Ask about drugs, supplements

I have had several alerts on the potential problem created by specific “statins” —- medications taken by many, young and elderly, to control cholesterol.

On the other side of the coin, there is consistent concern about healthy eating. Another reader recently wrote about the importance of magnesium in our diets. The mineral’s impact on our cells and thus good health is enormous.

Both concerns raise warning flags we should consider. We need to focus on side effects and the ramifications of too much or too little of anything we ingest.

My friend “Irene” had been taking a small dose of a statin prescribed by her doctor because her cholesterol numbers were high. There is a family history of problems. Shortly afterward, she began having some problems that she did not associate with the drug. Frightened, she thought only of aging, dementia. When driving she forgot the route to familiar, often traveled places, forgot how to manipulate the thermostat on the wall. Then names that should have been familiar eluded her. Sure, these things happen to everybody; but suddenly in bunches, it was especially frightening. Simply putting the milk in the cupboard with the clean dishes can be disconcerting.

We worry when our memory begins to play tricks; it is threatening. Irene became despondent. So many glitches happening at one time —- how would her husband ever manage? What she did remember was that there was a considerable amount of dementia on her family tree. Finally she went online to research her medication. She found it, along with its side effects, which included memory loss. Irene stopped taking it cold turkey. (I do not recommend that. But if there is something described online that contradicts or counter-indicates what the doctor has prescribed, immediately consult the doctor, nurse or pharmacist.)

Within five days Irene was herself, jubilant and furious. Many drugs have many side effects. I find a conversation with my pharmacist and a close reading of the small print to be very helpful. Irene was not told about potential memory loss. We must learn to ask questions. Our generation was taught that “the doctor knows best,” no reason to ask questions. But we are part of the team that ensures our physical and mental welfare, so we must speak up and find out.

Speaking of memory problems, a reader, Don Belding, a 90-year-old tennis player and former advertising man, sent me material regarding magnesium. Interestingly, it mentions that work with animals have shown that use of supplemental doses of magnesium improved long-term memory loss dramatically and also had impact on short-term loss.

Magnesium is abundant in our cells and is responsible for much of the healthy maintenance of our bodies: for example, muscle and bone strength. It has been estimated that seniors with the greatest levels of magnesium in their system have the greatest muscle strength. Don told me that he has learned that we may not be getting the full amount of magnesium we should from food because of agricultural manipulation with chemicals.

According to the National Institute of Health office, magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, making it essential to good health. “It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, keeps bones strong … regulates blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure … (it is) involved in energy, metabolism and protein synthesis.” There is increased interest in its role in preventing, managing hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  It is clearly vital.

But we can get most of our share of magnesium from food. There is a daily minimum requirement for good health, and there are supplements. That information can be found on the Internet, the library or on your vitamin labels. The foods containing the mineral are varied. For example, wheat bran, spinach, almonds, oatmeal, peanuts, baked potato (with skin), chocolate milk, bananas, avocado, whole wheat bread, halibut, low-fat fruit yogurt, peanut butter are but a few magnesium-rich foods. It is important to check labels.

A friend said, “I try to control what comes out of my mouth; I should also control what goes into it. ” It is good thinking, whether for magnesium or meds.

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