Archive for Saturday, January 19, 2002

Heart attacks can strike sexes differently

January 19, 2002


My wife and I visited her sister recently and had a conversation about the heart. My sister-in-law claims she has had three severe heart attacks but suffered very little pain.

Two friends have had severe heart attacks: One man described it as being hit in the chest with a Mack truck, and the other said it felt like an elephant was standing on his chest. My sister-in-law says that the pain can be vastly different between men and women. Is this possible?

They say to take aspirin if you think you are having a heart attack. How would a woman know?

Women can suffer heart attacks without feeling the excruciating chest pain men usually report. Their "atypical" symptoms might include dull discomfort below the breastbone, difficulty catching their breath, nausea, overwhelming fatigue and pain radiating into the jaw. A woman who suspects she might be having a heart attack should check with a doctor, take a low-dose aspirin and get emergency treatment.

At 6 years of age my grandson was still wetting the bed almost nightly. This was embarrassing to him and a strain on my daughter.

Because no physical cause could be found, the pediatrician advised her to consult a nutritionist, and when that didn't work, a psychiatric therapist.

Instead she invested in a moisture alarm. Her son was happy to try this device, which worked like a charm. Within several weeks he was completely cured of his bed-wetting.

Alarms such as DRI Sleeper, Nature Calls, Nytone or Wet-No-More sound a buzzer or tone at the first hint of moisture. This wakes the child so he or she can get to the bathroom. Such conditioning is often successful within a few months and might be appropriate as initial therapy once a physician determines there is no illness or abnormality.

I am only 54, but a special X-ray test showed that I have osteoporosis and have lost a lot of bone density. My doctor has suggested estrogen and Fosamax and wants me to start exercising. I am reluctant to take hormones because of a strong family history of breast cancer.

My doctor downplays the danger, but I would like the whole story on estrogen. Are there any alternatives? And what kind of exercise is best to build bone? I swam in college and wonder if it would be at all helpful.

Swimming is good for the heart and helps keep joints and muscles moving, but it isn't likely to strengthen bone. For that, weight-bearing activities like walking or tennis can be helpful. One woman told us: "I am 67 years old and played tennis for 50 years. I even coached college tennis for more than 20 years. Recently a bone mineral density test showed that I have the bones of a 20-year-old."

Estrogen maintains bone density, but only as long as a woman is taking it. Prolonged use, however, increases the risk of breast and uterine cancer.

We are sending you our "Guide to Osteoporosis" and "Guide to Estrogen: Benefits, Risks and Interactions." Others 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. WU-52, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Fosamax alone can fight osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fracture. Some doctors are now adding Evista to Fosamax to treat osteoporosis. Evista might help reduce the risk of breast cancer as it strengthens bone.

A few months ago you offered a solution to a problem I've had on and off for years, but especially recently. I've had explosive flatulence during my workday.

I tried the crushed fennel seed tea three times a day for the past week. It has proven an almost instant cure. Thanks so much for sharing the tip. Now that I know it works, I wonder if you have any idea how.

Fennel originated in southern Europe and western Asia, but it was widely known in the ancient world, from China to Greece. For centuries it has been used to treat indigestion and flatulence. How it relieves gas, however, remains mysterious. We're glad you got such great results.

I have a thyroid problem for which I take Levoxyl. I also have mild high blood pressure, which I try to control with a low-salt diet.

Whenever I come down with a cold or sinus trouble, I have a hard time finding anything that I can use safely. Almost all the cold and flu remedies caution against using them if you have thyroid disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Are there any natural remedies that I can use safely?

As long as you avoid ephedra (ma huang), you should be able to use almost any natural cold remedy, including herbs that stimulate the immune system, like Astragalus, echinacea and Andrographis paniculata (Kan Jang). Products to relieve cold symptoms such as zinc, vitamin C and ginger are also beneficial.

We're sending you our "Guide to Cold Remedies" for more information on these natural approaches as well as recipes for hot toddies and our favorite chicken soup. 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. Q-20, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

You recently had a report from a reader regarding the benefit of flaxseed oil for rashes. I would like to add that I have had ongoing problems with dry eyes. I saw a new eye- doctor a couple of months ago, and he recommended flaxseed oil.

Since I started taking this orally, I have gotten enormous relief. I have recommended it to friends who have the same problem, and they have been helped as well. It requires a few weeks to take effect, but I thought you would like to know about another use for flaxseed oil.

You are not the only reader who notified us that flaxseed oil can ease dry-eye syndrome. Another woman wrote: "My husband has had rheumatoid arthritis for 35 years, and has often had trouble with dry, itchy eyes. His ophthalmologist prescribed artificial tears and warm compresses. A friend suggested that he swallow flaxseed oil once or twice a day, and since then he has noticed a vast improvement."

Eczema, psoriasis and dry eyes have very little in common but inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effect of the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil is probably responsible for these benefits.

Other readers with dry eyes have had success with TheraTears. This tear solution is specially formulated to promote moisture movement back into dry eyes.

I have ginkgo trees in my yard. Can I use their leaves? Store-bought herbs are so pricey.

To get a reliable product, ginkgo leaves are harvested in the fall and then extracted under controlled conditions. You could pick your own ginkgo leaves, but you would not know how much to take for the results you intend.

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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