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Irreversible muscle damage linked to statins

August 12, 2018

Q: I was prescribed statins approximately 30 years ago to lower my cholesterol. I had to change statins numerous times over the years because of itching, forgetfulness or other side effects. Approximately 10 years ago, I noticed symptoms of muscle weakness, although previously I was very fit.

In 2016, after electrical tests and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis and myasthenia gravis. All the doctor will say is that neither of these rare conditions is connected to statins. I stopped taking them three years ago, but by then the damage was already done.

I can no longer walk unaided; I cannot grip anything, and I deteriorate weekly. Surely there must be someone out there who will ask the right questions about the statin connection before more people have to suffer like I am.

A: A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (online, July 30, 2018) confirms that statin exposure is indeed associated with an autoimmune condition called inflammatory myositis. Although this condition is considered rare, it is irreversible even after the person stops taking a statin-type cholesterol-lowering drug. The affected person experiences progressive weakness and has to take immune-suppressing drugs.

We have heard from many other readers who have developed some form of myositis after taking a statin. We hope that the new study will alert physicians to this devastating complication.

Q: I need to have a prostate biopsy in a few weeks. I take low-dose aspirin daily on the recommendation of my internist. Will I need to stop the aspirin before the biopsy?

A: You absolutely should check with the urologist at least a week before your biopsy. One study suggested that men need not stop low-dose aspirin prior to biopsy (International Brazilian Journal of Urology, November-December 2015). A review of all available well-controlled studies of patients having non-cardiac surgery found that stopping aspirin made little or no difference in serious bleeding (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, July 18, 2018). That said, patients undergoing surgical procedures always should check with the surgeon at least a week or two beforehand.

Q: I never used to have indigestion or heartburn. However, if I take zolpidem (Ambien) for more than a few days in a row, I get very bad indigestion.

Now I have to decide whether I want to be tired or have an upset stomach. If I go a few days and don’t take it, my digestion is fine. Is there anything that will help me sleep without upsetting my stomach?

A: The official prescribing information for zolpidem lists dyspepsia (aka heartburn or indigestion) as a frequent side effect. We suspect that most people are not warned about this adverse reaction, though. Many other readers share your dilemma. One wrote:

“Ambien gave me a great night’s sleep after years of wakefulness. The cost was disabling digestive problems: bloating, pain and acid reflux.”

Zolpidem is intended for the short-term treatment of insomnia. People who take it regularly run the risk of dependence and additional side effects such as next-day impairment (JAMA Internal Medicine, online, July 16, 2018).

You may want to try some nondrug approaches, such as melatonin, magnesium, acupressure or tart cherry juice. Our online resource, the eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep, is available at peoplespharmacy.com. It provides details on these and other strategies to overcome insomnia.

Q: A long time ago I visited a friend in the mountains. I stepped on a wasp in the shower stall, and the sting was horribly painful.

My friend put a paste made from water and meat tenderizer on the sting. Within 10 minutes, the pain and swelling had totally disappeared.

Now I don’t go anywhere in the summer without meat tenderizer. Believe me, it’s come in handy more than once, especially if I drive with the window open. Just use a pinch of it, use your spit to make a paste and put it over the sting to feel it do its magic. It’s never failed, even for a bumblebee sting.

A: We first read about using a quarter teaspoon meat tenderizer mixed with a teaspoon of water for a painful insect sting in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 24, 1972). The doctor recommending this remedy suggested that the papain in meat tenderizer breaks down the venom in the sting.

If you’ve been stung by a bumblebee or honeybee, however, the first step is to flick the stinger out with the edge of a credit card.

People who are allergic to stings should not rely on home remedies. They must keep an epinephrine injector available and seek emergency medical attention.

Q: My teenage son has tree pollen allergies and also plays a stringed instrument. His fingertips were peeling, so I thought it might be an allergy to the bow rosin, a pine tree product.

We tried over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for a bit and saw mild improvement. Then I read about eating cilantro for eczema or psoriasis. He does not like the taste of cilantro, so I crushed it and mixed it with olive oil and applied it to one hand. I tested the theory by putting organic coconut oil on the other hand, in case moisturizing was all that he required.

We were both impressed with the results the next morning. The cilantro hand was appearing to heal already, and the coconut oil hand looked about the same as before. After three nights of use his fingers were nearly healed.

A: Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is popular in Mexican, Indian, Chinese and other cuisines. It is rich in antioxidants and has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Your story sent us to the medical literature to see if topical cilantro had been studied for skin irritation. Iranian scientists have found it helpful against diaper rash (Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, August 2017). Some people may develop allergic reactions to cilantro leaves (Contact Dermatitis, December 2001).

You can learn more about cilantro and other botanicals in our book “Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.” It is available at peoplespharmacy.com, or send $15.95 plus $3 shipping and handling to: Graedon Enterprises SUYH, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Others have found that eating fresh cilantro leaves can reduce the redness and itching of psoriasis plaques. It doesn’t work for everyone, but many have reported benefit.

One reader wrote about a different way to use this plant: “Coriander seed taken as a tea also helps with psoriasis. I’ve been drinking it daily for about nine months, and my psoriasis is much improved. It is a more economical way than eating cilantro leaves to get the same effect.”

Contact Joe and Teresa Graedon via their website: peoplespharmacy.com.

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