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A Desire to Chew Ice Could Signal an Iron Deficiency

March 13, 2000|JOE GRAEDON and TERESA GRAEDON

Question: Several years ago I developed a strong craving for ice. Crunching on it wasn't good for my teeth, and it drove my husband crazy.

I read that craving ice could be a sign of iron deficiency. My doctor had never heard of this but suggested enteric-coated iron pills, available over the counter. I took one after each meal, and in two months my craving disappeared.

These pills have not been available for several years. Other iron supplements upset my stomach so much I cannot take them. A blood test showed that I am anemic, and I am now back to crunching on ice cubes whenever I can.

Have you ever heard of ice craving as a result of anemia? What can I do?

Answer: Doctors have a term for crunching ice: "pagophagia." It is frequently associated with iron-deficiency anemia and is similar to pica, in which people have a compulsion to eat nonfood items such as clay or laundry starch. When iron levels are restored to normal, these urges often go away.

Ask your doctor to investigate why you are anemic.

If you need iron, enteric-coated ferrous sulfate is available from Paddock Labs in Minneapolis. Your pharmacist can order it from a wholesaler or from the company.

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Q: I know high blood pressure is dangerous, but I fear my husband's medicines are causing trouble. Cardizem CD made him so dizzy he couldn't play golf, so the doctor changed the prescription.

Now he takes a handful of pills every morning, including atenolol, Zestril, HCTZ, aspirin, Zocor, and ibuprofen for aches and pains. Are all these drugs compatible?

He says he's lost his get-up-and-go. He is losing more hair than usual, and he didn't have much to spare. He also seems short of breath and coughs a lot at night. Could his medicine be responsible for any of these problems?

A: Blood pressure management requires patience and good communication between patient and physician. Beta blockers such as atenolol or metoprolol can sometimes cause fatigue, hair loss or asthma. ACE inhibitors like Zestril, Prinivil or Vasotec might cause a persistent cough.

Aspirin and ibuprofen both can reduce the effectiveness of medications such as atenolol or Zestril. Your husband must not stop any of his medications, but he needs to review his treatment with his doctor. There might be other ways to control blood pressure without feeling so bad.

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Q: I have an enlarged prostate gland and am allergic to pollen and dust. Most drugstore allergy medicines warn about prostate problems. My doctor prescribed Claritin-D, but it makes urination difficult. Is there anything I can use safely?

A: The "D" part of the formula could be the problem. It contains a decongestant (pseudoephedrine) that can cause urinary retention.

Plain Claritin might be safer. The over-the-counter nasal spray Nasalcrom or prescription sprays like Nasalide, Nasacort, Rhinocort or Flonase might also work.

Alternatives

Q: My daughter and her husband are using colloidal silver for a natural boost to the immune system. They mix it up themselves. My worry is that they give it to their children--a little boy age 2 and a girl age 7. Is this safe?

A: We are very concerned about the increasing popularity of colloidal silver. It was used to fight infections in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When antibiotics were discovered, silver compounds fell out of favor.

A few years ago we met a woman whose family had given her colloidal silver when she was a child. Her skin is now severely discolored and appears grayish blue. This is an irreversible and disfiguring condition.

The FDA has stated that products containing colloidal silver are "not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded." We discourage their use, especially for children.

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Q: I have been bothered with varicose veins in my legs for many years. My doctor just tells me to use support stockings. I've heard that some herbs can restore elasticity to fragile veins and reduce swelling. Is this true?

A: The support hose your doctor suggested are the first line of defense against these swollen, weak veins. Putting your legs up when you can is also helpful.

Standardized extract of horse chestnut can reduce swelling and help varicose veins. European physicians often prescribe horse chestnut or bilberry extract for this purpose. Research has shown that horse chestnut works as well as support hose for symptoms associated with varicose veins.

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Q: Do you have a home remedy for athlete's foot?

A: You might wish to try a cream made with tea tree oil. This Australian remedy has powerful antifungal activity.

Garlic also might be helpful. Squeeze six cloves into a cup, add two tablespoons of olive oil and allow it to "steep" for three days. Strain the oil and apply it with a cotton ball every day for a week. If irritation occurs, stop application.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their column runs every Monday. Send questions to People's Pharmacy, King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017, or e-mailpharmacy@mindspring.com.

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