with hot flashes day and night.

My wife says I can now appreciate how miserable she was during menopause. My doctor has not been very helpful. Is there anything I can take to ease these hot flashes?

A. Hot flashes seem to be related to changes in hormone levels, but the exact mechanism is mysterious. Doctors have had some success easing them with nonhormonal approaches. These include antidepressants like Paxil (paroxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine). They have also experimented with the anti-seizure drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

Other options may include female hormones (low-dose estrogen or medroxyprogesterone). Side effects, such as blood clots and weight gain, might be a problem. Acupuncture and St. John's wort also might be helpful. Whatever treatment you consider, please find a physician who is understanding and knowledgeable about this uncomfortable condition.

Q. My doctor has had me on Crestor, Mevacor, Vytorin and Pravachol to lower cholesterol. Each of these drugs gave me such severe muscle aches and pain in my thighs that I could hardly walk. The doctor said my pain has nothing to do with the cholesterol medicine, but I have seen warnings about this on TV commercials.

Why can't doctors listen? He has put me on one statin after the other with the exact same results. Isn't there some other way to lower cholesterol?

A. Physicians are enthusiastic about statin-type drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor and the medicines you have taken because they are so effective. Some people are very sensitive to muscle pain and weakness, however, even if blood tests are normal.

There are many nonstatin solutions to the cholesterol quandary. You should not have to suffer to get your cholesterol levels under control. Talk to your doctor about this.

Q. I am a healthy 47-year-old woman in a good marriage. But for the past five years, I have had very little sexual desire, and it is becoming an issue. What can you recommend to stimulate libido?

A. Ask your physician if it is possible to get an assessment of your estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones. If they are out of balance, libido can suffer.

If testosterone levels are low, taking this male hormone can improve sex drive. Too much, however, can cause several side effects including acne, facial hair and voice changes.

We are sending you our Guides to Female Sexuality and Treating Sexual Dysfunction for more information on testosterone and other approaches to this serious problem. Anyone who would like copies, 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. PZ-9, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Q. You sounded lukewarm recently in response to a question about the nasal spray Astelin. I am allergic to nearly everything and suffered unbelievably before Astelin. My allergist explained that one of the chief benefits of a nasal antihistamine is that it attacks the allergies where they attack us: in our noses. No OTC medication, like Claritin or pseudoephedrine, or anything else works as well for my allergies as Astelin.

A. We're delighted you got such benefit. Some people experience side effects such as bitter taste, drowsiness or headache.

Q. Golden raisins soaked in gin were ineffective against my arthritis pain, but raisins in sloe gin were immediately and totally effective. Thanks for the suggestion.

A. Thank you for the testimonial. Regular gin is flavored with juniper berries, while sloe gin is flavored with sloe berries from the blackthorn bush, which was traditionally used for digestive disorders. This isn't the first time we have heard that sloe gin with raisins may be helpful against arthritis pain.

Q. On your Web site, I found some questions about how to remove Vaseline from hair. I have never tried this, but if I needed to, I would first rub in a lightweight oil (e.g., corn oil) get it all thoroughly mixed, then squeeze it out repeat several times do you see the principle? Use the lightweight oil to remove the heavyweight oil, then use soap or detergent to remove the lightweight oil.

I have used vegetable oil to remove car grease from my hands. It works very well.

A. Thanks for the recommendation. Years ago, we passed along a suggestion from a pediatric dermatologist for killing lice by smothering them. He said that petroleum jelly left on the hair under a shower cap overnight was the last resort for desperate parents.

Many parents found that removing the Vaseline was harder than killing lice. Several people used your principle and cut the Vaseline with mineral oil first before adding cornstarch and then shampooing the whole mess out.

Q. The duct-tape cure for warts you have written about is interesting, but it might be a bit messy. As a young boy, I grew warts like some folks grow tomatoes. My mom would always paint them over with clear fingernail polish, and they always went away. She said the idea was to cut them off from the air. Whatever it was, it worked invisibly.

A. We do not think that warts "breathe," so it is hard to imagine that cutting them off from air is the mechanism. Nonetheless, we have also heard from a reader who applied instant glue with the same effect: "I had a huge wart and used instant glue to smother it! It turned black after a few days. I used a small brush to get rid of the black layer, and reapplied instant glue until it was gone."

It is possible that such treatments activate the immune system so that it rejects the wart virus. If you try instant glue, don't let it get anywhere except the wart, since it could be irritating to the skin.

Q. I've been hearing about grape seed extract as an antioxidant. What do you know about it?

A. Grapes and their seeds are rich in antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids and proanthocyanidins (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2004). Researchers at the University of California, Davis, reported this spring that grape seed extract lowered blood pressure among people with prehypertension. Systolic pressure (the top number) came down almost 12 points, and diastolic pressure (the bottom or second number) came down roughly eight points.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer questions from readers. E-mail them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press).

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