As its popularity increases, more and more male members of the population are experiencing side-effects from the new wonder drug Viagra. The New England Journal of Medicine reports mounting evidence of heart rhythm disturbances in men susceptible to fibrillation or who have experienced an earlier heart attack.Nitroglycerine users are already known to risk a dramatic drop in blood pressure when using the drug. Lung problems have been reported, with at least one fatality. Female partners of Viagra-assisted men show a higher incidence of bladder infections. About 69 deaths in the United States have been blamed on Viagra, mostly among men with some kind of risk factor for heart problems.1
1. NEJM, September 3, 1998.
St. John's Wort Impotency
The Los Angeles Times reports that a very large number of St. John's wort preparations are not as potent as their labels claim. The Times commissioned an independent study that tested ten brands. Three of the ten were no more than 50 percent of the claimed strength. Four others scored less than 90 percent. One of the lowest scoring brands (Sundown Herbals, a division of Rexall) weighed in at 20 percent of the stated potency. A spokeswoman for Sundown said that the sample tested (30 capsules, taken from three bottles of the product) was too small to be significant.2
2. Associated Press, August 31, 1998.
Ultraviolet A on the Skin
Researchers from Duke University report that UV-A radiation, a component of sunlight not blocked by many sunscreens, is responsible for the wrinkling, leathering and sagging of skin associated with long-term exposure to sunlight. UV-A is absorbed by urocanic acid (a molecule made by skin cells) which subsequently is broken into free radicals that degrade collagen and elastin.3 Some researchers suggest that these free radicals also may play a role in skin cancer, which may help explain the paradoxical findings of studies that show higher cancer rates among sunscreen users. These persons may be inclined to stay in the sun for relatively long periods of time thinking that UV-B blockers keep them protected.
3. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 1998.
Drug Use on the Rise
Americans will be using about six percent more drugs in 1998 than the year before, according to estimates by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. This figure is for prescription drugs based on sales during the first six months of this year. Increasingly popular new drugs that contribute to this trend range from Viagra to toenail fungus remedies. Analysts credit a number of factors, not the least of which is advertising, for this increase.
Another factor is the availability of an array of new drugs going through an accelerated FDA approval. One 34-year-old Manhattan resident went from taking only insulin for her diabetes in 1995 to her now 52 daily doses of 19 different drugs, many of which were not on the market last year. An average of 11 prescriptions will be picked up each year for every man, woman and child in America.4 I wonder who's been picking up mine for the past 25 years?
4. Associated Press, August 30, 1998.
Alfalfa Sprout Contamination
Since 1995, U.S. health officials have traced eight outbreaks of salmonella and e-coli to alfalfa sprouts. The FDA has issued an advisory on the situation, suggesting that sprouts be avoided by older individuals, the very young, and anyone with a compromised immune system. The outbreaks have not been traced to any particular supplier among the 300 or so in the United States. Some growers, in an effort to address the problem, are soaking seeds in a solution of bleach prior to sprouting.5
5. United Press, August 31, 1998.
Toxic Diesel Emissions
The California Air Resources Board has decided to require that 40 chemicals found in diesel fumes be listed as toxic air pollutants. Some studies have found a 40 percent increased risk of cancer to persons exposed to the fumes for a long period of time. Trucking industry spokesmen say that current technology yields a very significant reduction in such emissions; older vehicles would be most affected by new regulations resulting from this action.6
6. Associated Press, August 28, 1998.
Since fen-phen was removed from the market not too long ago, many persons have recommended a combination of phentermine and Prozac. Phentermine and Prozac inhibit serotonin uptake in different ways, but the effect is similar to the combination of phentermine and fenfluramine, say researchers from MIT and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Science.7 An excess blood level of serotonin is thought to be responsible for the lung and heart valve effects of the fen-phen combination. Some suspect that Prozac and phentermine will eventually produce effects similar to fen-phen.
7. Presented to a meeting of the International Congress of Obesity in Paris, France, August 26, 1998, by Dr. Richard Wurtman (MIT), et al.
Missing Factors in Baby Formula
Scottish doctors report that baby formulas common in the United States appear to be missing nutrients crucial for intellectual development. In their studies, bottle-fed babies receiving supplemental DHA and AA fatty acids did significantly better in problem-solving tests at 10 months of age than those receiving the bottle only. Researchers observed how well the infants were able to retrieve a favorite toy after watching someone hide it.8
The fatty acids involved are known to be important in the formation of nerve cell membranes. Breast milk contains these compounds naturally, as do many European formulas.
8. British Medical Journal, August 29, 1998.
Calcium for PMS
A 12-hospital study concludes that calcium supplementation has a beneficial effect on PMS symptoms. About 466 women participated in the study from various locations in the United States. After three months, nearly half of the volunteers taking calcium noted fewer PMS symptoms; the placebo group reported less success, about 30 percent. Researchers used 1,200 milligrams of calcium carbonate each day as the calcium source. Mood swings, aches and pains, and food cravings were reduced by about half, while bloating decreased by 36 percent.9
9. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, August 26, 1998.
HRT No Benefit for Pre-existing Heart Disease
In another blow to the proponents of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a study of 2,700 U.S. women concludes that the treatment has no value in preventing mortality from ongoing heart disease. Cholesterol levels did seem to improve, for all the good that did for those volunteers who died just as quickly as members of the control group. However, it was noted that HRT patients experienced more blood clots in the lungs and legs, as well as gall bladder disease.10
10. JAMA, August 19, 1998.
The FDA is warning that recent studies suggest that steroid inhalers used in the medical management of asthma appear to delay a child's growth. The long-term effects are not yet known, but many lung specialists and drug manufacturers are hoping that the children will experience a growth spurt later in life that will let them catch up. As it stands, though, current research indicates that during a year's worth of inhaling the drugs, a child will grow 1/2 to one inch less than expected. The FDA wants to put warning labels on inhalers recommeding the need for frequent height measurements.11
11. Associated Press, August 14, 1998.
St. John's Wort for Alcoholism
In a study of rats bred to have a thirst for alcohol, researchers at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)12 have found that the popular St. John's Wort appears to cut alcoholic cravings. Rats were given free access to both water and an alcoholic beverage, but among those given the herbal remedy alcohol consumption decreased nearly 50 percent. Researchers speculate that the herb acts by increasing serotonin levels.
12. Led by Amir Rezvani, who reported the findings at the annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Chapel Hill, June 23, 1998.
Brian Sutton, DC
Colorado Springs, Colorado
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