DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please tell me what triglycerides are and how to lower them. I just got the hang of cholesterol, and now my doctor springs this on me. I’m lost. Help. – R.C.

Triglycerides are fats. The white stuff in a strip of bacon is triglycerides. Shortening used in baking is triglycerides. “Love handles” clinging to the sides of the lower abdomen are triglycerides. Triglycerides in the blood are trouble.

Triglycerides on their own add to the buildup of fatty material on artery walls. They contribute to the obstruction of blood flow and so are as treacherous as cholesterol is. For many years, triglycerides took a back seat to cholesterol, but now the spotlight shines on them as well.

Furthermore, triglycerides in the foods we eat prime the liver to make cholesterol. They carry a double whammy when it comes to clogging arteries.

A valid blood reading for triglycerides can be obtained only if a person has fasted overnight. A normal value is 150 mg/dL (1.69 mmol/L). Many doctors prefer their patients to have a reading of 100 (1.13) or less. Borderline high is a value up to 199 (2.2); a high reading ranges from 200 (2.3) to 499 (5.6); and a very high level is anything above that number.

You can lower triglycerides by cutting back on fatty foods. Limiting sugar and alcohol is another way to lower them. Smoking raises triglyceride levels. Inactivity is a big factor in triglyceride elevation. Exercise brings the numbers down. Weight reduction, when called for, lowers the numbers.

Control of triglycerides should first center on the above changes in diet and lifestyle. If lifestyle and diet changes don’t budge the triglyceride level, there are medicines that can.

Readers who would like the entire cholesterol and triglyceride story can find it in the pamphlet on those topics. To obtain a copy, write to: Dr. Donohue – No. 201, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My therapist wants me to take lithium. I have heard so many bad things about it that I am scared to take it. How does it affect the brain? Do you recommend it? – P.T.

Lithium is one of the 110 basic materials called elements. Substances related to lithium include hydrogen, sodium and potassium.

Lithium revolutionized the treatment of bipolar disorder, the illness in which there are swings from the heights of feverish activity and inexhaustible energy to the depths of depression and inactivity.

If anyone read all the possible side effects of lithium, it would make that person hesitant to take it. However, lithium’s side effects happen only to a few, and they are almost always reversible when the drug is stopped. Your doctor can keep an eye on your blood levels of lithium so it always stays in a safe range.

Lithium restores normal brain chemistry. Yes, I recommend it. Far greater trouble comes from untreated bipolar disorder than ever comes from lithium use. Doctors have prescribed it for many decades, and it has enjoyed a successful reputation.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What causes a belch?

I never used to belch, but now I find myself doing it all the time. It is most embarrassing, particularly when I am eating out. How can I stop it from happening? – V.R.

Belching comes from swallowing air while you swallow food. It is something that most people are not aware that they’re doing. It is a subconscious habit.

Eat very slowly and chew food until it becomes pulp. Don’t gulp liquids when eating. If you can get by without drinking any liquids with your meals, do so. Don’t drink carbonated beverages and don’t chew gum or suck on hard candy.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please give me a straight answer. Do vinegar and vitamin C do anything for arthritis? My sister claims that she has had a miraculous cure from taking them. I would appreciate you opinion. – R.C.

R.C., would I give you anything but a straight answer?

This combination has been touted as an arthritis treatment for eons. I don’t know why or where it sprang up. The explanation of why it is supposed to work proposes that it dilutes joint fluid. Advocates say it’s like giving the joints an oil change.

I am skeptical. I have never met an arthritic who benefited from the vitamin C/vinegar mix. Thinning of joint fluid sounds a bit preposterous to me.

I can’t argue with your sister. I don’t know if the combination acted like a power placebo (sham drug) for her, but her story still leaves me an unbeliever.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My pharmacist says my medicine is a calcium blocker. I take it for high blood pressure. Does a calcium blocker interfere with calcium going into my bones? I do have osteoporosis. — V.K.

The official name for these medicines is calcium channel blockers. Minute quantities of calcium enter muscle cells and give them the ability to contract. Small arteries are wrapped in special kinds of muscle cells. A calcium channel blocker relaxes those tiny muscles. The blood vessels expand, and blood pressure drops.

These drugs have nothing to do with the entrance of calcium into bones.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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