Q. I want to warn people about using baking soda to treat heartburn and indigestion. Although there are instructions right on the package for treating gastrointestinal upset with baking soda, I must stress the importance of following the directions exactly.
My husband had chronic indigestion because of an ulcer. He insisted it could be treated with baking soda, but he was not careful and drank much more baking soda in water than is recommended. He didn't even wait for it to dissolve. Instead of helping, it made him throw up, and he took more baking soda to counteract that.
He ended up in the hospital with a potassium level of 1.9, the lowest the emergency-room doctors had seen in a living person. If people want to use baking soda for heartburn, I think they should stick with something like Alka-Seltzer, because the dose is controlled.
A. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can be an effective antacid, but only in the proper dose. Your husband's misadventure demonstrates that it is possible to overdose on both sodium and bicarbonate.
An excess can lower potassium levels. Vomiting could make this situation worse. If potassium drops too far, it could lead to cardiac arrest.
Q. I'm having difficulty controlling my triglycerides. My doctor says my cholesterol is OK, but elevated triglycerides are also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
By greatly reducing the amount of fat in my diet and taking niacin, I have reduced my triglycerides considerably. The levels still fluctuate between 135 and 300, though. Does the fat in food affect triglycerides? Will almonds, pecans, peanuts and cashews help or hurt? Should I ever eat a single french fry again?
Is there a difference between regular niacin and extended-release formulas? I have read that extended-release niacin is bad for the liver.
A. Niacin is quite effective at lowering triglycerides and raising good HDL cholesterol. Extended-release formulas are more likely to raise liver enzymes than standard niacin. Medical supervision and periodic blood tests are essential for someone using niacin to control blood lipids.
Fish oil can also lower triglycerides. We are sending you our guide to cholesterol and heart health, which provides pros and cons about these natural approaches. Anyone who would like a copy, please 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, N.C. 27717-2027.
Nuts (especially walnuts, pecans, almonds and macadamias) are heart-healthy as long as you don't overdo them and gain weight. French fries should stay off the menu for someone like you.
Q. Can you tell me if it is safe to use a tanning bed while pregnant?
A. Dermatologists discourage indoor tanning because it can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Our dermatological consultant tells us it is unlikely to damage the fetus, since pregnant women are occasionally treated for certain skin disorders with artificial UV light. Ask your obstetrician whether a sunless tanning lotion would be a safe substitute.
Q. I travel several times a week and am wondering if the X-ray scanners at airports can damage my blood-pressure medications. I have firsthand experience with the damage they do to film!
A. No worries. Pills are not susceptible to damage from X-rays.
XIn their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org. Their newest book is "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press).
& copy; 2002, King Features Syndicate Inc.