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People's Pharmacy

Fighting a Fever Could Be Harmful


Question: As a pediatrician, I often feel like a one-woman army trying to combat simultaneous use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, etc.) for children with fever. Some parents alternate doses as often as every two hours; others give these medications together to bring down a fever.

Fever is a physiologic function that helps the body fight infections. I try to educate parents about this, but there's an almost irrational fear of fever in our culture.

I am also alarmed about recent case reports of kidney failure in children who had received this combination.

Answer: "Fever phobia" is a concern of many pediatricians. A mild elevation in temperature is part of an immune-system reaction to infection, and lowering such a fever might be counterproductive.

There is no evidence that alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen or administering both drugs together lowers fever faster.

Q: A friend of mine sent me an article about garlic being toxic. He says it slows reflexes and impairs concentration. I am a great fan of garlic and use a lot of it when I cook, but now I am concerned about what my love of garlic might be doing to my health.

A: We think this is an urban legend. Garlic has been used in cooking and healing for thousands of years. If garlic were really hazardous, cooks around the world would be in big trouble.

Researchers have documented the cardiovascular benefits of garlic, and it seems to help control blood sugar and might reduce the risk of certain cancers.

High doses of garlic, either as a dietary supplement or in food, can irritate the digestive tract, with possible heartburn and nausea as a result. Surgeons sometimes warn patients to avoid large amounts of garlic before an operation to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding.

Q: I'm a 39-year-old woman in need of an herb that can decrease sex drive. I think you've written about this before, but I can't recall the herb you suggested. I'm taking only Flonase, Ortho Tri-Cyclen and an occasional Advil.

A: In the past, we asked herb expert James Duke, who suggested an extract of chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus). Vitex has a progesterone-like effect.

As you might guess from the name, folklore holds that these berries, once called monks' pepper, can lower libido. Although there is no science to support this belief, progesterone can interfere with normal sex drive. Please check with your doctor before adding this hormone-like herb to your birth control pills.


Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Send questions to People's Pharmacy, King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them at

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