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: My 16 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with EBV (Epstein-Barr virus). She's active, but tired. I've increased her multivitamins. I've read that EBV is linked to cancer. Her doctor told me that nothing can be done to remedy this situation. Is this fatal? Please help me. My daughter is in tears and I'm trying to be strong. --K.S., Longbranch, N.J.

A: EBV is a fairly common infection among young people. In Africa, it has been linked to a type of cancer called Burkitt's lymphoma. In the United States, where people are generally healthier, it commonly causes mononucleosis, a self-limited infection that may leave a person fatigued for weeks or months while the body is healing itself.

Except for individuals with unusual immune systems, one should not assume that EBV will induce cancer. A more mundane (and real) risk is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). In many (but not all) cases of CFS, a latent or dormant EB virus is found to have been newly reactivated.

EBV is a member of the herpes virus family (along with chicken pox and fever blisters). These viruses have the ability to remain dormant in the body for years. They may become reactivated in times of great stress, causing recurrent illness.

In addition to multivitamins, you should give your daughter a lot of vitamin C, up to 10,000 mg daily or even more, while she is convalescing. It will also probably help to give 1500 to 2000 mg of L-lysine daily. This amino acid helps suppress the multiplication of herpes-type viruses.


Q: In one of your magazine's newswire items, it speaks about the benefits of chromium picolinate in both diabtics and pre-diabetics. However, in one of my catalogs the manufacturer states, "Diabetics: use only under physician's supervision." Therefore I've been taking the GTF chromium (glucose tolerance factor) instead of the picolinate. But, I'm not actually diabetic. I'm just worried that I might get it because of my age (70) and two relatives who had it (my mother and sister). Could I use the picolinate form of chromium? --M.F., Aitkin, MN

(Memo: This answer was written before the 1999 publication of research on potential DNA damage from Cr picolinate. I no longer recommend the picolinate form.--RH)

A: Certainly. Taking chromium every day is one of the ways you can help prevent diabetes, along with controlling your weight and avoiding the refined carbohydrates in junk foods. Chromium is active in the body as a component of the glucose tolerance factor, which also contains niacin and certain amino acids. This factor facilitates the interaction of insulin with the tissues, so that your blood sugar gets used properly. It also attaches to DNA in your cells, which is one explanation of how it controls blood sugar.

Not all forms of chromium are absorbed well nor transported efficiently in the body. Chromium picolinate is effective, as are the nicotinate, brewer's yeast chromium, and GTF chromium. A reasonable preventive dose is 200 mcg daily. Chromium can protect against hardening of the arteries, too.

SOURCE: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, edited by M.E. Shils, J.A. Olson, M. Shike, Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1994, pp. 264-268.


Q: Approximately 3 years ago a dark pigment appeared on my face down the sides near my temples, and working down onto my cheeks under my eyes. I'm told this is a "pregnancy mask" and comes from the combination of sun and hormones in "the pill." Various creams haven't helped. Going off "the pill" isn't an option. Can you help me? --S.F., Kanata, Ontario

A: Try cleansing your liver. The other word for this condition is "cholasma", which you may recognize is related to the Greek word for bile. The labor of detoxifying the excess hormones in "the pill" is thought to stress the liver, resulting in the pigment deposits. The same thing happens with high levels of progesterone in pregnancy.

You may support your liver function with silymarin (milk thistle), alpha lipoic acid (100-150 mg daily), lecithin, and B-complex vitamins. To flush your liver, mix a half to a third of a cup of fresh lemon or grapefruit juice with an equal amount of olive oil, and drink it down first thing in the morning.

For better bile, eat three or four of these bitter vegetables daily: endive, escarole, parsley, watercress, beet tops, turnip tops, kale, chard, spinach, chicory, dandelion greens, mustard greens, collards. Recommended juices are carrot, beet root, and spinach. Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol.

SOURCES: General knowledge, and Balch's Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Garden City Park: Avery, pp. 140-141


Q: I am a woman in good health, never hospitalized in my 71 years except for childbirth. I take a handful of vitamins each day, yet I keep getting many indentations on my arms when I rest them on the table even for just a few minutes. The indentations will stay for a long time. Can you give me any advice for this condition? --Y.G., Montgomery, AL

A: Without seeing the indentations I can't be sure, but it sounds like you are retaining fluid. Fluid is seeping out of the capillaries into your tissues; pressure on the fluid-swollen tissues indents them. This condition is called edema.

I usually see edema in the lower legs and ankles, because of the effect of gravity. Sometimes it's normal (as in prolonged sitting in an airliner), sometimes it isn't. It is more unusual for it to occur in the upper body, so you must seek the explanation.

There are many possible reasons for edema, including protein deficiency, congestive heart failure, mineral imbalance, and kidney disease. My hunch is that the problem may be your thyroid gland. A failing thyroid gland results in a type of all-over edema called myxedema.

I urge you to get a medical examination. While waiting for your appointment date, you can check your thyroid at home. Place an old-fashioned mercury thermometer by your bedside, and first thing in the morning, place it in your armpit for 10 minutes. If the temperature consistently reads below 97.6 F, your thyroid is probably involved.


Q: My 14 year old son has been battling with moderate acne for a year. It is on his face, upper back, and upper arms. He was treated by a dermatologist for 6 months. He's also had a liver cleanse and bladder cleanse. He's been on multiple vitamins (including vitamin A), calcium, and a probiotic for about a year, and recently started red clover extract and milk thistle combination. The acne has improved but not cleared up. What else can we do? --E.B., Santa Fe, NM

A: Red clover is one of the herbs recommended for acne; it may be taken internally, or used with lavender and strawberry leaves as a steam sauna on the face. Other useful herbal products include gugulipid, tea tree oil, alfalfa, chaparral, and roots of burdock, dandelion, and yellow dock. Dandelion, chaparral, and yellow dock may be combined in a poultice to use on acne areas.

You did not mention zinc in your list of nutritional supplements. Adequate zinc nutriture is key in acne, just as important as vitamin A, yet this trace mineral is often deficient your son's age group. Try a dose of 50 mg with each meal. Also, give him about 400 mcg of chromium every day.

Acne afflicts about 80 percent of those between ages 12 and 24. It is caused by the male hormones of puberty affecting the quality of the sebum, the lubricating fluid made by glands in the skin. When the pores of the glands get plugged, bacterial infection can ensue, causing a pimple.

Diet seems to have a lot to do with acne. High-fat, high-sugar diets--the type favored by teenagers--aggravate the problem. Sometimes a milk allergy or other food sensitivity is involved. The youth with acne should increase intake of raw vegetables and other high-fiber foods, eliminating fast foods and junk foods. Although butterfat and other animal fats should be avoided, unsaturated fatty acids may benefit the condition by affecting the sebum. Add a tablespoonful of cold-pressed flaxseed oil daily, plus 3 capsules of evening primrose oil.

SOURCES: M.R. Werbach "Nutritional Influences on Illness", 2nd Ed., Third Line Press, Tarzana, 1996, pp. 5-12

M.R. Werbach & M.T. Murray, Botanical Influences on Illness, Third Line Press, 1994, pp. 33-34

Balch & Balch, "Prescription for Nutritional Healing", Avery, 1990, pp. 66-67


Q: At age 50, I've developed a fairly big fibroid tumor on my uterus, which causes pelvic pain and discomfort, although I haven't had any abnormal bleeding. Surgery has been recommended, but I'd rather avoid it if there is another way. --K.V., Ridgefield, WA

A: Fibroid tumors of the uterus, or leiomyomas, are tumors arising from the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus. They are usually benign. About 20% of women will develop them by age 40. Somewhat less than half this number will experience symptoms, including heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, miscarriages, infertility, and urinary problems.

Fibroid tumors grow in response to estrogen, which explains why they usually cease to be a problem when menopause arrives and estrogen levels diminish. Large fibroids that cause symptoms should probably be removed surgically, but since the tumors are nearly always non-malignant, I believe natural medicine should be tried first.

When surgery must be done, more women than ever are opting for removal of the fibroid tumors rather than the entire uterus. About 200,000 hysterectomies are reportedly performed annually for removal of symptomatic fibroids.

Natural treatment is directed at restoring the female hormone balance, which includes minimizing sources of estrogenic substances in the diet. That's why a vegan diet is often recommended. Also, avoid coffee, chocolate, fried foods, sugar, white flour products, alcohol, and fast foods. The reason for avoiding most of these is to relieve stresses on the liver, allowing it to detoxify estrogens better.

A great many homeopathics, botanicals, and nutrients have been proposed. Here are some suggestions from my own clinical experience:

•Vitex (chaste berry): 25 to 30 drops of the tincture, twice a day. This is available commercially.

•Liver digestive formula: 1 dropperful before meals. This formula, also available commercially, is a tincture of 40% milk thistle seed, 20% dandelion root, 10% turmeric rhizome, and 10% Chinese skullcap root (approximate proportions).

•Castor oil packs (to which phytolacca oil and hydrastis tincture can be added, if desired) over the pelvis daily.

•Kelp suppositories.

•Vitamin B complex and vitamin E.

SOURCES: Tori Hudson, ND: Uterine Leiomyomata: A Review. Townsend Letter for Doctors, October 1993, p. 1042

T. Hudson, Gynecology and Naturopathic Medicine: A Treatment Manual, 1994, Chapter 14 ("Uterine Fibroid Tumors")

Christopher Hobbs: The Herbal Prescriber (computer program)


Q: I'm a healthy, young 84 year-old. I put in 15-hour days in my resort business, doing everything from greeting my guests to reroofing my buildings. One problem is starting to create havoc with my well-being: I have to take an antibiotic whenever I need to see my dentist, which is a minimum of four times a year, for dental cleaning! This, I am told, is to protect the mitral valve of my heart against bacterial infection. What else could I take instead? --A.A. Winnisquam, N.H.

A: You haven't said whether you have a diseased mitral valve to begin with. If your valve is normal in every respect, there would appear to be no reason for antibiotic prophylaxis.

On the other hand, if you have a prolapsing mitral valve, or a narrowed or incompetent one, it would be very important to minimize the number of bacteria that chance to land upon it. That translates into taking a couple of doses of an antibiotic whenever there is a likelihood that bacteria will enter your bloodstream, such as during deep dental scaling.

Assuming the valve is diseased, why don't you further improve your odds by taking a few extra grams of vitamin C daily, before and right after the dental procedure? Also, take 15 drops of echinacea and goldenseal herbal tincture three times a day for about 5 days before and 5 days after the dental procedure. Add 20,000 units of vitamin A, 50 mg of zinc, 100 mg of CoQ10 and 200 mcg of selenium daily during this time.

The use of these and other immune-boosting supplements is discussed more fully in my book, Beating the Supergerms (Pocket Books, N.Y., 1997).


Q: This letter is in response to your column, "The Natural Way to Remove Warts," in December. My young daughter also had numerous warts over her hands and cuticles. My chiropractor suggested I take her off dairy and meats for a month. We don't eat much meat anyway, but I realized that my daughter was eating a lot of "string cheese" from the grocery store, which was the most dairy she was consuming. Well, within one month only one or two warts remained on her hands (she started with 26 in all). The string cheese which is labelled "a good snack" was causing this overabundance of warts to spread rapidly. Regular cheese doesn't seem to cause this. Maybe your reader's problem was in her child's diet. --P.B., Toledo, OH

A: Fascinating! Your observation does not formally prove that string cheese promotes warts, but it surely raises the suspicion. I wonder whether any of our other readers have noticed any connection between dietary items and children's warts? I'd love to hear from those who have.



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