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Say 'Aaah' | People's Pharmacy

For Some Folks, a Nightly Dose of Pain Reliever Could Aid Sleep

November 13, 2000|JOE GRAEDON and TERESA GRAEDON | Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert

Question: Is taking Tylenol PM every night bad for you? It helps me go back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. If I don't take it, I lie awake for several hours.

Answer: Some people report that diphenhydramine, the sedating antihistamine in Tylenol PM, leaves them groggy in the morning. But if you wake feeling refreshed and not hung over, there's little to worry about.

Side effects to watch for include dizziness, confusion and urinary retention. This medicine is not appropriate for men with prostate enlargement.

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Q: Last summer I had a bout with skin cancer. It turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, which is less serious than melanoma.

I have a very fair complexion, but I did get a light tan almost every summer and never used much sunscreen. Now I am more careful.

I hate looking so pale. Recently I tried some self-tanning products and found that they make me yellow or orange and don't fade very evenly. Do they always cause these problems? I am also interested in self-tanning pills. Are they safe?

A: Sunless tanners require some experience and skill to get a good result. If your skin has underlying golden tones or is porcelain-colored, you will achieve more natural-looking color. Start with a light shade and gradually apply more to get a darker color.

Self-tanning pills contain canthaxanthin, which turns the skin yellow or orange. The pigment also is deposited in the eye, which might be of concern. Cases of hives and hepatitis have been reported, and such pills are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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Q: Can Gymnema sylvestre really help control blood glucose? I had to take prednisone for six months, and as a consequence I developed diabetes. I am on Glucophage but would prefer a natural product if possible.

A: Gymnema sylvestre is an herb from the ayurvedic medical tradition of India. Studies have shown that it can lower blood sugar, but we urge you to consult with your doctor and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you consider this approach. An uncontrolled drop in blood sugar could be dangerous. Don't substitute Gymnema sylvestre for your prescription diabetes medicine.

This herb may also have a laxative effect. Regular use of such a laxative would worry us.

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Q: I take echinacea when I feel a cold coming on, and it usually does the trick. Recently, a friend told me that elderberry has the same effect. Is this true?

A: Elderberries come from a large North American shrub, and their juice is traditionally used to treat colds. Elder flower tea has been used for fevers and sore throats.

Uncooked elderberries can cause nausea and vomiting. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid elderberry altogether.

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Q: I had a bad attack of the hiccups when my daughter was visiting recently. She suggested an unlikely cure she learned from a bartender. Just to keep the peace, I tried it, and to my amazement it worked: Fill a glass with water. Cover with a clean handkerchief and drink the water through the handkerchief.

A: Bartenders tell us that sucking a lemon wedge with a few drops of Angostura bitters on it also works well. One reader shared a different approach: "For an instantaneous hiccup remedy, mix 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into one-third of a cup of water. Only one or two sips is necessary for the hiccups to stop every time."

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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-mail pharmacy@mindspring.com.

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