Ask Your Pharmacist–13

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It’s that time of year when men and women of all ages become obsessed with getting slimmer for the summer. With the majority of Americans reportedly considered overweight, millions of folks have flocked to the local drug store in search of a magic pill that will melt away the pounds. But do diet pills really work?

Most popular diet pills certainly can help you to lose weight, although the best results come with the incorporation of a proper diet and consistent exercise regimen.

Diet pills work in a variety of ways. Some increase metabolism. Some cause a “full” feeling, slow fat production, or block fat from being absorbed.

But here’s where you need to be cautious. Diet pills have been linked to significant health problems. In 2003, the FDA’s ban of some medications included diet pills containing ephedra, which is linked by research to an increased risk of heart attack. Companies have stopped using ephedra and instead now include several vitamins, ginseng and caffeine.

So, there’s no longer that health risk, but still be careful. These pills are sometimes high in stimulants. Don’t go over the recommended dose.

Q: My boyfriend has been prescribed a drug that I’m allergic to. Is it true that I can have an allergic reaction to that drug after having sex with him?

A: Drugs can show up in body secretions and fluids such as breast milk and urine. So, it is theoretically possible for a drug to be transferred through semen and be absorbed across the vaginal mucosa. However, there is only one documented case of this possibly occurring. A woman allergic to penicillin developed hives, nausea, and swelling 30 minutes after unprotected sex with her boyfriend, who had begun taking dicloxacillin. After he began using condoms, the hives symptoms stopped. The likelihood of having a reaction is minute. But if you’re concerned, try condoms.

Q: I have tried lots of ways to lose weight, but this sounds a little weird to me. My friend tells me that I can lose weight by eating dairy products.

A: There is a study that suggests people on low-calorie diets who eat foods high in calcium are more successful at losing weight than those who don't. Notice that I said low-calorie diet. Getting 800 to 1100 mg of calcium per day from dairy products such as yogurt seems to result in more weight and body fat loss than consuming less calcium. For every 300 mg increment of calcium consumed, there was an associated weight loss of five to six pounds. But increasing calcium through supplements does not seem to be as beneficial for weight loss. Just so we’re clear, boosting calcium intake alone will not make the pounds come off. The most effective way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories and exercise more. ?

Q: Everybody heard about folks dying after drinking Four Loko. Now I’m hearing that Red Bull plus alcohol can kill you.

A: There are a couple of reports of people who died after consuming Red Bull mixed with alcohol, but there isn't any proof that Red Bull is the cause of these deaths. Still, there is reason for caution. Fans of Red Bull regularly mix it with alcohol. They believe it helps them party longer. But people who regularly mix alcohol with Red Bull may be setting themselves up for a potentially dangerous scenario. The stimulants in Red Bull – huge doses of caffeine and other ingredients – can make users feel more awake and alert, potentially impairing their judgment on how intoxicated they actually are. This could lead to more drinking or driving under the influence.  Plus, the diuretic effect of the caffeine in Red Bull increases the risk of dehydration with alcohol, which could lead to electrolyte disturbances…not to mention a nasty hangover.

Q: I just turned 50 this year, and I love my Coca-Cola. Now I’m being told to slow down because it can cause calcium loss and lead to osteoporosis.

A: Well, not exactly. It’s true that there are carbonated drinks that can cause a loss in calcium. But researchers say it's not the carbonation. Instead, it’s other ingredients in soft drinks that are responsible, namely phosphates, caffeine and sugar. The theory is that that caffeine causes an increase in urinary calcium and may also reduce calcium absorption.  Sugar has been associated with an increase in urinary calcium. But the loss is very small. Just get four servings of milk or dairy products a day–from 1,000 to 1200 mg of calcium–and you’ll be fine.

Do you have questions about your medication, concerns about a friend’s or relative’s prescription or just want to keep up with the latest developments. In that case, ask syndicated columnist Dr. Daphne Bernard, a doctor of pharmacy and a registered pharmacist in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. She is assistant dean and associate professor at the Howard University School of Pharmacy and a member of numerous boards and associations, including the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the District of Columbia Board of Pharmacy, the Nonprescription Medicines Academy, Rho Chi Honor Society, American Pharmacists Association and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, Please email her at questions@askyourpharmacistrx.com.