Q. My sex drive is much stronger than my wife’s and this is causing conflict. I used to hear that saltpeter would suppress sexual desire. Does it work? Is there anything else that would help?
A. Potassium nitrate, also known as niter or saltpeter, has been used to preserve meat and is found in toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. It is also used to make fireworks, explosives, matches and fertilizers.
Although physicians once prescribed saltpeter for sore throats, asthma and arthritis, we doubt it worked well. And despite its reputation for lowering libido, there is no evidence that it would help you. Potential side effects include stomach upset, headache, anemia, and kidney damage.
Some doctors prescribe antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac or Zoloft to help reduce obsessions and compulsions, as well as excessive sexual desire. Such drugs can also have adverse effects, so please discuss this option with your physician so you fully understand the benefits and risks.
Q. My father takes Niaspan and Lipitor, which have lowered his cholesterol to 110. Isn’t that too low?
He has severe arthritis, memory problems and debilitating fatigue. I worry that he is taking too much medicine, but he says the doctor knows best and refuses to question him.
A. The issue of whether cholesterol can be too low is controversial. There is evidence, however, that low cholesterol levels may increase a person’s risk of stroke caused by bleeding within the brain. Researchers have also found that depression is more common in people with very low cholesterol.
High cholesterol puts a person at risk of a heart attack or stroke caused by a blood clot, so balance is essential.
Some people have found that cholesterol medications such as Zocor or Lipitor may contribute to fatigue, arthritis or memory problems. We summarize information on a range of factors, the dangers of too low cholesterol and guidelines for optimal levels in our Guides to Heart Health and Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs. Anyone who would like copies, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. CL-75, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Q. Are there any side effects from taking magnesium every day? A physician advised me to try 500 mg for migraines because it helps some people. I’m one of the lucky ones but I wonder if I am putting myself in danger.
A. Magnesium is an essential mineral that may be in short supply in the diet. It is necessary for calcium metabolism and is frequently found in dietary supplements.
Magnesium is found in the laxative milk of magnesia. It is also an ingredient in antacids such as Maalox and Mylanta. Some people get relief from migraines or PMS when they take supplemental magnesium.
Those with kidney problems should avoid magnesium. When the dose exceeds 350 mg per day, some folks experience diarrhea. Let your doctor know if this occurs.
Q. My husband swears he used to take an OTC drug called Q-vel for leg cramps. I can’t find it anywhere and the pharmacist is clueless. What’s the story?
A. Q-vel and other nonprescription quinine products were taken off the market. FDA considered them too dangerous for OTC use because some people developed a rare but dangerous anemia. Quinine is still available by prescription.