Q. On Wednesday afternoon, I saw the doctor to request an appointment for an MRI, as I was having such severe hip and leg pain. It was at times unbearable. They had to help me get into and out of chairs because I was in so much pain.
Thursday, I went outside to get the mail and saw a large weed I did not want in my yard. I tried to pull it up, but could not, so I reached down to break it off. When I took hold of the weed, fire ants swarmed out and covered my right hand. I immediately knocked them off, but a few bit me.
I was sick and dizzy most of the day, but a miracle happened: My severe pain has gone.
No one will ever believe this. I don’t even believe it myself, as I had been in pain for more than a year. I can’t take pain medication. Could fire ant stings be therapeutic?
A. Fire ant bites can produce a terrible reaction for some people. Heart failure and seizures have been reported after multiple stings. Some people experience anaphylactic shock.
We could find no evidence of any therapeutic benefit from such bites, although there are reports that bee stings (apitherapy) may produce relief from pain and inflammation. We would never suggest anyone replicate your experiment, but researchers are investigating the unique properties of fire ant venom.
Q. I had a heart attack in 2009 and got a stent in a blocked artery. In September 2009, my blood lipids were as follows: Triglycerides = 203, Cholesterol = 203, HDL = 33, LDL = 129, Chol/HDL Ratio = 6.2. Everyone said these bad numbers accounted for my heart attack.
After the attack, I tried a statin for two months but didn’t like it and stopped. I changed my diet radically, dropping 20 pounds in a month.
I also started taking red yeast rice, omega-3, flaxseed and niacin. Early this year, my lipid results were: Triglycerides = 84, Cholesterol = 136, HDL = 42, LDL = 77, Chol/HDL Ratio = 3.2.
I thought I had found the fountain of youth. But within a few months, I had chest pain and got three more stents for blocked arteries.
The cardiologist was very upset that I had stopped taking the statin. She said that although natural stuff brought my lipids down, it could not protect my arteries against inflammation. Statins do.
Why is there such a major emphasis on lipid scores when inflammation is the actual culprit? Needless to say, I am back on a statin.
A. Many people suffer heart attacks even though they have normal lipid levels. There are many other factors that contribute to heart disease, and inflammation is just one of them.
Your story shows that the emphasis on blood lipid results can be overdone. We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health for information on medications and nondrug approaches that can help keep the heart in shape. 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. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q. I read that potassium is absolutely crucial to reduce hypertension. It suggested 4,700 mg of potassium daily. I don’t think I can eat enough bananas and potatoes to get this much potassium. Is there an over-the-counter supplement I could take?
A. We don’t recommend OTC potassium supplements because you might overdose. This is as dangerous as too little. If you are eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, you are probably getting more potassium than you realize.