Q. I read your summary of the cardiovascular health benefits of pomegranate juice, and couldn't believe my eyes. I love pomegranates! Can you tell me more about the potential of this juice to promote health?
A. Legend has it that the first pomegranate tree grew in the Garden of Eden. The ancient Chinese believed that pomegranates could offer longevity or even immortality.
Recent research suggests that pomegranates are powerful, but immortality is a little much to expect. The fruit is full of antioxidants that can keep blood platelets from sticking together to form clots. Research shows that pomegranate juice might help keep bad LDL cholesterol from clogging arteries. Another study published in Atherosclerosis (September 2001) suggests that drinking pomegranate juice (about two ounces daily for two weeks) might help lower blood pressure.
Q. I have been taking Cholestene (red yeast rice) capsules for nine months. My cholesterol dropped from 281 to 168: My HDL is now 40, LDL 99 and triglycerides 143. This is remarkable, but is my cholesterol too low? I know cholesterol should be under 200, but is there a lower limit beyond which one should not go?
A. Red yeast rice has been used in traditional Chinese cooking as far back as 800 AD. It is made by fermenting cooked rice with red yeast. During the Ming Dynasty, healers used this flavoring to treat indigestion and cardiovascular problems.
More recently, researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine tested red yeast rice scientifically and found that it could lower bad LDL cholesterol more than 20 percent. Despite this research, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved any red yeast rice product. Nevertheless, several are available.
Red yeast rice might affect the liver, so blood tests are advisable. Anyone who experiences muscle pain or weakness should stop this supplement immediately and consult a physician.
Whether cholesterol can be too low is controversial, but low levels have been linked to a higher risk of stroke and depression. There is a more complete discussion of low cholesterol as well as red yeast rice and other nondrug methods for cholesterol control in our book & quot;The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies. & quot; It is available in libraries or bookstores or may be purchased for $8.99 by calling (800) 732-2334.
Q. I found out the hard way that taking ginkgo while on ibuprofen might cause internal bleeding.
I have degenerative disc disease for which I take ibuprofen, the only medicine that helps control my pain. My daughter encouraged me to try ginkgo a few years ago to improve my mental acuity.
A routine test for blood in the stool showed internal bleeding. Though I was convinced the problem was caused by the ginkgo, my doctor insisted on eliminating all other possibilities. I underwent many procedures, including a colonoscopy, but all results were negative. The bleeding stopped as soon as I discontinued the ginkgo.
People should be warned about the dangers of taking ginkgo and ibuprofen together.
A. Ginkgo interferes with platelet aggregation, which is necessary for normal blood clotting. To reduce the risk of hemorrhage, ginkgo should not be taken with anticoagulants like Coumadin (warfarin) or with anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen. Interaction warnings could be stronger on over-the-counter drugs as well as on herbs.
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.
& copy; 2002 King Features Syndicate, Inc.