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"Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there also is love of humanity."--Hippocrates

Lysine for Herpes Infections

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

Some years ago, I read in the Post about lysine helping relieve and cure shingles. Could you tell me about that treatment?

H. E. Collingridge e-mail

Since the mid-1980s, we have written about research on using lysine to treat and prevent cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus. We have also published letters from Post readers who report that this inexpensive amino acid helps reduce symptoms of shingles (herpes zoster) and chronic fatigue syndrome, conditions linked to other herpesviruses.

The late Dr. Richard Griffith was a dedicated lysine researcher at Indiana University who found that an excess of arginine in the diet can lead to unsightly mouth sores because herpesviruses use it to reproduce and grow. "Lysine counteracts the effects of arginine and `starves' viruses into dormancy," Dr. Griffith said.

Lysine has been proven to prevent the onset of herpes simplex (fever blisters) after a challenge from excessive chocolate and nuts.

Sometimes after a herpes zoster (shingles) attack, a more chronic condition known as "post-herpetic neuralgia" can develop. Lysine is less effective in treating this pain. Far better to prevent the herpes virus infection with adequate lysine, if possible.

Dr. Griffith recommended that cold-sore sufferers take 500 mg of lysine per 22 pounds of body weight daily. The treatment is safe and most effective if started when symptoms first occur.

A diet low in arginine and supplemented with lysine helps prevent future herpes outbreaks. For a list of the lysine and arginine content in common foods and to receive copies of SatEvePost articles about lysine, send a self addressed envelope to Wendy Braun, R.N., 1100 Waterway Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202.

Valley Fever

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I lived in Tucson, Arizona, for many years. When I put my house up for sale, I cleaned under all my cacti--what a smell. My doctor told me that you can get Valley Fever from digging in the dirt.

When I came to Vermont, I was very ill and in the hospital for two weeks. I would like to know if there are any aftereffects. I know there are other names for this disease. Hope yon can tell me all about it.
Elsie Tourville
Jericho, Vermont

Valley Fever, primarily a lung disease, is caused by a fungus which grows in the soil of the southwestern United States. Spores of the fungus become airborne when the soil is disturbed by wind or digging and can be inhaled. Symptoms of the disease occur within three weeks of exposure and may include fatigue, cough, chest pain, fever, rash, headache, and joint pain.

Valley Fever is also called San Joaquin Valley Fever, desert fever, or desert rheumatism. Its medical name is coccidioidomycosis.

No specific treatment is required, and most people recover completely within six months. Lung nodules may develop in a small number of cases. Reinfection is rare, and the disease is not contagious. For more information, write the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, Mail Stop 1-111, 3601 S. 6th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85723.

Gelatin and Mad Cow Disease

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I take vitamin E for fibromyalgia, leg cramps, and restless legs syndrome. However, I have heard scary reports about cattle byproducts and mad cow disease. Gelatin, I understand, is a cattle byproduct. Are vitamin E capsules made of gelatin from bovine sources or other material? What about foods such as Jell-O?
Judy Way
Phillips, Wisconsin

Gelatin--a highly purified protein derived from cattle or pigs--is found in many foods, medicines, vaccines, and cosmetics (including vitamin E capsules and Jell-O).

Dr. Paul Brown, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke who specializes in mad cow disease, tells us that gelatin processed by the usual method--alkaline extraction--is absolutely risk-free. In addition, Dr. Brown says that gelatin processed by other methods is almost surely risk-free because the bone and hide source has not been found to be infectious.

It is good to know that there is no evidence linking gelatin from bovine sources to mad cow disease in humans. As a conservative precautionary measure, the FDA has requested companies to ensure that imported gelatin comes from disease-free animals.

Researchers are working on gelatin-free soft capsules utilizing new technology developed for nonedible capsules such as bath beads and paint balls.

