THE GRAEDONS | People's Pharmacy Magnesium might help with sleep, but be aware of possible side effects

Q. I suffered from insomnia for three miserable years during menopause. My doctor prescribed Sonata but could not guarantee more than four hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. I decided not to spend money on a prescription for so little benefit.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills didn't agree with me. Then I read in a book on natural health that calcium and magnesium might help.
I started taking Citracal Plus with Magnesium. Ever since, I've been sleeping like a baby (a lazy one, mind you, not the colicky kind). These pills can be taken at bedtime on an empty stomach.
A. Thanks for the tip. European researchers have found some evidence suggesting that magnesium, in particular, might be helpful for sleep and sleep-related disorders such as nighttime leg cramps, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Keep in mind, though, that too much magnesium can cause diarrhea. It is found in antacids and is the active ingredient in milk of magnesia.
We discuss sleeping pills and many nondrug approaches to insomnia in our Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep. 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 to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. I-70, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Q. Please warn your readers that citrus juice, such as lime or lemon, can cause a burn when dripped on the skin in sunlight. My 8-year-old granddaughter learned about lightening hair with lemon juice and tried it poolside.
Her skin got burned on her legs where the juice dripped. It made unsightly dark streaks, as if she had been whipped! They are just now healing after four weeks. When I mentioned this, a friend told me she had been burned by drops of lime juice when making margaritas on her patio in the sun.
A. Dermatologists are quite familiar with this photosensitizing effect of citrus juice. It makes sense to keep lemon juice off the skin when you will be in the sun!
Q. I heard somewhere that ginkgo together with something else could help sharpen memory, but by the time I found a pen, I had forgotten what the "something else" was. Can you help me out?
A. A randomized trial compared memory and learning in people taking a combination of the Chinese herbs dangshen and Ginkgo biloba with those taking just ginkgo extract and those taking placebo. The combination product showed a significant advantage on a computerized test for memory of faces (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, July/August 2004).
Q. I am very disappointed in a recent column about getting herpes from a toilet seat. The herpes simplex virus does not live outside the body and needs direct skin-to-skin contact to spread. It is impossible to get it from a toilet seat.
A recent study found that one in four people had genital herpes, but only 12 percent knew they were infected. That means the majority had no clue that they had it and could spread it. Most people attributed their symptoms to some other problem.
A. Medical wisdom maintains that a clean, dry toilet seat cannot transmit herpes or any other infection to intact skin. But not all toilet seats are clean and dry.
Several readers, such as this one, contacted us to insist they contracted infections from gym equipment or unsanitary facilities: "At my gym there are many men and women who are models with great bodies. Quite a few of these people have herpes from being promiscuous.
"These men shave their legs, arms, underarms, butts and even pubic hair at the gym in the shower. You said intact skin and a dry toilet seat are safe. But you DON'T have that in many health clubs. Shaving is an abrasive action and often produces bleeding. I have seen guys shave and jump out of the shower and use the toilet.
"I am a powerlifter and do squats with as much weight as possible. Sometimes I shave from my knees to my thighs to tape my thighs before working out. One day I showered and dried off and went to the toilet, but the seat was wet. I took a towel and wiped it, but a few weeks later I had a rash. My doctor diagnosed it as herpes and prescribed Valtrex. The rash was gone in three days.
"I have been married for 25 years to my high-school sweetheart and have never even considered cheating on her. How could I explain this? Luckily my doc asked us a lot of very personal questions and said it was very likely I got it from the gym."
For more information on thyroid diagnosis, treatment and diet concerns, we are sending you our Guide to Thyroid Hormones. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. T-4, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
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 or via their Web site: Their newest book is "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press).
& copy; 2004 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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