Willow bark not better than aspirin


March 26, 2000|By Joe Graedon, and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon, and Teresa Graedon,Special to the Sun; King Features Syndicate

Q. Instead of taking an aspirin a day for the heart, does it make sense to take ground willow bark from the health food store? I worry about the side effects of aspirin.

A. Although willow bark contains salicylates -- natural aspirin-like compounds -- we don't think there is an advantage in using this medicinal plant.

Aspirin is available in several well-standardized doses, including 81 milligrams in an enteric-coated tablet designed to minimize stomach irritation. Doses of willow bark, like those of other herbs, might not be standardized. People who have had ulcers or are allergic to aspirin should avoid willow bark as well, since it is likely to trigger similar reactions.

Q. You offered a desperate parent advice regarding a daughter who came home from college complaining of foot odor. I read years ago that this problem can be caused by insufficient zinc in the system and that zinc supplements have cured foot odor problems for many. It is probably worth a try.

A. You are not alone in suggesting this remedy for smelly feet. We heard from another reader: "Several members of my family had the same problem until they discovered that zinc will alleviate the odor. Whenever we hear of someone with this problem, we suggest to the offending party, 'Don't stink -- take zinc!' Usually 50 to 100 milligrams per day will solve the problem in less than 30 days."

We caution readers not to exceed the high dose of 100 milligrams daily or the treatment period of 30 days. Otherwise zinc could reach toxic levels.

Q. My aunt is enthusiastic about natural remedies. She is taking ginkgo for her memory and hawthorn for her heart, although the doctor says she doesn't have a heart problem, just high blood pressure and diabetes. She takes medications for those conditions.

She was surprised when I warned her that some herbs don't go with drugs. Where can I find out more about side effects and interactions so that I can help her make sensible choices about what to take and what not to take?

A. Although people often think of pharmaceuticals and botanical medicines as completely different, they can interact with each other. You are wise to help your aunt check on possible incompatibilities.

We heard recently from one reader: "I take supplements, vitamins and herbs to overcome the effects of my diet, which is restricted due to diabetes. The other day, while undergoing simple cataract surgery, my eye started to bleed. No one had told me to stop ginkgo before the operation. So much for that surgery!"

We have summarized information on side effects and drug-herb interactions in our book "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press, 1999). Your library or local bookseller should have it available.

Pub Date: 03/26/00

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