When I was a teen-ager my doctor prescribed Quadrinal for...

People's Pharmacy

September 17, 1996|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When I was a teen-ager my doctor prescribed Quadrinal for asthma. It contained ephedrine and other ingredients. I don't like taking drugs, so now when I have an occasional problem with asthma as an adult I rely on an ephedra-containing tea from the health food store. It works just like my old prescription.

I have been reading that the FDA is cracking down on ephedrine because people have had heart attacks and seizures. I worry that the FDA might ban it, and that would be a shame. This herb has been used for centuries, hasn't it?

Chinese healers have used Ephedra sinica, the herb from which ephedrine is derived, for thousands of years. Also known as ma huang, it was traditionally used to treat asthma and respiratory problems such as colds.

Ephedrine is still found in some prescription and over-the-counter asthma medicines. Although most physicians have turned to newer approaches, some people may still benefit from this ancient remedy.

The reason the FDA is concerned about ephedrine-containing formulations is that too many people are using them inappropriately. Claims of weight loss, muscle building and euphoria may have tempted some to overdose. This can lead to palpitations, insomnia, tremor or personality changes.

We are sending you our Guide to Herbal Remedies, in which we discuss ma huang and other plant medicines. Anyone else who would like a copy may send $2 with a long (No.10) stamped, self-addressed envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. E-91, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Is there such a thing as getting your cholesterol too low? I was taking 500 mg daily of niacin, and my cholesterol was 277. My doctor increased the dose to 2,000 mg a day and six months later the reading was 159. He was real happy with that and said I should continue taking the niacin, but didn't ask me to come back for another blood test.

Niacin causes hot flushes, but I am more concerned about whether I am taking too much niacin. Won't it be dangerous if my cholesterol goes much lower?

The issue of whether dramatic reductions in cholesterol are a benefit or a risk remains controversial. Questions have been raised whether very low cholesterol is associated with accidents, violent death, bleeding strokes or digestive diseases. More research is needed to determine the optimum range for cholesterol and other blood fats.

Niacin is a very effective cholesterol-lowering agent. It also has the added ability to raise good HDL cholesterol. But at the dose you are taking, niacin has the potential to cause side effects, including elevated liver enzymes. It would be prudent for your physician to order periodic blood tests to detect such problems before they become serious.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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