DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m a 26-year-old woman with an embarrassing problem. I’m growing a mustache. What causes this? I have started to shave, but I worry that shaving is going to make the hair grow faster and coarser. I see some hair on my breasts, too. What can I do about this? — V.K.
ANSWER: Hair growth in females in places where it should be found only in males is hirsutism (HERE-suit-izm). Such areas include the skin above the upper lip, the chin, the chest, the thighs, the upper back and the abdomen. Hair in those places is sensitive to the action of male hormones. Common causes for such hair growth are idiopathic (a definite cause not found), menopause (when female hormone production dips) and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is fairly common. Signs of it are a diminution or complete stoppage of menstrual periods, hirsutism, obesity and large ovaries with many cysts. One of the mechanisms responsible for some polycystic ovary symptoms is an overproduction of androgen — male hormones. The unwanted pattern of hair growth stems from androgen excess.
Idiopathic hirsutism — hair growth without a cause found — might be a mild form of polycystic ovary syndrome. That’s a popular theory expounded by many experts.
Rarer causes of hirsutism include adrenal gland overactivity, tumors of the adrenal gland or ovary, pituitary gland tumors and some prescription medicines.
You’re not going to solve this on your own. You need a doctor to evaluate your hormone status. The appropriate treatment hinges on finding a specific cause.
When a cause cannot be found, shaving, electrolysis, depilatories (chemical hair removers) and laser treatments are options. Shaving doesn’t make hair grow faster or coarser.
Vaniqa cream, a prescription item, gets rid of unwanted hair quite well. Birth-control pills work when a woman needs estrogen. Spironolactone, a water pill, can counter the influence of male hormones and is often useful.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a fungus infection on my left foot and toes. What causes it? How do I get rid of it? — L.D.
ANSWER: A fungus causes it. Fungi are germs that are a bit larger than bacteria. Fungi thrive in warm, moist places. Keep your feet dry. Wear sandals when you can. Change socks twice a day. Have two pairs of shoes, and alternate their use. You can find numerous medicines for athlete’s foot (which is what you have) at the counters of all drugstores. Lotrimin AF, Micatin, Absorbine and Tinactin are a few names. If those medicines fail, the oral medicine griseofulvin usually can do in the fungus.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: How much are the vitamins in vegetables destroyed by cooking? Is microwaving more destructive than boiling on a stove? — S.T.
ANSWER: Some vitamins do trickle into the boiling water from cooking vegetables. Keep the amount of water to a minimum, and bring it to a boil before you put in the vegetables. Don’t cook them to death. Let them keep some crunchiness.
Microwaving preserves more of the vegetables’ nutrition than does boiling. Steaming is another way of keeping vitamins intact.
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.