Health Columns for Let's Live Magazine

by Richard P. Huemer, M.D.

From 1983 onward, Dr. Huemer wrote a monthly question-and-answer column for Let's Live. Many of these items are included here, in reverse chronological order. These are Dr. Huemer's original manuscripts, not necessarily as published in the magazine, and their dates are when the manuscripts were transmitted, not when they were published. We have agreed not to put items on this site until 3 months following publication.


Q: Wonder if you could just send me a fast response stating whether or not I should/can eat the leaves off my prodigiously producing Ginkgo tree, or is there an extract "process" necessary? --R.H. (via e-mail)

A: The process is very simple, but you’ll get more predictable results with a ginkgo product from a health food store. Most are of known potency: standardized extracts containing 24% flavonoid glycosides. Whenever you take a remedy (natural or otherwise), it is quite helpful to know the actual dose you are ingesting.

 However, if you’re an ardent do-it-yourselfer, and are sure of the botanical identity of your tree, here’s a recipe for Ginkgo leaves from Weiner’s Herbs That Heal (Quantum Books, Mill Valley, CA, 1994): "Approximately 1/2 ounce of leaves to 1 pint of water. Boil water separately and pour over the plant material and steep for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the desired effect. Drink hot or warm, 1 to 2 cups per day, at bedtime and upon wakening."

 Ginkgo is good for circulation, memory, male potency, ear noises, and relief of asthma and other allergies, among other things. It has been recognized in Chinese medical practice for nearly 3000 years.

SOURCE: M.A. and J.A. Weiner, Herbs That Heal, Quantum Books, Mill Valley (CA), 1994


Q: I have psoriatic arthritis. I have tried glucosamine without any benefit. (I later heard that it’s good for osteoarthritis but not psoriatic arthritis.) Is there any information on vitamin/herb therapy specifically for my type of arthritis? --C.J., Mt. Airy, N.C.

A: Psoriasis is associated with accumulation of arachidonic acid, a pro-inflammatory fatty acid. Your body can obtain this from animal meat, eggs and milk, which is probably why a low-fat, low-protein diet is useful in psoriasis. Your system can also make arachidonic acid from certain oils, including those of corn, safflower, and sunflower.

 It’s reasonable to suppose that reducing inflammation will relieve both the skin lesions and arthritic symptoms in psoriasis, and an experimental study showed this to be true. Rather high doses of EPA and DHA (fatty acids found in cold-water fish) were used. EPA can substitute for arachidonic acid in cell membranes, and one of its products inhibits an inflammatory product of arachidonic acid.

 It’s possible for your body to manufacture EPA and DHA from a precursor in flax-seed and certain other oils, but I believe it is safer to take these beneficial fatty acids in the form of fish oil. That’s because some people can’t convert the precursor efficiently. A reasonable dose is between three and nine grams daily.

 The active metabolite of vitamin D, which is available only by prescription, was very helpful in a small study with psoriatic arthritis sufferers. Perhaps ordinary vitamin D3, as found in fish liver oils, might work almost as well, but remember that high doses can be toxic. One nutrient to avoid (unless you’re anemic) is iron, which is a pro-oxidant and runs high in the blood of those with psoriatic arthritis.

 Herbal support includes silymarin (milk thistle), which improves liver function and inhibits inflammation, and sasparilla. Sasparilla can bind-up endotoxins, produced in the intestines and often found to excess in those with psoriasis.

 Finally, consider foods rich in connective-tissue substances known as mucopolysaccharides. These would include shark cartilage (as in shark fin soup) and pigs’ knuckles.


  Lassus A; Dahlgren AL; Halpern MJ; Santalahti J; Happonen HP:Effects of dietary supplementation with polyunsaturated ethyl ester lipids (Angiosan) in patients with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. J Int Med Res 1990 Jan-Feb;18(1):68-73

 Werbach M: Nutritional Influences on Illness, 2nd Ed. Third Line Press, Tarzana, 1996, pp. 550-560.

 Werbach M & Murray MT: Botanical Influences on Illness. Same publisher, 1994, p. 290.

 Schmidt MA: Smart Fats. Frog Ltd., Berkeley, 1997, pp. 29-30, 130.


