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Alcohol Is Not Appropriate for Everyone

Q. My father came from China. He couldn’t handle alcohol, and I’ve inherited this trait. I experience reddish skin, elevated heart rate and bloodshot eyes after only a small amount of alcohol, such as half a beer.
The research I’ve done suggests I may be deficient in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Is there anything that will allow me to have a few drinks socially without being embarrassed or asked “what’s the matter with you?”
A. We checked with Fulton Crews, PhD, Director of the Center for Alcohol Studies at the School of Medicine of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He pointed out that humans have genetically-determined variations in the enzymes that metabolize alcohol. Many Asians have a variant that increases acetaldehyde in the bloodstream. This causes flushing and other symptoms.
Dr. Crews says such a variant serves as a natural protection from alcoholism. There is nothing you can take to reduce this reaction, so he suggests you stick to non-alcoholic beverages.
Q. I have Raynaud’s syndrome. When I get cold, my fingers turn white, then turn blue and then go red. When they turn white it feels like I’ve been out in the snow for hours.

This has been going on for over a year now. I first noticed my fingers swelling so my rings didn’t fit. Then when I got cold they would turn blue.

My doctor told me to move to a warmer climate. That’s impractical. Winter is coming and I hope you have some advice.
A. People with Raynaud’s may experience tingling, numbness or even pain in fingers and toes as their digits turn pale. Spasms in small blood vessels are thought to precipitate an attack, especially in response to cold.
Staying warm is the usual recommendation for Raynaud’s, but as you point out, that’s not always practical. Doctors sometimes prescribe blood pressure medicines like prazosin or nifedipine. Pentoxifylline may also improve circulation.
Viagra might help Raynaud’s victims when other approaches do not work. New research reported in the journal Circulation (Nov. 8, 2005) suggests that this drug for erectile dysfunction can also relieve symptoms of Raynaud’s.
Q. How dare you suggest that people buy their medicines from Canada? As a pharmacist I find this reprehensible. I have read studies that prove generic medicines are cheaper in the U.S. Using the Web to buy drugs is asking for trouble.
A. You are probably right that generic medicines are less expensive in the U.S. than in Canada. Brand name prescriptions, on the other hand, frequently cost significantly less across the border. Buying from Canada is the only way some people can afford their medications.
Consumers must exercise care when buying medicines online, however. There are many bogus operators. People who purchase prescription medicine online should verify that they are dealing with a legitimate Canadian pharmacy.
We discuss the pros and cons of generic drugs, offer tips for saving money and provide guidelines for buying medicines online in our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine. Copies can be downloaded at www.peoplespharmacy.com or purchased by sending $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents) self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ The People’s Pharmacy®, No. CA-99, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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