Mercury thermometer a poison risk


Q. My husband and I want to start a family, so I take my temperature every day before I get out of bed. The record I keep lets us know when I have ovulated.

The problem is the thermometer. It's an old-fashioned mercury thermometer we "borrowed" from his parents. (Hey, they want grandchildren.) He's very sweet about shaking it down and bringing it to me, but I am afraid he might break it. I worry that being exposed to mercury just before I got pregnant would be dangerous for the baby. He says other thermometers aren't as accurate. Is that true?

A. All old-fashioned mercury thermometers need to be retired. Should yours break, it could indeed expose you to mercury, a highly toxic compound. If your town has a household toxic-waste collection, dispose of your thermometer there.

Electronic thermometers can detect body temperature either under the tongue or in the ear. A new option involves infrared technology. The Exergen temporal artery thermometer is swiped across the forehead and gives a very accurate readout in two seconds. You can find more information at

Q. Someone wrote to you about severe hair loss. Why didn't you suggest a test for thyroid?

I have had hypothyroidism for years, and I can always tell if I need a different dose of thyroid hormone. My hair starts falling out, and my nails start splitting.

A. A lack of thyroid hormone can cause noticeable hair loss, and not just on the scalp. Eyebrows, especially the outer third, are also susceptible to this effect. Thyroid problems can also cause fatigue, depression, difficulty losing weight, constipation, clumsiness and high cholesterol.

We discuss other symptoms of thyroid imbalance together with interpretation of thyroid tests and treatments in our Guide to Thyroid Hormones. 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. T-4, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Q. My husband has recently developed problems getting and maintaining an erection. He has taken Crestor for about a year and a half to lower his cholesterol.

I normally have him take Coenzyme Q10, but he had run out, and I had not gotten more. After a week back on CoQ10, he is functioning great now. Others might benefit from our experience.

A. We have talked to physicians who believe that the nutrient Coenzyme Q10 is important for people who are taking statin-type drugs to lower cholesterol. Such medications reduce levels of CoQ10, which is important for cellular function. Some people tell us that this compound reduces the muscle pain and weakness sometimes brought on by drugs like Crestor or Lipitor.

Although it is an uncommon side effect, erectile dysfunction has been associated with statins. We are fascinated to hear that Coenzyme Q10 reversed this problem for your husband.

Q. I read that avoiding toothpaste with sodium lauryl sulfate could reduce canker sores and passed the suggestion to my sister. She has suffered with horribly painful canker sores for years. Since switching toothpaste, she's had far fewer. Is it also necessary to avoid SLS in shampoo?

A. So far as we know, this wetting agent would not contribute to canker sores unless it got into the mouth.

Q. I have a friend taking Sea Moss from St. Lucia as an aphrodisiac. Does it work, and what are the side effects?

A. Sea moss refers to products made from varieties of red seaweed that grow in the Caribbean. Most of these belong to the Graciliaria genus. These marine plants are good sources of agar and carrageenan, used as gelling agents in foods like salad dressing, ice cream and yogurt.

Caribbean islanders have long described sea moss as an aphrodisiac or aid for impotence. We could find no research to support this belief, but there is little likelihood of side effects. Since emotion and expectation are so important in sexual responsiveness, just believing that seaweed is an aphrodisiac might be beneficial.

Q. I tried the "soap remedy" for my restless legs, but I didn't know Ivory was the recommended soap. Dove has worked like a charm for me since the first night.

My sister-in-law has had success with Dial. This home remedy is such a mystery, but I'm a believer!

A. We agree: It is not clear why putting a bar of ordinary soap under the bottom sheet would help prevent leg cramps or ease restless legs. But it is certainly less expensive and safer than the approved medication. Doctors now prescribe Requip for restless leg syndrome. It is effective, but the side effect of daytime sleepiness could be dangerous for some people.

We describe home remedies for leg cramps and restless legs in our Guide to Leg Pain. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. RLS-5, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded for $2 from our Web site:

Q. My husband would like to avoid taking a statin drug to lower his cholesterol. He is on warfarin and lisinopril.

His doctor has recommended a daily intake of red yeast rice and policosanol as a trial to see if he can avoid a statin. What do you think of this?

A. Red yeast rice can lower cholesterol, but it might, in theory, interact with warfarin to increase the risk of bleeding. A recent study of policosanol (a natural substance made from sugar cane) has shown that it works no better than placebo (Journal of the American Medical Association, May 17, 2006).

Q. My wife reads your column and told me about using a vinegar rinse to control my dry scalp. I have suffered from this problem for years. I have used a huge variety of shampoos, including expensive prescription ones. Sometimes my scalp would itch so badly it was difficult to sleep.

The vinegar mixed with an equal amount of water has made a huge difference. Thank you for helping me to control my dry scalp.

I have even started rinsing my dog's coat with this solution after bathing him. He had some areas where the hair was very thin, and it has grown back. We spent hundreds of dollars on vet bills for him, and I am pleased to have solved this problem so inexpensively. I can't thank you enough.

A. Many people report that vinegar fights dry skin. Some find that rinsing their hands in a vinegar solution is very helpful.

The vinegar rinse might also discourage yeast that live on the scalp and cause dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. This can cause intense scalp itching. We're glad it helped.

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