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The People’s Pharmacy: Beware of high doses of vitamin D

Q. My vitamin D level is dangerously low (5). The doctor prescribed 50,000 units once a week to try to correct this deficiency. The pill causes me bloating, gas, constipation and acid reflux, so I am going to stop taking it. What else can I do to bring my vitamin D level into the normal range without suffering these uncomfortable symptoms?

A. If it were summer, the easiest way to boost your blood level of vitamin D would be to spend some time in the sun every day. But in winter, that tactic won’t work.

One study that looked at circulating vitamin D levels concluded that “for the optimal functioning of these systems [dependent on vitamin D], significant vitamin D should be available on a daily basis ...” (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, December 2013).

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which is what has led doctors to embrace a once-weekly or once-monthly dose. The research shows, however, that vitamin D is not stored efficiently, and many people do better with a daily dose.

You might find that taking a smaller amount of vitamin D-3 every day will cause less digestive distress and deliver a better result. We are sending you our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency for more details. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. D-23, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: peoplespharmacy.com.

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Q. I love candied ginger, both its zingy taste and the way it helps settle my gastrointestinal tract. But I have discovered that it has some undesired effects at the other end, similar to too much chili pepper. Is this a common reaction?

A. We don’t know if anal irritation is a common reaction to ginger. If you are eating enough candied ginger to trigger such a response, however, it is possible that you might be getting a bit too much sugar. Ginger tea might be a safer option without the uncomfortable consequences you have described.

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Q. During breast-cancer treatment I was told to use special deodorants without aluminum. They were only fair for controlling odor and perspiration.

I switched to milk of magnesia, with great success. I read on your website that vinegar and lemon juice help some women prevent body odor. I will try this combination to see if it will work for me.

A. There is quite a controversy about potential adverse effects of aluminum on the breast. A recent study suggests that aluminum may “increase migration of human breast cancer cells...” (Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, November 2015).

Some scientists have called for the reduction of aluminum in antiperspirants (Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, April 2014).

Others maintain that aluminum poses no risks (International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, May 2012).

Milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide) appears to be safe when applied to the skin, and many people find it helpful against body odor. Magnesium is an essential mineral for normal cellular function.

If you try lemon juice and vinegar, be cautious about going outside in the summer. Some people react with an exaggerated burn when skin has been doused with lemon juice.

The People’s Pharmacy radio broadcast airs at 2 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.