The People's Pharmacy answers reader questions about the powers of cherry juice, vegan medications and thyroid hormone treatment.
Q: I have had recurring headaches with some regularity over many years. My solution was to rely on extra-strength Excedrin, which would eliminate the pain within a half-hour. My doctor was concerned about me taking so much Excedrin, and suggested I alternate taking indomethacin for these frequent headaches.
Instead, I decided to try taking cherry juice five months ago. I drink a 6-ounce glass of it at bedtime.
Miraculously, I have been headache-free since I started! This has changed my life substantially for the better. Perhaps it also will help others with headaches for which there is no apparent medical reason.
A: Athletes have been using tart cherry juice for post-exercise muscle pain, to reduce inflammation and to promote endurance (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, June 2014). Scientists believe that cherries have anti-inflammatory activity similar to that of over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Medicine and Sport Science, online, Oct. 15, 2012). We hope your tactic will help others with recurrent headaches.
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Q: I’ve been a vegan for many years. Recently I realized the medication I take is not vegan.
I’m looking for a vegan clozapine and Depakote. Do you have any idea where I can find them?
A: Because vegans avoid all products derived from animals, they may have a hard time with many medications. Capsules frequently are made of gelatin, a product of cattle and pigs. Occasionally a drug is an animal product itself, such as the anti-clotting injection heparin or the female hormone product Premarin.
It is not clear that your epilepsy medicine divalproex sodium (Depakote) contains any animal-derived ingredients. Clozapine, on the other hand, contains milk sugar (lactose) and magnesium stearate, both animal-based. To find an alternative, ask your pharmacist to call the manufacturer and ask whether it has a version without ingredients from animals.
Q: I was on levothyroxine for about 30 years, and then I started having really bad side effects. I itched all over, as if bugs were biting me. I had constant heartburn, and my hair was falling out.
My doctor suggested Armour Thyroid, which is all-natural. It has made a huge difference.
Before I started on Armour, I stopped taking levothyroxine for a couple of months. By the end of that time I felt really lousy, so I had blood work done. My TSH was 114.4. After taking Armour for six weeks, my level is in the middle of the normal range, and I feel good.
A: Levothyroxine is a synthetic T4 thyroid hormone. Armour Thyroid is made from dried pig thyroid glands. In contrast to levothyroxine, Armour provides both T3 and T4 hormones.
The hormone that is active in body tissues is T3. Normally, T4 is converted to T3 to provide what the body needs. Some people, however, are less efficient at this conversion (Clinical Endocrinology, November 2014). They often feel better on a combination of the two hormones. You may be one of these.
We discuss the symptoms of hypothyroidism, the pros and cons of natural versus synthetic thyroid hormone treatment and how to interpret lab results in our Guide to Thyroid Hormones. It is available at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.