Back-pain blocker works

People's Pharmacy

November 18, 1997|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.,SPECIAL TO THE SUN King Features Syndicate

I recently wrenched my back, but I can't take anti-inflammatory medicines. An advertisement for a painkiller that contains no drugs or narcotics caught my eye. They say it is as effective as morphine and contains phenylalanine. It sounds like a miracle, but is it really safe and effective?

An amino acid, d-phenylalanine, has been shown to relieve acute back pain and might be worth a try for you. It interferes with an enzyme that breaks down the brain's natural pain relievers. Expecting it to work as well as morphine could set you up for disappointment, though.

Certain medications are incompatible with phenylalanine. People on Nardil (phenelzine) or Parnate (tranylcypromine) must avoid it. People with melanoma should also steer clear of phenylalanine, as must those with phenylketonuria, a genetic inability to process this amino acid.

Whether or not the phenylalanine preparation works for you, there are other non-drug approaches you may want to try. Several years ago, doctors used to recommend bed rest for acute back pain. Now most agree that patients who get up and start moving soon do better. Don't try to run a marathon; just walking could do wonders.

Relaxation may also help. Whether you use a tape with soothing images and music or imagine yourself someplace wonderful, deliberately setting aside time to unwind can help you cope better with pain.

I read in your column about a woman who suffered from motion sickness. I had been bothered by it all my life, but last year I read about ginger for nausea.

I wish I had known about ginger years ago. Believe me, it really works and with no side effects. When I used to take Dramamine it made me sleepy. Transderm Scop gave me a headache. So I am happy with ginger capsules.

The woman who wrote to us wanted to accompany her husband on his business trip to Japan but couldn't find Transderm Scop. We recommended a scopolamine gel instead, but we could have suggested ginger. It has been used against motion sickness for centuries, and some modern studies have confirmed its effectiveness. (Others are inconclusive.)

Germany's Commission E, its national herbal authority, says ginger is useful for motion sickness and indigestion. A dose of 1,000 mg (two 500 mg capsules) is taken a half-hour before departure. A 12-ounce glass of real ginger ale also contains that dose.

Be careful not to exceed 4,000 mg a day, though, as high doses might provoke heart rhythm changes. Those on Coumadin should be wary of a potential interaction.

Every doctor says, "Take calcium." No one tells me what kind. Please let me know what is best.

If you can't get enough calcium from drinking skim milk and eating yogurt, tofu or green vegetables like broccoli, most experts recommend calcium carbonate. It is inexpensive and available.

Some people find, however, that calcium carbonate is constipating. Alternatives include calcium citrate or calcium gluconate, which should be on the shelf in your drugstore.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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