Archive for Saturday, October 27, 2001

Pain reliever affects Alzheimer’s

Father’s symptoms disappear with narcotics

October 27, 2001


I read the letter about a reversal of symptoms in an Alzheimer's patient who was put on the pain reliever hydrocodone. My dad is a 90-year-old Alzheimer's patient in an assisted-living facility. I myself am a pharmacist, and I felt compelled to write to you.

About two years ago my father fell and broke his hip. He was taken to the emergency room and given a shot of the narcotic Demerol to control the pain. When I got there, expecting him to be even more confused than usual, he was absolutely lucid and answered all the ER doctor's questions accurately.

My sister and I were flabbergasted and figured his clarity would end when they took him to surgery, but he came out of surgery quite lucid, like his old self. This lasted several days, but slowly he regressed back to his forgetful Alzheimer's self.

As a pharmacist, I tried to make sense of it. I discounted the Demerol and thought it must have been a physiological reaction to adrenaline. I told everyone about it his neurologist, internist, orthopedist, other physicians, fellow pharmacists, drug reps, researchers at meetings but no one had any explanation, and we all thought it was a fluke.

Six months later my father fell and broke the other hip. Bingo. Once again he was lucid and like his old self after being put on an analgesic, but then slowly regressed.

Your column is the first time I have ever seen any mention of this phenomenon linked to narcotic pain relievers. I would love to get to the bottom of this for both personal and professional satisfaction.

Yours is the fourth such amazing anecdote we have encountered. In each case, when an Alzheimer's patient was given a narcotic analgesic, there was a significant improvement in the condition.

We have consulted some of the country's leading experts on Alzheimer's disease, and they have no explanation. Although this might be a coincidence, we think it is so interesting that it ought to be studied scientifically.

I've been taking Synthroid for more than 30 years. Now I'm told I have bad osteoporosis because the thyroid dose was too high.

My doctor prescribed calcium, Evista and Fosamax. Can you send me any information about these medications?

Excessive thyroid hormone, whether due to a hyperactive thyroid gland or too high a dose of Synthroid, can weaken bones and contribute to osteoporosis. Although there is little published research on Evista and Fosamax together, osteoporosis expert Dr. Robert Heaney of Creighton University says some clinicians are using these medications together and that the combination appears logical.

We are sending you our "Guide to Thyroid Hormones" and "Guide to Osteoporosis" for more information on treating your conditions. Anyone who would like copies should send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. TU-492, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Shortly after I started taking Coreg for high blood pressure, the skin peeled off my hands. Could this be a reaction to Coreg? Should I stop taking it?

It could be dangerous to stop Coreg (carvedilol) without a doctor's supervision. Report your skin reaction promptly, though. Peeling skin is rare (about one patient in 1,000) but potentially serious.

About a year ago you wrote that some people use spicy gumbo soup to alleviate migraines. I have been looking for a solution for food allergy headaches and was willing to try almost anything. I started eating green chili peppers daily. Within two weeks I began to dream about sex!

I am 72 and haven't had sexy dreams for ages. I still have my allergy problem, but now I have a sex-awareness problem as well. For some reason I can't stop eating green chili peppers. Do you think there's a connection?

You might have discovered a new use for hot peppers. As far as we know, though, there is no research to suggest that capsaicin (the hot stuff in hot peppers) stimulates sexuality. On the other hand, researchers have not devoted much time or effort to studying capsaicin as an aphrodisiac.

There are many studies on other therapeutic uses of hot peppers. Capsaicin is used topically to relieve arthritis pain, diabetic neuropathy and the pain following an attack of shingles. And some readers of this column tell us that spicy soups can cut short a migraine if eaten before the headache takes hold.

I have been on just about every cholesterol-lowering drug there is, from Pravachol and Mevacor to Zocor and Lipitor. They all give me muscle pain.

Now my doctor wants me to try niacin. He says it is an old-fashioned approach to lowering cholesterol. What can you tell me about it or other natural ways to get cholesterol down?

Before there were statin-type cholesterol medicines like Pravachol and Lipitor, doctors frequently prescribed niacin. In high doses this B vitamin is quite effective at lowering total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another risk factor for heart disease). It also raises good HDL cholesterol. Another benefit of niacin is that it is inexpensive.

Using niacin is not a do-it-yourself project. Because it can affect liver enzymes, your doctor will need to monitor your progress carefully.

We are sending you our "Guide to Cholesterol and Heart Health," which provides more details on the benefits and risks of niacin and other nondrug approaches. Anyone who would like a copy should send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Our pediatrician has recommended flaxseed oil from the health food store for our 8-year-old. She said it is helpful for children who suffer from asthma but didn't tell us anything about using it. What is flaxseed oil, and why would it be helpful?

Flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Such compounds are also found in fish oil and walnuts. Researchers have found that these fats have anti-inflammatory action, which might be helpful against asthma. Studies in Japan and Australia suggest that children prone to asthma might benefit from omega-3 supplementation.

You can grind flaxseed in a coffee grinder and add it to cereal, pancakes or muffins. This should be done daily, as ground flaxseed goes rancid quickly.

Flaxseed oil is available in health food stores, but the capsules tend to be large and might be hard for a child to swallow. Using dietary supplements may be helpful but cannot substitute for proper asthma management.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017, or e-mail them via their Web site,

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