Folic Acid Prevents Birth Defects

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

A sentence on page 90 of the May/June issue jumped out at me: "She had a spina bifida baby before doctors developed ways to treat the condition." Four babies in three generations were born with spina bifida on the maternal side of my family, including my first child. He was born on November 15, 1935, and lived one month. Thankfully, the condition has not affected my daughter's children, nor my grandson's child. What causes this problem?
Shirlie Baber
Vilas, North Carolina

Doctors say that a combination of genetic and environmental factors probably causes spina bifida and other birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. The good news: research conclusively shows that taking folic acid supplements before conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of the potentially life-threatening disorder.

Since many pregnancies are unplanned, women should take at least 0.4 milligrams of folic acid daily throughout their childbearing years. Those with a family history of spina bifida or anencephaly (no brain) may be advised by their healthcare providers to take daily doses of up to 4 mg of folic acid.

The treatment we referred to in the May/June issue is surgical shunt placement. Many babies with spina bifida also develop hydrocephalus, known as "water on the brain." Today, surgeons can insert a shunt to prevent fluid buildup in the brain, help maintain normal head size, and reduce the risk of retardation and seizures.

Tinnitus: Nothing to Laugh About

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

About a month ago, I came down with an affliction that other people think is funny, even hilarious. I don't. If these same people had to put up with it, they wouldn't think it was funny, either.

I hear music in my head. I can't control it. The Christmas carol "Silent Night" played in my head for 15 hours a day for seven straight days. That's 105 hours! The week before, the music changed occasionally. I would hear "O, Come All Ye Faithful," "America," and (of all things) "The Marine Hymn." Imagine an old Navy man having to listen to that song!

I talked to an ENT doctor who has another patient with the same complaint. However, he does not know what causes it or what to do about it. I would appreciate any help you could give me.
Alfred D. Freer, Jr.
Mountain Home, Arkansas

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

While I was being treated for a back injury in 1996, I developed ringing in my ears. My doctor said the back problems had nothing to do with the ringing, which he called tinnitus. He also said there was no cure for it. I live with this problem day and night. What can be done for this?
George Sherbo
Hollywood, Florida

Dr. Jack Vernon, a hearing expert with the American Tinnitus Association, tells us that hearing music is an unusual form of tinnitus. "I have seen and treated this problem in four patients," he says. "That the patient hears music means it is a central problem. This requires a treatment which acts on the brain."

Although there is no cure yet for tinnitus, various therapies help most people manage the chronic problem (see "Tinnitus Treatment Options"). Some people find that a combination of individualized treatments is more effective than a single therapy.

Over 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree. Some hear ringing, hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant and range in volume from subtle to shattering.

For more on treatment options for tinnitus, contact Dr. Jack Vernon at P.O. Box 83885, Portland, OR 97283 or call 503-494-2187 any Wednesday.

Reader Remedy for Tinnitus

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I read three different articles about people getting relief for tinnitus after taking ginkgo biloba extract. I tried it and after two weeks, the "ticking" noise was gone. I am a skeptic, so I didn't buy another bottle of tablets until the "ticking" came back. After using 60 tablets, I stopped taking ginkgo again--sure enough, the ticking came back. I have now taken one tablet each day for over a year and no more ear noises.
Robert Morrow
Northfield, Minnesota

Annoying Skin Tags

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

For the past several years, I have been looking for a way to remove skin tags on my neck. I know from my experience that it is probably in my genes to "grow them," but these tags are most annoying. I have to wear collars all the time in order to hide them.

Once I had several removed in the doctor's office--some sort of "freezing" done on them--but they not only showed scars, they came back! Is there someone or something out there to help me? Many "wela'lins" for your ear.
Nova Scotia, Canada

Dermatologists say the benign overgrowths may be removed by surgery (snipping them off at the base), cryotherapy (freezing), or cautery (burning them off with an electric needle). The technique should first be performed on tags in a hidden area to evaluate the result.

Known in medical jargon as acrochordons, skin tags are very common and occur most often after midlife. They are usually painless, not malignant or premalignant, and do not enlarge. We will send along any letters we receive from Post readers who have found alternative ways to remove bothersome skin tags.

