Lou Gehrig's Linked To Statins?

People's pharmacy

People's Pharmacy Joe And Teresa Graedon

August 31, 2009|By joe and teresa graedon

Question: : My husband started on lovastatin for high cholesterol and soon began to notice weakness in his right arm. This weakness progressed, so he saw his doctor, thinking he had a pinched nerve. He was referred to a neurologist, who gave him a diagnosis of "possible ALS."

On his 60th birthday, a second opinion confirmed the diagnosis of ALS. Since that time, my husband has progressed from weakness in his right arm to complete loss of function in his arms, very weak leg muscles and difficulty breathing. The doctors are now encouraging us to enter him into hospice care. This took only 10 months. We are still in a state of shock.

It really bothers me that his cholesterol was not that high - 239. Since then, we have heard that niacin and diet might have brought it down without a statin drug. The ALS specialist has told our daughter that she should never, ever take a statin.

Answer: : During the past two years, our Web site has received more than 100 reports of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease, which causes muscle paralysis) in people taking statin-type cholesterol-lowering medicine.

The Food and Drug Administration also got a signal that ALS might be linked to statins, but when the agency analyzed data from clinical trials, it concluded that there was no association with drugs like Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor (Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, November 2008).

A new report in the journal Drug Safety (Aug. 8, 2009) suggests a connection in susceptible individuals. People who develop serious statin side effects such as memory problems or muscle aches may be at increased risk.

Question: : Would taking an iron supplement ease RLS (restless legs syndrome) symptoms? I was part of a blinded study at Johns Hopkins where I either had an iron infusion or a placebo.

I was "cured" for more than a year, but the study isn't finished, and they won't give me any information. I would like to know how much iron to take in pill form. Can you help me?

Answer: : A placebo-controlled study found that pills with 325 milligrams of ferrous sulfate twice a day for three months reduced the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (Sleep Medicine online, Feb. 18, 2009). Another study conducted at Johns Hopkins found no benefit for RLS from intravenous iron (Sleep Medicine, February 2009).

We suggest you talk with your doctor before taking such a large dose of iron, because too much could be toxic.

Question: : Is it true that gold shots work for arthritis?

Answer: : Injected gold salts are an old-fashioned treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. This approach goes back more than 70 years and can be quite effective in reducing inflammation.

Oral gold (such as auranofin) is less-effective. Both forms of gold may take several months to produce improvement. Side effects of injectable gold include a serious skin rash, mouth ulcers and kidney damage. Oral gold can cause nausea, hair thinning, blood disorders and reduced appetite.

Question: : I have a sensitive stomach, so drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen cause me problems. I also have heard that these drugs can be hard on the liver and kidneys. What else can I use for my plantar fasciitis and back pain?

Answer:: NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can cause stomach ulcers and kidney or liver damage when taken in high doses for long periods of time. Some people can't even tolerate low doses without getting heartburn.

For plantar fasciitis, the best solutions are arch supports and stretching. Muscle pain may respond to tart cherry juice. Two separate research projects on horses and college students show that cherry juice minimizes exercise-induced muscle damage (American Journal of Veterinary Research, June 2009; British Journal of Sports Medicine, August 2006).

Question: : I had been bothered with reflux for several years, but I got good results from broccoli. During the first two weeks, I ate 1/2 cup a day (sometimes raw, sometimes cooked). I was able to stop taking Prilosec. Now I make sure to eat broccoli at least twice a week. I haven't had any problems in more than a year.

Answer: : We have heard from another reader that broccoli banished his heartburn. There is even some research demonstrating that compounds in broccoli sprouts can kill Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium responsible for stomach ulcers (Digestive Diseases and Sciences, August 2004).

Question: : I worry that people are overdosing on vitamins. My medical book (20 years old) says you could go a year without any vitamin A and four months without any vitamin B-12 or D. If you keep consuming these vitamins, don't they build up to toxic levels?

Answer:: It is possible to overdose on vitamins if you are taking high-dose supplements or drinking and eating fortified foods and beverages. But we are concerned about a growing epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. Studies demonstrate that many children and adults are low in this crucial nutrient.

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: PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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