Q: Recently I read of two drugs available in the U.S. which supposedly aid in the cure of autism. They are dimethyl glycine (DMG) and secretin. Would you be so kind to let me know where I could source these two drugs for my 8 year old autistic son? --G.C., The Philippines (via e-mail)

A: DMG is not a drug, but a nutrient. It has been available for years in American health food stores. Along with vitamin B6, also ubiquitously available, it has benefited many autistic children, although it cannot be considered a cure. For further information on DMG, B6, and other therapeutic options available to parents of autistic children, contact Bernard Rimland, Ph.D. at Autism Research Institute, 4182 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116.

 Secretin, on the other hand, is a drug—a natural hormone for intravenous injection, derived from an animal source. It’s also the most exciting news on the autism scene in a very long time. It seems actually to have cured a few autistic children! However, nobody knows how long the "cures" will last, or whether repeated injections will be necessary. Secretin is actively under research investigation.

 One secretin researcher is Sid Baker, M.D., who at the time we went to press had analyzed data on 39 autistic children. About 60% of the children had responded positively to secretin with decreased autistic symptom scores. For up-to-date information, contact the Autism Research Institute or


Q: I am so tired of hearing, seeing, reading, and watching on TV, all of these "drugs" or suggestions to help MEN with their sexual problems!! Even Let’s Live has been focusing on men’s needs! How about the WOMEN!? Am I the only one with a problem? Isn’t there any non-prescription item to help with a low libido? I have no desire for sex and I am only 29 (also, married for 7 years). HELP!--J.K., Illinois

A: I suppose men are more likely to become agitated about sexual problems—a threat to their manhood--so they get the lion’s share of the attention. I agree this isn’t fair. Here’s some advice for our reader and other worried women:

 First of all, libido isn’t essential for your personal survival, so it’s one of the first things to go south when you get sick. Therefore, anyone with abnormally low libido needs a careful medical examination to rule out serious disease.

This should include a laboratory evaluation of hormones, which for women will encompass estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and thyroid. Hormone deficiency might be the source of the problem, as it often is in women who have had their ovaries removed. DHEA, which is sold over-the-counter, can be tried if tests indicate that it’s too low.

 Not only medical illnesses, but the stresses of working, raising a family, and interpersonal relationships can quash person’s sex drive. Take some time with your spouse to be alone together. Use your romantic imagination to devise ways to heighten your sensual awareness.

 Sometimes drugs are the problem. One of the ingredients in birth control pills, for instance, can suppress libido. In fact, this ingredient (progesterone analog) is sometimes administered to criminal sex offenders to suppress desire. Antidepressants such as Prozac can kill libido, too. So can certain herbs; in the case of chaste berry, the name says it all!

 For centuries, people have sought herbal aphrodisiacs for just the problem you describe. I found ten plants in one herbal reference with reputed aphrodisiac powers, but hard evidence (no pun intended) is lacking in support of nearly all of them.

 The herbs most likely to help are, in my estimation, Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng, damiana, and kava kava. These may be tried sequentially, not together. I wouldn’t recommend this herbal fix, however, unless your medical tests are normal.

SOURCES: M.A. and J.A. Weiner, Herbs That Heal, Quantum Books, Mill Valley (CA), 1994


Q: For many years my son complained of stomach pain and nausea. An upper and lower GI revealed nothing. I eventually discovered that eliminating milk from his diet greatly improved his seasonal allergies and, much to my surprise, his many years of stomach problems. Now I am concerned about meeting his needs for calcium, vitamin D and magnesium. He drinks calcium-fortified orange juice and takes a chewable calcium supplement(600 mg) daily. Will this be sufficient to meet his needs for calcium and vitamin D? The calcium supplement contains 200 IU of vitamin D. Also, are there any other nutrients that he may be missing by not drinking milk? --J.J., Alta Loma, CA

A: There’s nothing in milk that can’t be obtained by eating other natural foods, or by taking supplements. Milk is a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium, but soy products are also reasonably good sources, although not as high in calcium as milk. Nuts, grains and legumes (including soy) are better magnesium sources than milk.

 You didn’t mention your son’s age. If he’s under eleven, he needs 800 mg of calcium daily. Your 600 mg calcium supplement should suffice, if taken with nutritious meals that include legumes and dark green leafy vegetables.

