Doctor protests advice on herbs

People's Pharmacy

April 01, 1997|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN King Features Syndicate

As a physician, I must object to the advice you gave a woman whose husband has obvious obstructive prostate symptoms. You described an herbal remedy, saw palmetto extract. I don't think that was the best advice.

You should have told her:

Your husband probably has a benign prostate condition, but he might have prostate cancer. Detected and treated early, prostate cancer is easily cured. Have him see his doctor -- it could save his life.

There are very effective medicines available for benign prostate enlargement, and unlike herbal medicines, they have been approved by the FDA. Simply because a remedy is "natural" doesn't mean it is safe. Aflatoxin, for example, is a potent natural carcinogen found in peanuts.

There is no information on the long-term safety of botanicals. People need to know they might be taking a chance. I hope that in the future you will strive harder for balance and truth.

When we answered the letter you referred to, we did say that the gentleman in question "must discuss his symptoms with a physician" so that prostate cancer could be ruled out. Thank you for underscoring our recommendation. We also appreciate your point that herbal remedies and home remedies are often inadequately tested.

You may be interested to learn that saw palmetto extract has undergone double-blind clinical trials in which it has performed significantly better than a placebo. In one study, it proved nearly as helpful as the prescription drug prazosin in alleviating symptoms.

People should never ignore potentially serious symptoms. But a man diagnosed with benign prostate enlargement might wish to discuss various treatment options with his doctor. With the growing public interest in herbal products, we hope physicians will learn about the pros and cons of saw palmetto extract.

I've always used underarm deodorants, but as I get older I have begun to worry about the aluminum salts in them. I've switched to a natural deodorant crystal containing mineral salts and alum. Is this smart?

There is no evidence that aluminum in anti-perspirants is harmful, but we can understand your concern. Alum is a type of aluminum salt, however. As a result, you are still exposing your underarms to aluminum-containing compounds.

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

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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