People's Pharmacy

People's Pharmacy

September 15, 2006|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,

This concern has bothered me for 21 years, and I need to know whether I can stop worrying. My son is 27 years old; when he was about 6, he had a fever, and while I was taking his temperature with an old-fashioned mercury thermometer, the bulb tip broke and he ingested the mercury.

He's grown into a fine, normal young man with no obvious problems. Can I assume no damage was done and nothing will surface down the road because of this incident?

Swallowing a small amount of mercury from a broken thermometer does not pose a poisoning problem. Virtually all the mercury passes through the digestive tract and is not absorbed.

Breaking a thermometer and failing to clean up the mercury carefully is another matter. The gray liquid vaporizes readily. Mercury fumes are absorbed through the lungs and are highly toxic.

People should dispose of old thermometers like they would toxic waste instead of throwing them out in the trash. Some states conduct exchange programs so that old-fashioned mercury thermometers can be traded in for newer and safer electronic models.

I was having problems with acne on my face and head. It seemed to keep coming back in the same spot and getting worse every day.

I stopped eating some of my usual foods for two weeks at a time. When I gave up eating bananas, every pimple on my face and scalp went away completely! Six months later, I'm still pimple-free. What happened?

Decades ago, teenagers with acne were told to avoid hamburgers, chocolate, milkshakes and french fries to keep their faces clear. The idea of staying away from fatty foods was later discredited, and most dermatologists will tell you diet has no impact on acne.

A study of people living in nonindustrial societies suggests that may not quite be true. Dermatologists found fewer blemishes among people eating a low-carb diet that does not raise blood sugar quickly (Archives of Dermatology, December 2002).

Bananas rank in the middle of the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly blood sugar rises in response to a food. We don't know whether anyone else would benefit from avoiding bananas, but we're glad your experience was fruitful.

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

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