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Originally published Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 5:40 AM

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Is natural deodorant really safer?

People’s Pharmacy on aluminum in deodorants, constipation, cold sores and travel.

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Definitely need to read the labels. I've used standard commercial deodorants for... MORE

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Q: I’ve relied on natural crystal deodorants for years, with the understanding that they were safer than the usual antiperspirants. I was under the impression that they were free of aluminum. When I checked the label, it said “potassium alum.” Does that mean aluminum?

A: Yes; potassium alum is hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate. It is used in the purification of drinking water to get particles to precipitate out. Styptic pencils contain alum to stop bleeding from minor cuts. Alum also is used in most crystal deodorants.

The question of aluminum toxicity has been controversial for decades. A review of the evidence in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease (March 2011) concluded: “The hypothesis that Al (aluminum) significantly contributes to AD (Alzheimer’s disease) is built upon very solid experimental evidence and should not be dismissed. Immediate steps should be taken to lessen human exposure to Al, which may be the single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to AD.”

Q: I have had chronic constipation for years. It has probably contributed to my hemorrhoids. I tried magnesium, and it helped a lot for a while, but I had to increase the dose to get the same effect. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do? The doctors have only offered laxatives that are habit-forming. I desperately need help.

A: The usual recommendation for avoiding constipation is to increase fiber. Recent research, however, shows that fluid intake may be much more important (American Journal of Gastroenterology, May 2013).

You also might benefit from chewing sugarless gum. Nonsugar sweeteners such as maltitol, sorbitol and xylitol attract water within the intestines. This helps to soften the stool.

Q: I have a cold sore, for which my doctor prescribed Xerese. It is a new medicine for cold sores. I will take it in addition to L-lysine tablets and L-lysine cream. I hope it helps. What should I know about it?

A: This new cream is a combination of two old drugs, acyclovir and hydrocortisone. It should be applied at the first sign of a cold sore to speed healing. Since acyclovir is an antiviral drug active against herpes simplex 1 virus that causes cold sores, and hydrocortisone eases inflammation and helps skin heal, it should be helpful. If the sore does not clear up within two weeks, check back with your physician.

Q: Before leaving on a trip, scan a copy of your medical and eyeglass prescriptions. Attach them to an email that you send to yourself. Then they will always be as available as the nearest Internet connection wherever you are in the world. You might want to include the contact information of the doctors who write the prescriptions.

A: Thanks for this helpful suggestion just in time for summer vacation. Losing eyeglasses or a prescription can ruin a trip.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website:www.peoplespharmacy.org

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