No sense of smell and no answers from a doctor

People's Pharmacy

September 09, 1997|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.,SPECIAL TO THE SUN King Features Syndicate

I've seen ads lately for Nasalcrom, now available over the counter.

Let me tell you why I worry about this.

My doctor prescribed Nasalcrom for allergy symptoms several years ago. It relieved my sneezing and congestion, but after a few months I realized I could no longer smell certain scents.

My doctor had never heard of that side effect. I stopped using Nasalcrom but have never regained full use of my sense of smell.

I can no longer smell certain flowers nor tell what herbs and spices were used in a dish.

My doctor didn't take me seriously, and it makes me angry. I suspect she did not report the problem, so there may be others like me that no one knows about. What can a patient do when side effects from a drug are unknown and unaddressed?

We have been unable to find any reports of Nasalcrom (cromolyn sodium) linked to loss of smell. This symptom may have been a coincidence rather than a side effect of the nasal spray. But it should be reported to the Food and Drug Administration.

People can describe adverse drug reactions by requesting a MedWatch form from a pharmacist or by calling (800) 332-1088 or writing to MedWatch, FDA, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, Md. 20852-9787.

I remember hearing that one should beware of the herb called ma huang, but I didn't realize I was taking it.

I've been using a weight-loss caplet for several months now, but only read the list of ingredients a few weeks ago. It contains a lot of herbs,one of which is ma huang. The label lists the amount of only one ingredient --200 mg chromium.

I don't know how much ma huang is in each tablet. This pill does give me a lot of energy, but I am now worried that there will be side effects.

Can you tell me what side effects it has?

Western botanists call ma huang Ephedra sinica. It has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to treat asthma and respiratory problems. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, compounds purified from the plant over 100 years ago, have also been used for this purpose in Europe and North America.

Promotion of ma huang for nontraditional purposes such as weight loss has resulted in some serious reactions. If you are pregnant or have diabetes or high blood pressure, ma huang is not for you.

This herb can be even more stimulating than caffeine. Nervousness, insomnia, increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure are potential side effects, especially at high doses. Headache and rash have also been reported. Because your weight loss formula does not list how much ma huang it contains, it is impossible to judge if your dose is high.

We are sending you our Guide to Herbal Remedies, which tells you more about ma huang and many other popular botanical medicines. Anyone else who would like a copy, please send $2 with a long (No.10) stamped, self-addressed envelope Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. E-98, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

How should I take my vitamins for maximum benefit? Are there any interactions with coffee, alcohol or other foods?

We have seen little research on this topic. Iron absorption is reduced if you take an iron supplement with tea, coffee or calcium. Beta carotene and alcohol on a regular basis has led to liver damage in nonhuman primates.

Calcium may be best absorbed when taken with meals, which stimulates stomach acid. Otherwise, you should be able to take your vitamins whenever it is convenient.

I just saw your column for the first time, and one question caught my eye. A woman told about her 19-year-old son's anxiety attacks.

I am an 18-year-old who is diagnosed with this disorder as well. However, I have taken control of my anxiety after three years of treatment. Medication is the most common prescription for this problem, and many people seem to like the results. But they should know that it is also possible to overcome anxiety attacks without medication, as I did.

I had counseling, but the biggest help was group therapy, which taught me techniques for taking control of the attacks. The most important factor was meeting and talking with others who suffer from the same disorder. Panic attacks can make a person feel alone and helpless. Being surrounded by others in the same situation brings strongly needed comfort.

Thank you so much for your testimony on overcoming anxiety attacks without drugs. People may feel they have only two alternatives: to take medicine or to suffer. Studies suggest that cognitive-behavioral therapy, like the non-drug treatment you describe, can be very helpful for some people.

For more information on this approach, see the book "Don't Panic," by Reid Wilson, Ph.D. (HarperPerennial).

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail to

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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