When the Veins Are "Very Close"

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

Can varicose veins cause the feet and ankles to swell? I have had painless swelling off and on for several years. My heart and kidneys are healthy.
Anne Dennis
Tipton, Indiana

Varicose veins are one cause of swelling in the ankles and feet--a condition called edema. When leg veins are damaged, fluid may leak out of the blood vessels and into the ankle and leg tissues. Other causes of edema include heart disease, long airplane flights, and allergic reactions, as well as certain blood pressure medications and antidepressants.

Painless swelling of the feet and ankles is a common problem in older people. Doctors sometimes prescribe diuretics (water pills) to reduce the stress on blood vessels and to control swelling. In addition, the following home measures may be helpful:

* Elevate the legs above the heart while lying down.

* Avoid sitting or standing without moving for prolonged periods of time.

* Avoid putting anything directly under the knees when lying down.

* Don't wear constricting clothing or garters on the upper legs.

* Exercise the legs to work fluid back into the veins.

* Wear elastic bandages or support stockings.

* Follow a low-salt diet.

Fatigue and Road Safety

New research suggests that tired drivers are as dangerous as drunk ones. Investigators from Australia and New Zealand analyzed performance test results conducted on the same subjects over a period of 28 hours of sleep deprivation and after measured doses of alcohol. They found that going without sleep for 17 to 19 hours slowed response speeds and accuracy as much or more than a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. After more than 19 hours without sleep, performance levels were equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1 percent.

Fatigue is most likely to occur when people work long hours, irregular shifts, or during the nighttime. In addition, family responsibilities or lifestyle choices often play a role. Reporting in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the researchers recommend that lawmakers consider developing standards for fatigue while driving, piloting aircraft, or operating machinery similar to those set for alcohol consumption.

Antisnoring Sprays

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

We are seeing advertisements for spray solutions to "end" snoring. We are skeptical. What is the agent being sprayed?
Kathleen McMillion
Summersville, West Virginia

Antisnoring sprays contain a mixture of oils, water, and vitamins. You will be interested to learn that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently settled charges against the manufacturer and promoter of Snorenz, an antisnoring mouth spray that claimed to reduce loud snoring by lubricating the back of the mouth. The FTC says the companies had insufficient evidence to back up their claims and cautions consumers about similar products.

Doctors or sleep specialists can determine whether people who snore have sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. As part of the FTC settlement, new labels of Snorenz mouth spray will list the symptoms of sleep apnea, including loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, and headaches.

Another Report of Numbness After Hip Surgery

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

On page 90 of the May/June issue of The Saturday Evening Post, I was enlightened to read that another person had numbness in the feet after hip replacement surgery. The first thing I said when I awoke in recovery was that my feet were numb.

If this is not an unusual result of hip replacement surgery, I feel the patient should be forewarned. As for myself, the relief from pain is such a blessing that I would have opted for the surgery, even though I was aware of the potential foot problem.
Evelyn Ledger
Alva, Florida

Treatments for Joint Pain

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

Please give me your opinion of Knox Nutrajoint supplements. For some time I have been using this for maintaining healthy bones and joints. Is it worthwhile?
Betsy Black
Burlington, North Carolina

Research at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, shows that Nutrajoint concentrated gelatin supplements reduce joint pain and stiffness in athletes. Investigators at the Human Performance Laboratory believe that gelatin repairs minor cartilage damage which, left untreated, could result in more serious problems. In the study, men and women college athletes in all sports were given Nutrajoint or a placebo for eight weeks.

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

Can you write about the use and effectiveness of grape juice and Certo for joint pain? I have read about this remedy, but do not know the combination in which they are mixed.
Christine Edwards
Oak Harbor, Washington

We are not aware of any scientific studies of this remedy. But we have heard that a very reputable person, a pediatrician who is also a practicing child psychologist, drinks Certo mixed in grape juice to help her arthritic knees. Certo--a product containing water, fruit pectin, lactic acid, citric acid, potassium citrate, and sodium benzoate--is commonly used to make jellies. She insists that she couldn't drive long distances unless she was on this therapy.

