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Drinking Listerine has dangers

Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon The Spokesman-Review

Q. You had a question from parents concerned about their son using more than three big bottles of mouthwash in a week. Shame on you for soft-pedaling the use of Listerine.

My dad dried out and then restarted on mouthwash. Alcoholics lie and deny. The son is drinking half a bottle of 50-proof mouthwash a day, and your wishy-washy response is not helping the clueless parents.

A. Thanks for your concern. The parents were convinced their son was ingesting mouthwash, since he had already gone through detox once. They wanted to know the consequences of drinking Listerine.

Original formula Listerine contains 26.9 percent alcohol. Clearly, anyone using five liters of Listerine in eight days needs professional help.

Q. Is bar soap a possible source of bacteria? Is it better to use liquid soap?

A. Soggy bar soap can become contaminated with bacteria. But not all liquid soap is free of germs. Microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., has found that refillable liquid-soap dispensers (such as those found in many public restrooms) can become heavily contaminated with fecal bacteria. Facilities that used sealed plastic bags of liquid soap in their dispensers had no contamination.

Thoroughly rinsing your hands after scrubbing them should help get rid of bacteria and viruses, regardless of the type of soap you use.

Q. There was a lot of hoopla recently about the drug Zetia. I called my doctor, who told me to continue taking it, but if it’s not doing anything good for my high cholesterol, why bother?

A pharmacist told me that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t recalled it, so it must be all right. Can you shed any light on this?

A. Zetia (ezetimibe) and Vytorin (ezetimibe and simvastatin) lower cholesterol. The unresolved question is whether they prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.

The study you heard about was called ENHANCE because the company hoped Vytorin would be better than Zocor (simvastatin) alone. Scientists compared the thickness of the lining of the carotid arteries in the neck between people put on Vytorin and those on simvastatin. Vytorin lowered bad LDL cholesterol more than Zocor did, but this did not lead to healthier arteries.

Cardiologist Steven Nissen, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic was shocked by the results. He advised his colleagues not to prescribe Zetia except as a last resort.

Q. I just read that grapefruit increases the risk of breast cancer. What gives? I always thought fruits and vegetables prevented cancer.

A. One study showed that grapefruit raises estrogen levels in postmenopausal women. Higher estrogen is associated with greater risk of breast cancer.

Another study reported that women who regularly ate grapefruit were 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer (British Journal of Cancer, July 10, 2007). Other researchers have found no connection between grapefruit consumption and breast cancer (British Journal of Cancer, Jan. 8, 2008).

Grapefruit interacts with hundreds of medications and can increase the risk of side effects. We discuss this in greater detail in our Guide to Grapefruit Interactions. We also discuss the pros and cons of hormone therapy in our Guide to Estrogen. Anyone who would like copies, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (58 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. JW-499, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. They also can be downloaded from our Web site:

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