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Originally published Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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The People's Pharmacy

Angostura bitters fight gas

Q: Do you have a suggestion for someone with frequent, odorous flatus? One of my sons has this. Besides causing lots of laughs, it also...

Syndicated columnists

Q: Do you have a suggestion for someone with frequent, odorous flatus? One of my sons has this. Besides causing lots of laughs, it also causes the rest of us to groan.

A: We recently had this suggestion from a reader: "Has anyone suggested Angostura bitters for gas? When I was a waitress and had that problem, someone suggested a teaspoon in a glass of 7-UP or just club soda. It worked immediately."

Angostura bitters have been sold for more than a century as a digestive aid. The label suggests one to four teaspoons after meals to combat flatulence. Bartenders use this herbal flavoring in mixed drinks, and cooks use it in sauces. It can be purchased in grocery stores.

Grapefruit may interact with drugs

Q: I take Viagra or Levitra to have sex occasionally. I like grapefruit and buy it when it's in season. There is a warning about eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice while on either of those drugs. How long before or after using Viagra or Levitra is it safe to have grapefruit or its juice?

A: Your pharmacist may have cautioned you against grapefruit, but we find no warning in the official information for these drugs.

We asked the Food and Drug Administration and were informed: "there is nothing in the labeling about the interaction with grapefruit. It does appear in the Cialis, but not the Viagra, labeling." The maker of Levitra also has no such warning, and a spokesman dismissed our concerns when we asked.

Grapefruit affects dozens of drugs, and it is clear that the FDA does not have a standardized approach to such interactions. Toxicity can be increased because grapefruit boosts blood levels of the drugs. The effect can last for up to two days.

Q: I read about a program for low-income families to get prescription drugs through their doctor free. Where can I learn more?

A: The best way is through the Web site www.helpingpatients.org. It lists pharmaceutical-industry and state-assistance programs.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them at pharmacy@mindspring.com or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org

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