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Staying On Cholesterol Meds

Dear Dr. Roach: When my doctor looked at some blood-test results, he found that my good cholesterol was fine but my bad cholesterol was too high. I have been taking Lipitor or its generic equivalent daily now for several years. Now that the bad cholesterol is where it should be, I expected to be taken off the pills, but no — my doctor says I have to stay on them.

I did read that cinnamon helps cholesterol, and I have been taking about a teaspoon of it daily with my breakfast fruit and cereal, the idea being that I could perhaps reduce the pills. Now I read that cinnamon can be harmful and is being abused. What is your take on the issues? — B.P.

Answer: Lipitor, like all the “statin” drugs, prevents your body from being able to make cholesterol. Some experts believe that these medications have other effects, apart from cholesterol, that contribute to its proven ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. However, it works only as long as you take it. Just like medication for high blood pressure or diabetes, you have to continue using it to continue getting benefit from it.

That doesn’t mean that everyone on this medication has to keep taking it forever. I have seen numerous times when a person put on Lipitor makes such good changes in his or her diet and exercise, often with some significant weight loss, that the cholesterol levels — and the risk for heart disease — dip low enough that the person doesn’t need medication anymore.

If that’s the case, you would need to stop the medication for a time and then recheck the levels, with the understanding that you would go back on if the results aren’t as hoped. Without such changes, there is no reason to expect the cholesterol to be better than it was.

I have written about cinnamon being used to help control blood sugar. However, the data that cinnamon improves cholesterol is not convincing. I think the danger you are referring to is the “cinnamon challenge,” where teenagers (mostly) attempt to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon. There have been many cases of lung damage from inhaling the cinnamon — fortunately, usually temporary. I don’t recommend cinnamon for cholesterol or for a “challenge,” but I do think cinnamon capsules or other safe ways of ingesting cinnamon may provide some additional benefit in diabetes.

Dear Dr. Roach: My sister had breast cancer surgery last year and was told to avoid deodorant products with aluminum in them. I am quite a bit younger than she is, and she is the second in our family to have breast cancer, so I stopped using those products when she was told to stop. However, I am now bothered by body odor. What causes body odor? I used to think it was poor hygiene, but I swim daily and take a full shower afterward, and never wear my clothes more than once. Is there anything I can do? — D.

Answer: What most people consider “deodorant” actually is antiperspirant/deodorant. The deodorant part inhibits bacteria growth, the cause of unpleasant odors when sweating. Plain deodorants don’t contain aluminum, which is what keeps you from sweating. Antiperspirants work by stopping you from sweating in the first place, and may contain aluminum.

I reviewed the claim that antiperspirants cause breast cancer. The best evidence says that antiperspirants do not cause breast cancer. I think you can use antiperspirants and deodorant. However, I recognize that some people want to be very cautious, so there is nothing wrong with using aluminum-free deodorants, such as Tom’s products.

Note that antiperspirants should not be used at all before getting a mammogram.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or write to P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.