DEAR DR. ROACH: I am 95 years old, and have been suffering from a very painful case of shingles. I take many medicines for pain, and for high blood pressure and glaucoma. My health-food store advertises a natural cure for shingles, and I wonder if it would interact with the medications I take. — J.H.
ANSWER: As far as I know, there is no cure for shingles, natural or otherwise. There are treatments to help alleviate the pain, but pain following a shingles infection can last for months, years or, in some cases, a lifetime. Standard medical treatments for the pain following shingles include drugs that work on pain fibers — antidepressant medicines like amitriptyline, and anti-epilepsy medicines like gabapentin (Neurontin).
A natural extract of hot peppers, capsaicin, can be applied to the painful area, and this is successful in some people. I have read about numerous other putative treatments, such as olive leaf extract, but couldn’t find any reliable information on their effectiveness.
Your best resource for checking interactions between your medicines and any supplements is your pharmacist, but he or she will need the exact name of the treatment you are considering.
DEAR DR. ROACH: In a recent column, you wrote about low body temperature. I am 66, and my temperature has always been 95 to 96. That being so, what would a high temperature reading be for me? Should I be concerned with a temp of 98 or 99? — M.K.
ANSWER: There isn’t a precise answer to your question. It is true that in people whose body temperature is slightly lower than normal, a fever may not be as high as what we typically think of. It’s also true that older people (and there’s a big difference between someone who is 66 and someone who is 80 years old) may have lower body temperatures than younger people, even with serious infections. Finally, temperature is variable throughout the day: The lowest is early in the morning, and highest around 6 p.m. So, a single number doesn’t provide all the information we want. If an older person, whose normal temperature is a bit lower than the average, has a temperature over 99 in the morning, that would be enough to get my attention, and to at least consider whether there might be something really wrong. Pneumonias and urine infections in particular can be very subtle in older people.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I had two teeth implanted using human cadaver bone, due to bone loss. Did I get a transfer of that person’s DNA in the process, and if so, how would it affect my genetics? — P.G.
ANSWER: Yes, the bone cells that came along with the teeth have the donor’s DNA. However, bone cells generally are stable, from a genetic standpoint, so the DNA is likely to sit there and not change the DNA of any of your cells.
That said, people who get different types of transplants can get donor DNA that may spread to other cells in the recipient’s body. For example, a 2007 study of people who received a kidney transplant found that some of the donor DNA could be detected in blood cells even two years later. It’s very much the same process as genetic transfer between mother and child: Most of us have a small amount of our mother’s DNA in some of our cells, and mothers may have some of their children’s DNA in their own bodies. However, the germ cells (that’s oocytes, or eggs, in women; and spermatozoa of men) are relatively protected from foreign DNA. It’s very unlikely that you could pass on the DNA from your donor, mother or child.
READERS: The booklet on asthma and its control explains this illness in detail. Readers can obtain a copy by writing:
Book No. 602
628 Virginia Dr.
Orlando, FL 32803
Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.
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