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Friday, October 5, 2012

The pitfalls of self-medication

Last night Tracey brought me a late cup of tea, as she always does, with the usual pills. There are only two; a Keppra the size of a horse-pill, and a little one that's basically an antacid, along with a little food, so the horse-pill doesn't burn a hole through my stomach as I sleep.

   "I'll bring you something to eat with it in a minute. I have something else to do."

   I did not enquire what could be so important as to hold up delivery of my co-pill snack. Some things I don't need to know, and nor do you. She'd just been watching a long TV programme, had rushed to perform kitchen duties and probably should have detoured on the way to the kitchen, but enough said. I'm a patient man by nature and these little derelictions don't faze me.

   I have a pressing and enduring concern that this thing in my brain is crowding out the useful bit, and Alzheimer's, memory loss or dementia will be my fate, so anything I can do to slow it down I will.

   When she returned with the snack, I had up on the screen this news article from our trusty ABC online news:

Curry drug could help rebuild brain after stroke

   There was additional information in another article. Not only did it have implications for the memory-destroying capacity of the drugs I'm on, it may, according to the study in the first article, reduce "stroke-caused motor deficits – problems of muscle and movement control...."

    I never had a stroke, but many of the effects of the brain tumour in the motor area for my right side are identical.

   "The active component is [I'll fill this in later – I've forgotten!] based on the saffron component of the [forgotten this too] herb," I said to her. "It seems you can get it as a capsule. I'd love some of that."

   "Hang on a minute," she said. "I read about that some time ago."

   She's always read about these things before they hit the news, in her odd quest to keep me alive as long as possible. I honestly don't know why, but to continue....

   I can think of every other herb known to the Spice Islands and even the Baby Jesus ones, but this one won't come to me till I get the news item back up on the screen.

   CIRCUMIN in TURMERIC. CIRCUMIN in TURMERIC. CIRCUMIN in TURMERIC – yes, I had to look it up, dammit.

   "There's a warning that Circumin doesn't go with Avastin," she said. "They negate each other or something, I can't quite remember how it works."


   I looked that warning up on google too, and sure enough, there was an explanation on a colon cancer page. If this is right, it doesn't negate the anti-angiogenesis of Avastin, it does something just as dangerous. It reinforces it, but not in a good way.

   [I]f you are taking Avastin or any type of blood thinner such as Coumadin or Lovenox, then you should not take Circumin. The anti-angiogenesis effects of it in combination with those of Avastin can be a double whammy....

   ...Double whammies are bad because none of these medicines or spices or herbs restrict their activities to tumors. The effect of anti-angiogenesis drugs on the rest of your system is to inhibit wound healing. Avastin puts you at a much higher risk for GI bleeds (or brain bleeds) and then the Lovenox or Circumin will both increase that risk, and make it harder to stop bleeding.*
   I've never heard of Lovenox or Coumadin, but I'm injected daily with Clexane, which does the same job as a blood thinner. I'm clot-city I am.

   This ramble is a convoluted way of saying that when it comes to treating yourself with pills and potions when you're already on patent drugs of various types, it's fools who rush in. I could easily have been tempted to see if Circumin was available at the health store, and they could cheerfully have sold it to me. [OK, maybe there would be warnings on the label; I have no idea.] I could have taken it thinking I might help delay loss of memory or related conditions as well as
motor skills, and blown my brain up after the next Avastin infusion – which is a very precisely measured dose based on body weight.

   These are just studies, which means there's much testing to be done and much to take into account before getting carried away. And surprise of surprises, not everything you read on the net is true.

   Rely on impulse, and the next thing that happens is you may well get carried away – on a one-way trip you-know-where.

   Oh – last thing. I almost forgot [again] to come back to where I started. Remember I said I'd forgotten what the treat was that Tracey gave me with my tea last night? I'm just going to have to ask her what it was because even to save my life I can't remember, and it's driving me nuts.

   It's like it never happened. Mind you, I was focused on that article on memory a time. Yeah. That's it.

* My underlining.


  1. God you are a gem Denis.... and Tracey even more so.

    1. That's at least half right – the last half for sure!

  2. Herbs are drugs, that's why they work, and that's why they can combine with prescription drugs in unexpected, often deleterious ways. For example, St. John's Wort can undermine the effectiveness of the birth control pill. Not a life-threatening combination, except perhaps for the unwanted child.

    There is a tendency for some well meaning people to consider herbs to be natural and good and pharmaceuticals to be unnatural and bad. Let's all have a cup of oleander tea then, and follow that up with a belladonna salad with a curare dressing. Yum. Good night!

    While oleander might not be good for anything but its flowers, belladonna and curare can both kill or be turned into a variety of pharmaceuticals with life-saving properties.

    I think herbalists, GPs, and psychiatrists need to work more closely together on this issue as so many of us take some kind of prescription medication and then top it all up with herbal and nutritional supplements without telling our doctors.

    Don't let this stop you from enjoying your curries, Denis.

    1. I agree with all you've said here, taking comfort from the last bit about the curries. I regard them just as a little top-up, like the anti-angiogenic fruit and vegetables I eat.

      Difficult point, that last one. We seem to be remarkably poorly served in respect of handling that in this country. We do have the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia's regulatory authority for therapeutic goods. but I'm not sure how far its authority stretches.

      In the meantime, you can't do better than watch Tim Minchen's animated production on youtube - Storm. If you're shocked by a little swearing then stay away, but surely there's no swearword in English that we haven't all heard, so enjoy it anyway.

  3. I watched Storm sometime ago during a similar discussion on your blog, Denis. Hilarious and so true. Fundamentalists on all sides.

    The problem with the TGA is that it is controlled by the pharmaceutical lobby, and when a complementary therapy is discovered to actually work, it is somehow banned because someone somewhere had a bad reaction to it. I'm thinking in particular of Triptophan and Kava.

    Both, as sold in health food stores and pharmacies, were very effective in situational insomnia. In the 90s, a bad batch of triptophan from Japan apparently poisoned some people, and subsequently, its production was banned -- all production and sale, even though it was not the triptophan that was at fault, but tainted manufacture. Kava Caps came along and were very effective as well, and the rumour is that one person who used this medicine died of liver failure. Hence, Kava was banned as a prohibited substance. These medications were incredibly effective, and I am certain were removed because they competed with sleeping pills, a big money spinner for the pharmas.

    Both substances have now been exonerated, but restrictions on their sale still apply. You can buy triptophan, but only in doses so low as to be useless. You can buy Kava, but again, not in the same strength as before. Neither works any more, leaving sleeping pills unchallenged.

    Think of all the bad reactions people have to various pharmaceuticals, and yet most of them are still prescribed. If a complementary medicine listed possible side effects on its packaging in the way that pharmaceuticals are required to do, then complementary medicine would be banned while the pharmaceuticals merely cover themselves against litigation.

  4. I agree Joan. The big pharmaceuticals are not good citizens. Now they are muscling in on India, where generic drugs are manufactured which are cheap enough for poor people to afford. Sorry, people in African and Asian countries - you and your children will just have to die of your tuberculosis or AIDS or cancer, now, so that European and American big business can add to its profit, which is often founded upon tax based research, ie the citizens pay for it but the big companies reap the profit. (Oh good, a chance for me to have a rant). PS it's true that herbs and drugs don't necessarily mix, a great example being eating spinach and taking the blood thinner warfarin. I eat my teaspoon of turmeric every morning:)

    JulieM xx


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