The diabetes patient and prickly pear

People's Pharmacy

March 23, 2003|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,Special to the Sun; King Features Syndicate

I am a family practitioner and want to share an herbal remedy with you. A 60-year-old male Hispanic diabetic patient has had trouble controlling his blood sugar. Despite intensive diet changes and a prescription for Glucovance, his blood sugar still ran in the 160s to 180s.

One day he came in with his diary showing blood sugars of 90 to 100 consistently. I asked what he was doing differently, and he said in a low voice: "I got me a new girlfriend. She's from Mexico, and she makes me tea from nopalito [prickly pear] cactus. She has me drink it three times a day. Now my sugars are doing better."

I did some checking, but all I could find is that possibly the pectin in the cactus might affect the absorption of food. Let me know if you run across any information on this prickly pear remedy.

A number of studies show that prickly pear (Opuntia) can control blood sugar in experimental diabetes in animals. Preliminary data suggest that humans might also be able to lower blood sugar with this cactus, but the research is not definitive.

Diabetic patients who want to consider this approach should work with their doctors and monitor blood sugar as closely as your patient has.

I am feeling so nervous these days I have a hard time concentrating. My doctor prescribed alprazolam, but it doesn't help that much. My neighbor says the herb kava is a natural way to calm nerves. Can I take it along with alprazolam?

No! Kava might increase the tranquilizing effects of alprazolam (Xanax) and could make you extremely sedated. In addition, kava has been associated with liver toxicity.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them from their Web site, www.peoplespharmacy.org.

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