Q: As a baby boomer, I heard that servicemen in World War II, Korea and Vietnam were given saltpeter in their food as a deterrent for sexual urges. I wonder if that is true and, if so, whether there is any connection to saltpeter and prostate problems.
A: The belief that saltpeter (potassium nitrate) will reduce sex drive is an urban legend. Rumors persist that authorities add this preservative to food served at institutions, like the military, prisons, all-male boarding schools and summer camps. There is no evidence that this has ever been used as a strategy to dampen desire.
This compound has been used to cure meat. It is also found in fireworks, fertilizer and toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. Tom’s of Maine Rapid Relief Sensitive Toothpaste, Sensodyne and prescription-only Colgate PreviDent 5000 all contain potassium nitrate. The Environmental Working Group ranks this as a safe toothpaste ingredient. We could find no evidence that it impacts the prostate.
Q: I was given a prescription for clindamycin when a thorn was removed from my finger. This is a dangerous antibiotic.
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Soon after I took it, I had symptoms of what I thought was food poisoning. Really it was that clindamycin had killed off the good bacteria in my system. I also developed other reactions to this drug, including a painful rash on the palms of my hands.
I was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s disease. On my own, I decided to try probiotics, because the doctors wouldn’t give any credence to my suspicions about clindamycin. The probiotics repaired my system, and I have been completely symptom-free for five years.
People should be fully informed about the risks as well as the benefits of this drug. That way they can determine if it is worth taking.
A: When clindamycin kills off bacteria in the digestive tract, it provides the opportunity for Clostridium difficile to take over. C. diff infections cause diarrhea and can be dangerous and difficult to treat.
Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, also can cause severe diarrhea. However, it would be unlikely for it to cause no further symptoms for five years.
We discuss misdiagnosis and how to protect yourself from such medical errors in our book “Top Screwups.” You will find it in your library, or you can purchase a copy at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.
Q: I have had asthma for more than 50 years and have been using an epinephrine inhaler since it came on the market in the mid-1950s. This allowed me to live a normal life.
I was extremely disappointed when Primatene Mist was taken off the market. The drugs my doctor prescribed didn’t work nearly as well. Whatever happened to it?
A: Epinephrine (adrenaline) has been used for over a century to open airways in patients with asthma. In the mid-1950s, epinephrine inhalers became available, and Primatene was marketed starting in 1967. It was sold without a prescription until 2011.
Many people wondered why Primatene Mist disappeared. The CFC propellant used to push the medicine into the lungs was banned by international treaty because it depletes ozone from the atmosphere.
In November 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved an alternative formulation with a different propellant. Primatene Mist is now back on pharmacy shelves and is the only over-the-counter medicine available for mild, intermittent asthma symptoms.