Saw palmetto might help with hair regrowth

People's Pharmacy

Health & Fitness

April 04, 2004|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Several months ago I started taking 160 milligrams of saw palmetto extract daily to slow the progression of male pattern baldness. To my surprise, the regimen seems to work. There is less hair in the bathroom sink, and I have noticed new growth on the temples.

I haven't experienced any noticeable side effects, such as loss of libido. I looked in the medical literature for long-term side effects but found none. The longest clinical trial (for prostate enlargement) lasted two years. Do you know of any health hazards with saw palmetto extract?

Mild digestive tract upset is the most common complaint with saw palmetto extract, and even that is infrequent. Impotence is also rare, reported by about 1 percent of men (Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 11, 1998).

Saw palmetto is thought to block the same enzyme as finasteride (Propecia). This prescription drug has been approved for treating male pattern baldness. One small study (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, April 2002) showed that the herb was more effective than placebo in stimulating hair growth.

Have you ever written about Vicks VapoRub for the relief of hemorrhoids? Two years ago I was treated for prostate cancer with radiation. It was successful, but this method of treatment can lead to irritation in the area.

When I returned home I mentioned the problem to two friends. Both of them spoke about using Vicks. I laughed, thinking I would never put Vicks on this part of my body.

One day I really needed help, though, so I resorted to Vicks.

For one second, I thought I'd made a big mistake. But after a short time the pain faded, and by the next morning the swelling and discomfort had vanished. I have shared this with others, who have had similar success.

Other readers have occasionally reported using Vicks VapoRub for hemorrhoids: "My mother told me she uses Vicks for her hemorrhoids. I tried it, and it eases the discomfort and is quite cooling."

Despite this testimony, we urge caution. Vicks is labeled for external use only, and it might burn when applied to delicate tissues.

I have type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and I am taking medications for both. I have heard that bitter melon can be used to treat type-2 diabetes. What do you know about this plant?

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is widely used as food and medicine in India and China. Studies show that it can lower blood sugar in experimental animals and in human diabetics. Use of any herb or dietary supplement requires careful monitoring and must be coordinated by your physician.

A few months ago I wrote asking what to do about muscle pain brought on by the use of statins to lower cholesterol. You suggested coenzyme Q10 as a possibility. I tried it, and in 48 hours the pain was gone.

Some cholesterol-lowering drugs deplete the body of CoQ10. This natural compound is essential for energy in cells. Anyone experiencing muscle pain while taking such drugs must seek medical attention.

I have sensitive skin and cannot tolerate chemical sunscreens. As soon as I put something on, my skin starts to sting or burn. Some products cause an ugly, itchy dermatitis.

I love working in the yard, but I hate to get burned. Long sleeves and pants are not practical when it's hot. Are there any sunscreens that wouldn't cause problems?

Look for products with physical rather than chemical blockers. Ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide should offer you protection without irritation. Clinique and Neutrogena both make sunscreens with these blockers. Another brand is Blue Lizard Australian Suncream. The company just brought out a "Baby" formulation with an SPF of 30 for sensitive skin of all ages. You can call 800-334-4286 to find a store in your area.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of the 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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