Q. I took Lipitor for about eight months. One morning I awoke to pain in my neck, upper back, shoulders and arms. In addition, my arms are much weaker than before. The pain has been diagnosed as peripheral neuropathy. The only time I feel good is when I lie in a tub of hot water.
Most of my life I had a great memory, but I’ve become very forgetful. I start a sentence and then forget what I want to say. I also feel depressed, just the opposite of my usual demeanor. I cannot tolerate these side effects and would like some other way to lower my cholesterol. Any suggestions?
A. A new study in Psychosomatic Medicine (Jan/Feb, 2005) suggests that people with naturally low cholesterol levels do worse on tests of concentration, word fluency and executive functioning. Depression has also been linked to low cholesterol, although the connection is controversial.
No one knows if cholesterol-lowering drugs affect cognitive ability. Muscle and nerve pain (peripheral neuropathy) have been associated with statin-type medications. A drug holiday supervised by your doctor might help determine whether your symptoms are drug related.
A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Feb, 2005) shows that foods like oats, barley, eggplant, okra, almonds, soy and cholesterol-lowering margarine in a combination diet lowers cholesterol nearly as well as lovastatin.
Q. Do you have any information on drugs that can combat alcohol craving? I am close to a person I would like to help.
A. ReVia (naltrexone) has been available for several years to help diminish alcohol cravings. A long-acting injectable form called Vivitrex is now undergoing study. Naltrexone may cause nausea, fatigue and headache. The FDA recently approved a new drug called Campral (acamprosate). It seems to help those who have stopped drinking maintain abstinence. Side effects may include flatulence, diarrhea, nausea and headache.
Neither drug is a magic wand. Both are most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan with strong social support.
Q. Where can I find a list of medications that can cause constipation? I’m taking care of my elderly mother and she suffers terribly. She’s tried docusate but it doesn’t do much good. Her doctor has told her that strong laxatives are dangerous. If you have any secret magical remedies we would be so grateful.
A. You are right to be concerned about drug-induced constipation. Hundreds of medications, including Actonel, amitriptyline, Fosamax, Ultram or verapamil, can affect the digestive tract.
Sugarless gum may be the easiest approach for your mother. Don’t let her chew too much, though, since it could cause diarrhea. Readers report that a mixture of one cup coarse bran, one cup applesauce and 3/4 cup prune juice can be an effective constipation remedy. It is extremely thick, and the daily tablespoon or two should be washed down with plenty of water.
We are sending you our Guide to Constipation, with a list of medicines that may cause constipation. It includes this recipe, one for pumpkin-bran muffins and our ten tips to fight constipation. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. GG-30, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

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