Q: I am quite confused and annoyed about reports that fish oil isn't beneficial. I've heard for years that fish-oil supplements are good for all kinds of things, like depression and anxiety, skin and joints, and general heart health. So it is a huge disappointment to read that it doesn't help the heart after all. Was all the hype a big fat lie?
A: An analysis of 20 clinical trials involving more than 68,000 people found that fish-oil supplements did not reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or sudden death (JAMA, Sept. 12, 2012). Eating fish, on the other hand, has been shown to add years to life expectancy.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (April 2, 2013) concluded that healthy older people who ate at least two servings of fatty fish a week were less likely to suffer fatal heart-rhythm changes or strokes. The study followed almost 2,700 senior citizens for 16 years and measured their blood levels of omega-3 fats. This is far more reliable than simply asking people how much fish they eat.
Q: I have taken just about every heartburn medicine on the market, including lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix). My doctor is encouraging me to get off acid-suppressing drugs because she is worried that my bone density is dropping. After 10 years on these drugs, I have also become deficient in vitamin B-12.
When I try to stop, though, the heartburn is unbearable. The only relief is to take the medication. I feel almost like an addict. Is there any way I can get off these drugs without going through hell?
A: Stopping strong acid-suppressing drugs (proton pump inhibitors or PPIs) can be challenging because of rebound acid secretion. Gradual tapering of the dose along with remedies such as DGL, probiotics and persimmon-ginger tea can be helpful in slowly getting off these medications. Long-term PPI use can lead to lower magnesium and vitamin B-12 levels. Such drugs are associated with reduced bone density (Rheumatology International, March 2013).
Q: I ignored my nail fungus for years, but finally my wife started complaining about how gross the nails are. Last fall, I started soaking my feet in a dilute vinegar solution for half an hour and then applying tea tree oil directly to the nails.
It has taken several months, but the nails are nearly back to normal. What is tea tree oil, and why is it so effective?
A: Tea tree oil comes from an Australian tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). It has been shown to have antifungal properties. Tea tree oil is active against the fungi that cause nail fungus (Mycopathologia online, February 2013).
Some people report that this herbal oil also is effective against bacterial and viral infections. Dermatologists have found that a combination of tea tree oil and iodine can be useful against molluscum contagiosum, a common childhood rash caused by a virus (Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, March 2012).
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers.
Write to them via www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is "Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them."