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Originally published Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 5:31 AM

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A healthy debate on vitamin supplements

People’s Pharmacy on contradictory studies on the benefits of vitamin supplements; the link between statins and raised blood sugar; and eating cilantro to help control psoriasis.


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Q: I have read lately that vitamin and mineral supplements are a waste of money. I beg to differ. I am a firm believer in supplements. Magnesium and vitamin B-6 have prevented a recurrence of kidney stones. Magnesium also prevents leg cramps. If I skip a few days, the excruciating muscle pain reminds me to restart my supplements.

A: An editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Dec. 17, 2013) concluded that well-nourished people don’t benefit from supplements and might even be harmed. It urged Americans to “stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements.”

Your regimen of magnesium and vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), however, is supported in an article telling doctors how to help patients avoid recurrent kidney stones (Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, March 2013).

A recent study on veterans found that vitamin E (2,000 IU daily) was more effective than placebo or the prescription drug Namenda (memantine) in delaying the onset of dementia in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (JAMA, Jan. 1, 2014). The controversy over supplements is not likely to go away any time soon.

Q: My husband takes any medicine his doctor prescribes and never complains. After starting on simvastatin, he developed leg pain that keeps him from our daily walks.

His blood sugar is now out of control. Why would a doctor prescribe a drug that can cause diabetes and then blame the patient for not being able to control his sugar?

I keep asking his doctor to take him off this statin medication, but he doesn’t believe simvastatin could aggravate diabetes. Are there any natural ways to get his blood sugar and cholesterol under control?

A: The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2012: “People being treated with statins may have an increased risk of raised blood sugar levels and the development of Type 2 diabetes.” Perhaps your husband’s doctor missed the announcement.

It is possible to lower both blood sugar and cholesterol through natural approaches, but it will take work. The first step is to cut down on refined carbohydrates such as bread, cereal and sweets. Concluding meals with a green salad with a vinegar-based dressing can be helpful, as can herbs such as bitter melon, fenugreek, nopal cactus and the spices cinnamon and turmeric. Including nuts in the diet and psyllium as a supplement may help reduce cholesterol further.

Exercise is critical to controlling cholesterol and blood sugar. We hope that some of these approaches will allow your husband to resume his daily walks.

Q: I’ve had psoriasis for as long as I can remember. It gets better in the summer, but in the winter my skin becomes itchy, red and flaky.

I always had a patch on my right ankle, but I just realized it is not there this winter. Perhaps it is because I have started putting cilantro in almost everything I eat.

A: Another reader told us that eating cilantro regularly helped control his psoriasis. There is no science behind this remedy, but we’re glad it is making a difference for you.

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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