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People’s Pharmacy: Ice addiction cured with molasses

By Joe Graedon, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. I drive my family and co-workers crazy with my ice addiction. I’m 47 and have craved chewing ice since I was a teenager.

The ice chewing is worse when I’m stressed. It’s amazing I haven’t broken any teeth yet.

I’ve always had heavy periods and low energy. A Red Cross nurse told me I was too anemic to give blood, but I never made the connection between iron deficiency and craving ice.

Recently, I started consuming molasses (as a home remedy for a different ailment), and almost overnight I no longer had the ice cravings. It was a pleasant side benefit. I put molasses in my almond milk – very tasty, and a good source of iron.

A. Craving nonfood items such as cornstarch, baking soda, clay or ice is called pica. This can be a signal of iron or zinc insufficiency. Correcting the deficiency may calm the craving.

Blackstrap molasses is rich in iron, with 3.5 mg per tablespoon. It also is a good source of zinc. Keep in mind, however, that molasses also is high in sugar.

Other foods that are good sources of iron include liver, clams, oysters, mussels and other shellfish. If such foods don’t appeal, you may want to consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Q. My thyroid was removed 38 years ago. I did very well on Armour Thyroid replacement all of those years.

Recently, my endocrinologist insisted that I take Synthroid instead. It made me feel awful.

Finally, he put me back on Armour, but kept reducing the dosage. He insisted that the bloodwork showed that I was getting too much.

I reached a point where I was so fatigued that I could do nothing. When I saw another specialist, she said that my thyroid dosage was too low. In three weeks on the higher dose she prescribed, I have begun to feel better. Quality of life is important.

A. For many people, levothyroxine (Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid) is an effective treatment to replace missing thyroid hormone. Up to 15 percent, though, may have a genetic variation that makes them less efficient at converting levothyroxine (T4) to the active form, triiodothyronine (T3). Many of these individuals feel better taking a desiccated thyroid preparation such as Armour, Nature-Throid or Westhroid.

We agree that quality of life is an important consideration. You can learn much more about levothyroxine, desiccated thyroid and getting the best treatment for your thyroid condition in our Guide to Thyroid Hormones, available at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q. As a doctor with 35 years in practice, I did not realize withdrawal from the antihistamine cetirizine caused severe itching until I had the problem myself. I have been taking cetirizine for more than three years. Like many others, I experienced severe itching and hives all over my body when I stopped taking it.

One tablet would cover 36 hours free of symptoms. However, if I missed taking it right before the time limit, my skin started itching, and hives would develop.

I tried to wean off it three times, but failed due to unbearable itching. My lips and eyelids swelled, too. I am afraid my epiglottis or throat might swell someday so that I could not breathe.

I checked the medical literature and found, to my surprise, there are no reports of cetirizine withdrawal symptoms. Doctors should know about this.

A. We have received hundreds of reports of unbearable itching resulting from sudden discontinuation of the allergy drug cetirizine (Zyrtec). We have alerted the Food and Drug Administration about this reaction, but as far as we know, no such warnings have been issued.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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