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Testosterone troubles halt study

Q.I am a 54-year-old male, and I have noticed a drop-off in sexual performance as well as in other parts of my life. I have seen commercials for products that are supposed to boost testosterone.

Do such products work? Is there a downside?

A.Men who have low levels of the male hormone testosterone may experience fatigue, reduced sex drive, diminished muscular strength and weaker bones. Although boosting testosterone levels can reverse such symptoms, this hormone may produce some unexpected negative consequences.

A small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (July 8, 2010) reports that men who received testosterone via a topically applied gel experienced improved arm and leg strength and increased mobility. They had more cardiovascular complications, however, including heart attacks. The study was halted prematurely because of safety concerns.

Until we have better data on both the benefits and the risks of supplemental testosterone, we think it’s wise to be cautious about raising your hormone level.

Q.I have taken levothyroxine for several years, but my insurance keeps changing the brand (from Synthroid to Levothroid to several generics). I have had progressively deteriorating hypothyroid symptoms (weight gain, fatigue, muddled thinking, high cholesterol, low sex drive, constipation, brittle nails and painful joints).

Where can I find the information I need to convince my doctor I need a better approach? I did well on Armour Thyroid years ago when I was first diagnosed, but my current doctor doesn’t like it.

A.Although the Food and Drug Administration has approved many generic levothyroxine products as bioidentical to Synthroid or Levothroid, physicians and patients report that not all generic products seem to be identical to each other.

A person taking generic levothyroxine might need to have the dose recalibrated every time a different generic is dispensed. Because this requires blood tests and a doctor visit, the insurance company’s savings from the generic could be wiped out.

We are sending you our Guide to Thyroid Hormones, with a discussion of Armour Thyroid as well as the finer points of adjusting the dose of levothyroxine. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (61 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. T-4, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:

After shortages that had many patients frantic, the company that makes Armour Thyroid reports that it is once again shipping common dosages.

Q.I’ve just read about the “hot water” remedy for mosquito bites. I, too, seem to be a mosquito magnet and have found Vicks VapoRub is a magical remedy. I have no idea how or why it works, but it does! A little dab rubbed on and around the bite not only soothes the itch but takes the swelling down as well.

Can you explain this?

A.Others have told us that Vicks VapoRub can ease itching from mosquito bites. We tracked down a review article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (November 2007) suggesting that menthol (an ingredient in Vicks) has been used since antiquity to ease itching. It works by affecting itch receptors in the skin. These same receptors react to the pain caused by very cold temperature.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. E-mail them via their Web site: