Originally created 08/12/97

The people's pharmacy: Grapefruit diet can endanger health



Q: Thank you so much for sharing the tonic water remedy for leg cramps. I nearly lost my mind because of nighttime leg pain. Getting out of bed used to be agony. It was almost as bad as labor pain!

After reading your column I got a bottle of tonic water at the supermarket and drank a glass. I'm going to keep drinking it before I go to bed at night because now I don't suffer with that awful pain.

A: We are delighted to learn the tonic remedy worked. Tonic water contains quinine, a traditional medicine for leg cramps. This home remedy has been written up in the medical literature and used to be quite popular in India.

Do be vigilant for side effects, though. Quinine, even in tonic water, may cause some sensitive people symptoms such as nausea, digestive upset, rash, itching, headache, anemia and ringing in the ears.

Q:What do you know about the grapefruit diet? My friend says he lost 25 pounds by eating two grapefruit and five stalks of celery a day. He insists that these foods have negative calories. He says your body burns off more calories processing these foods than it takes in.

I need to lose about 15 pounds. But before I start on this diet I want to know more. Haven't you warned that grapefruit affects certain drugs? I take Theo-Dur for asthma and Procardia XL for blood pressure.

A:If your just ate two grapefruit and five stalks of celery he surely would lose weight because he would be taking in fewer than 200 calories daily. Such a diet lacks adequate calories and is nutritionally inadequate, even dangerous.

If he is eating grapefruit and celery as part of a balanced diet, we see no harm. But we have never found any evidence to support the notion of negative calories.

Grapefruit can interact with many medicines. Some potential problems include Adalat and Procardia (nifedipine), Plendil (felodipine), Calan, Isoptin and Verelan (verapamil), not to mention Seldane (terfenadine) and Hismanal (astemizole). Blood levels of these medications could rise, increasing the risk of side effects.

Q:I spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer. I love working in my flower garden and tending to the shrubs around the house. But I am extremely sensitive to chiggers, and we have lots of them. When I get bit the spot gets very itchy and red. Then it turns into a blister. The darn bites look ugly and last for weeks. My legs are covered with red spots.

My husband says that when he was a boy chigger bites were covered with clear nail polish. It's not working. Do you have any other suggestions?

A:First, apply insect repellent around your shoes and socks before going out to work in the garden. If you get bites, ask your dermatologist about a strong steroid gel. It sounds as if you are highly allergic to chiggers and need something to counter the skin reaction.

Nail polish won't work. The idea that chiggers lay eggs under the skin and can be suffocated with nail polish is a myth.

Write to the People's Pharmacy at P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.