DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 66-year-old male who lives in Louisiana. I have suffered seasonal allergies all my life. They seem to be present almost year-round as I get older. I have tried every over-the-counter medication I can find and some prescription medications, with little long-term relief.
The new rage here to combat these allergies is elderberry syrup. It combines elderberries, echinacea, cinnamon, clove, ginger and local honey. I have Type 2 diabetes controlled by oral medication and only have to check my A1C every three months. It is usually no higher than 6.2. I would like to know if this combination of ingredients would work to combat my allergies and, secondly, if taking a tablespoon a day five days a week would negatively affect my diabetes. -- D.S.
ANSWER: A recent study showed that elderberry syrup was substantially more effective than placebo at reducing respiratory symptoms from the cold or flu. It is possible but unproven that it might be helpful in seasonal (or even perennial) allergy symptoms. The study used a commercial extract, which did not include the other substances you are finding in Louisiana.
Moreover, elderberry syrup is not easy to prepare, and homemade elderberry syrup might not be made properly. Failure to cook the elderberries adequately will cause the toxins sambunigrin and sambucine to be present in the extract, potentially causing nausea and vomiting, sometimes severe enough to require hospitalization. Commercial products precisely regulate the amount of active ingredients, which is not possible with homemade.
The amount of honey in the syrup will determine its effect on your diabetes; however, a tablespoon a day is not likely to have a significant effect on your very well-controlled diabetes. Incidentally, an A1C level of 6.2% is so well-controlled that I wonder if you need the oral medication you are taking. Many experts would reduce or eliminate oral medication in a 66-year-old with your A1C.
DEAR DR. ROACH: Why do we wake up with "sleep" in our eyes? -- N.F.E.
ANSWER: "Rheum" is the technical term for the mucus discharged from the eye when we sleep. As it dries, the mucus, along with dead cells and eye irritants like dust, collects in the corners of the eye. It can be very heavy in people with allergic or infectious conjunctivitis.
It doesn't accumulate during the day because the material is mostly washed away with tears through the lacrimal duct when we blink.
DR. ROACH WRITES: About two years ago, I wrote a column on the promise of intravenous vitamin C along with steroids to treat septic shock. Initial trials had suggested a large benefit in mortality with minimal risk. I had promised to follow up when more information was available. A study was just published that, unfortunately, showed no benefit at all to adding vitamin C (and the B1 vitamin thiamine) to steroids in people with septic shock.
It happens all too often that a promising therapy in early trials fails when subjected to the most rigorous kind of larger trial. This is unfortunate, since sepsis urgently needs better treatment options.