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People’s Pharmacy


Recruit flunked blood pressure test

By Joe & Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon are authors of The People's Pharmacy book and host an award-winning health talk show on public radio.

Q. When I was 18 years old, I went to join the Army Reserves. I weighed 165 pounds and was in great physical condition. When they took my blood pressure, however, it was 200/70. They said I had a very dangerous pressure and told me to go right to my doctor.

My physician put me on a blood pressure med that basically turned me into a zombie. I purchased an old-fashioned blood pressure cuff, and when I took my blood pressure myself, it was 130/70.

I recently purchased a high-end digital blood pressure unit, and I take and log my pressure regularly. To this day, 35 years later, I still have white-coat hypertension. I went to the doctor last week, and it was 200/90. I went home and took it, and it was 125/80.

White-coat hypertension refers to a situation in which blood pressure readings taken in a doctor’s office or hospital are significantly higher than those taken at home. Studies have shown that home readings are more reliable as a predictor of organ damage or heart-disease risk (Hypertension, June 2010; Journal of Hypertension, June 2013).

People meds not for dogs

Q. I am a veterinarian and want to let people know that tea tree oil is very toxic to pets. It is rapidly absorbed through the skin and GI tract, and can cause tremors, a drop in body temperature, sedation and, rarely, liver toxicity.

A dog could lick it, or a well-meaning owner could try using it for an ear infection. Don’t do it! If accidental ingestion or skin absorption occurs, please take your pet to the vet. He will probably need hospitalization if he received a large dose.

While we’re on the subject, stay away from Bengay, Noxzema, Heet, Clearasil and oil of wintergreen on your pets. Anything with salicylates could be toxic.

Thanks for the warning. It is helpful to remember that what might work for people may be dangerous for pets. Tea tree oil has antifungal activity, which is why people have used it for their nail fungus and might try it for dog ear infections. As you point out, this is a bad idea.

Aluminum foil worries

Q. I have read that aluminum exposure might contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. This alarmed me, as I routinely wrap food in aluminum foil to reheat it. I also cover with foil when I bake and wrap raw chicken, pork and fish in individual packets for the freezer. I also “tent” a turkey while roasting it. Is any of this a problem?

There is not much information about aluminum leaching into foods. What there is suggests that acidic foods such as tomato sauce, lemon juice or vinegar could corrode aluminum (Food and Chemical Toxicology, March 2009). These researchers found that boiling the foil for at least 10 minutes in water decreased the problem. The foods you describe are not particularly acidic, so you may not need to worry about this issue.

Reach Joe and Terry Graedon at Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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