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People's Pharmacy

Behavior Therapy May Ease Compulsion

October 07, 2002|JOE GRAEDON and TERESA GRAEDON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I am having trouble getting insurance and suspect my prescription for Luvox, which I take for trichotillomania, might be to blame. It's usually prescribed for psychological problems. Is there a non-drug treatment for my compulsion to pull my hair so I can stop taking Luvox?

Answer: People who suffer from trichotillomania have an uncontrollable urge to pull out their hair, sometimes leaving bald spots.

Luvox belongs to the same category of drugs as Prozac and Zoloft. All help control symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorders, including hair pulling. Insurance companies can deny people coverage for many reasons, so we can't say whether Luvox is responsible in your case.

Cognitive behavioral therapy might help you overcome this compulsion. One preliminary study suggests that St. John's wort also might be helpful.

Q: Many years ago I had chronic hives. Eventually a doctor prescribed Tagamet, which worked like a charm.

A few years ago, I started getting hives again. Tagamet is now over-the-counter, and it still works.

The problem is that I take it every day and night and need it to get a full night's sleep. I've taken six to eight tablets a day for quite a while. Are there any concerns?

A: Large doses of cimetidine (Tagamet) must be medically supervised, so discuss this with a dermatologist, who could help you discover the cause of your rash.

Cimetidine can interact with many other drugs, so don't combine it without checking. Some people report mental confusion or impotence at high doses. You also might take extra vitamin B-12, since acid-suppressing drugs can interfere with efficient absorption of this nutrient.

Q: I keep hearing about the value of tea over coffee. Would the benefits also apply to iced tea? What about canned iced tea?

A: Tea is made from the leaves of a type of camellia bush, and it is full of beneficial plant compounds called flavonoids. These combat oxidation much as vitamin C or E do and might help prevent heart disease or some kinds of cancer.

But tea flavonoids lose their antioxidant punch over time. Iced tea is as good as hot tea if you make it fresh. But canned iced tea or tea that's been sitting in the fridge doesn't have the same power.

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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 pharmacy@mindspring.com.

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