Post reader Leo Smith of Oxnard, California, also reports success with using Certo for joint aches. He says that he and his wife began using it about five years ago and now have normal knuckles and no aching joints. Some people recommend two teaspoons of Certo in three ounces of grape juice three times a day. Others take one tablespoon of Certo in eight ounces of grape juice once a day. Certo can be found where canning supplies are sold.

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I am interested in learning more about treating osteoarthritis with doxycycline. Any information will be greatly appreciated.
Gayle Rice
Lake City, South Carolina

A multicenter phase II trial is currently under way to test whether low-dose doxycycline can prevent or reduce the breakdown of joint cartilage associated with osteoarthritis. Animal studies suggest that tetracycline antibiotics, including doxycycline and minocycline, protect knee cartilage by inhibiting production of damaging enzymes.

Osteoarthritis affects primarily people over the age of 60 and causes significant disability. Other investigational treatments include acupuncture, estrogen supplementation, and stem cell replacement.

Reader Remedy for Ingrown Toenails

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I thought you would be interested in this remedy for ingrown toenails and might want to pass it on to your readers.

My father taught me to let the nail grow a little longer and to cut a "V" in the center of the nail. This has worked well, as long as I remember to cut them. When I forget, and get ingrown toenails (sometimes very bad), I make a slight groove in the center of the nail. This encourages the nail to grow toward the center and quickly ends the problem in a few days. Ingrown toenails run in our family, as does diabetes. We have never had infection with this procedure.
John McManus
Windsor Heights, Iowa

Niacin Reduced His Cholesterol Readings

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

This letter is in response to the May/June 2001 article in "Medical Mailbox": "Niacin Helps Control Cholesterol." I can only report on my recent experience with niacin. In April 1999 my readings were: total cholesterol, 223; triglyceride, 163; HDL, 65; LDL, 118. I then started taking a 500 mg timed-release niacin capsule after breakfast and another after dinner. I take them with at least a half glass of water. The flushes are rare and do not last long. My next blood test in September of 2000 was: total cholesterol, 185; triglyceride, 163; HDL, 57; LDL, 95. My last test in December 2000 was: total cholesterol, 178; triglyceride, 138; HDL, 71; LDL, 79. Needless to say, I'm going to take niacin as long as I live.
Daniel R. Lucas
Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Medical Progress

A new outpatient treatment is available for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over age 50. In Visudyne therapy, a drug is. injected intravenously into the arm and activated by shining a nonthermal laser into the eye. Research shows that vision remained stable or improved in 67 percent of patients treated with the new therapy.

Preliminary research data published in the May 22 issue of Neurology suggest that botulinum toxin A injections may ease lower back pain. Investigators at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., say that three weeks after the injections, most people reported their chronic back pain was reduced by 50 percent or more. The beneficial effect persisted for three to four months.

A promising device may someday be used as an alternative for heart transplants. Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and Beth Israel in New York are enrolling patients with congestive heart failure for phase III testing of the MicroMed DeBakey Ventricular Assist Device. More sites will be announced. To date, the 3.3-ounce internal device has supported patients for more than nine months before they received a heart transplant.

Mayo Clinic scientists have discovered that carriers of a gene defect previously linked to emphysema also have a threefold increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. People with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency lack an enzyme that protects the surfaces of multiple organs. Investigators suggest those with early-onset severe emphysema in their families ask their physicians about a blood protein test to detect potential carrier status.

Tinnitus Treatment Options

* Alternative treatments, including magnesium, zinc, ginkgo biloba, or B vitamins

* Biofeedback to help manage stress

* Cochlear implants for deaf or near-deaf patients

* Drugs, including antianxiety, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and anesthetic medications

* Hearing aids for hearing loss

* Masking devices resembling hearing aids and designed to produce low-level sound

* TMJ treatments, including dental procedures or bite realignment

Readers may send their letters to 1100 Waterway Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202 or via e-mail: Please include mailing address.
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Title Annotation:lysine for shingles, Valley Fever, others questions and answers
Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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