In his adolescent years, he’ll need 1200 mg of calcium, and considering the average teenager’s rotten diet, you’d better supplement to the hilt. At any age past infancy, he’ll need 400 IU of vitamin D, unless he spends a lot of time outdoors in the sun.

I’ve seen many cases like your son’s. It’s always gratifying to see longstanding allergies disappear with a simple dietary change. Milk is a highly nutritious food for those who can take it, but older children and adults do not need it, despite what the dairy industry would like you to believe.

SOURCE: ME Shils, JA Olson, M Shike: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 8th Edition, Lea & Febiger, 1994, tables A-2B and A-20.


Q: For years we have heard about fluoride’s supposed dental benefits. Recently I read an article in an alternative medicine magazine that claims that fluoride’s benefits have not been definitively proven and that it has numerous toxic effects on human health. The article also claims that fluoridation of public water supplies was forced on the American public as a way of disposing of a hazardous industrial waste. In a nutshell this anti-fluoride article says that we have been lied to for decades and [fluoride] has weakened the immune systems of countless millions. The medical writers mentioned in the article even go so far as to say that clinical evidence suggests fluoride is a neurotoxin. Could there be any truth to these claims, or is it some crazy conspiracy theory? The dentists I have questioned about this subject stand behind fluoride. Who is right? --S.V., Oak Park, CA (e-mail)

A: You have brought up one of the most divisive issues in preventive medicine. (The other one is immunization.) There’s truth on both sides. The studies on fluoride’s protective effects against dental decay look pretty convincing to me, and much has been published since water fluoridation began in the 1940s. Caries in primary teeth are reduced by 40 to 50%, and in permanent teeth by 50-60%.

 On the other hand, fluoride is indubitably toxic, as are many other trace elements in large amounts. (There’s some evidence suggesting that fluoride may be an essential trace element.) The question is whether the toxic level is above or below the caries-protective level, which is about 1 part per million (ppm) in drinking water. I’m not sure that question can yet be answered definitively.

 As few as 2 ppm in water are sufficient to cause mottling and discoloration of dental enamel, which is a type of toxic effect. Thus, the therapeutic window is not very wide. It is easy to see that drinking a half-dozen extra glasses of fluoridated water every day, or an equivalent amount of soda-pop (good fluoride source!), could nudge one’s intake into the toxic range. A diabetic person might drink a great deal more water.

 Does fluoridation cause cancer? Over 50 epidemiologic studies have failed to find any association. Is fluoride a risk to our children? Yes, children can get fluorosis of the dental enamel from swallowing toothpaste. Moreover, in recent years infant formula manufacturers have reduced the amount of fluoride in their products over concerns about toxicity.

 In my mind, the real issue is a libertarian one. Should the government medicate me, my 97 year-old mother, my edentulous neighbor, my dogs, my rose bushes, and my guppies, in order to benefit a small segment of the population? I don’t think so. Allowing this makes it easier for government to dump other things into our water. What do you suppose they would dose us with in times of civil unrest?

SOURCE: ME Shils, JA Olson, M Shike, op. cit., pp 284; 1018-1021


Q: My granddaughter looks sideways when she watches television. Does she have a deficiency in her diet? Her eyes have been checked and the doctor said she would outgrow it. Eyes are our most precious possession, so I would be grateful if you could solve this mystery. --M.G., Flushing, N.Y.

A: This is not a nutritional deficiency. She looks sideways because she sees the TV more clearly that way. She may have a problem with eye movement, such as micro-nystagmus (involuntary side-to-side jerking), a muscle palsy, or an eye muscle imbalance. Since surgery might be needed, she should be examined by an ophthalmologist.


Q: I am a 33 year old man who has experienced hair loss since my late twenties. However, in the past two years, my hair has receded noticeably. I constantly hear about miracle cures that grow hair. Are there any natural remedies to correct male pattern baldness, or is this problem just genetics? --S.P. Statesboro, GA

A: I assume you are not deficient in protein or in other nutrients, the lack of which can cause hair loss. If that's the case, and you don't have a scalp disease, the "problem" is indeed genetics. The hair stops growing in certain places, while growing more in others, because of genetic programming activated by male hormones. I put quotes around the word "problem" because many women like the look--which I suppose explains why the genetic program persists. I don't know of any sure-fire natural remedies.



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