Q: I would like to start a movement to repeal the law that permits prescription drugs to be advertised directly to the public. Since this legislation was passed a few years ago, the drug companies have spent billions in advertising, drug prices have risen astronomically and drug company profits have gone through the roof.
Encouraging people to take more pills costs all of us by increasing insurance premiums and leading to side effects that can put people in the hospital. So I hope you will ask your readers to write or e-mail their congressional representatives to get the Food and Drug Administration to repeal permission to advertise prescription drugs directly to the public.
A: Few other industrialized countries permit direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. But in the United States, drug companies are spending nearly $3 billion on ads aimed at the public rather than at the prescribers.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers maintain that this media exposure educates consumers about treatment options. Critics point out that the cost of such commercials is passed on to consumers and raises the cost of prescriptions. They also claim that the information imparted in a 30-second ad is incomplete and might encourage unnecessary pill-taking.
Anyone who would like to join your campaign to roll back direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising can communicate with Lester M. Crawford Jr., D.V.M., who has just been appointed deputy FDA commissioner. The address is: 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857-0001.
Q: I read recently that homocysteine can lead to Alzheimer's and heart disease. Both these conditions run in my family. What is homocysteine, and how can I find out if mine is too high? Is there any way to control it?
A: Homocysteine is an amino acid, a building block of protein. It is formed in the body when people digest meat.
Research has shown that high homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and Alzheimer's. This compound is toxic to arteries and might also damage DNA in brain cells.
B vitamins such as folic acid, B-6 and B-12 lower homocysteine levels and might reduce the damage it can cause. Another B vitamin, thiamine (vitamin B-1), also might be important against Alzheimer's. And niacin (vitamin B-3) can lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol.
We are sending you our "Guide to Cholesterol and Heart Health," which provides more detail on controlling homocysteine with diet. Others 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, NC 27717-2027. Your doctor can order a blood test to measure your homocysteine levels.
Q: You recently responded to a person with hemorrhoids. I would like to add my personal experience.
A doctor recommended Anusol-HC 1, and I have found it quite helpful against irritation. I'd also like to suggest taking psyllium. I began taking this bulk fiber to lower my cholesterol and found that it also eliminated hemorrhoidal irritation.
A: Anusol-HC 1 contains 1 percent hydrocortisone in a base of mineral oil and petroleum jelly. Steroid creams can be helpful for itching and irritation. Avoiding constipation with fiber and fluids is also useful.