Consult doctor before using turkey tail mushrooms

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Hello, dear readers, and welcome to a bonus letters column. Your comments, questions and kind words -- thank you! -- continue to fill our mailboxes more quickly than we can empty them. That said, let's get started.

-- We have received a number of letters in response to a column about the possible health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms. "I'm being treated for metastatic breast cancer, and this mushroom intrigues me," a reader wrote. "I've spoken with my radiologist, who had no knowledge of it. Is there information about where to find it?"

Turkey tail mushrooms are a colorful fungus with a fanlike shape. They have a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, where they are used as a tonic and to manage some kinds of infection. Recent research suggests the compounds in turkey tail mushrooms support certain types of immune response and may have anti-tumor properties. The fungi are widely available at online retailers, health food stores and some drugstores. They are used as a tea or in capsules. While they are generally safe to consume, it is important to check with your oncologist before using them. If it is decided to move forward, your doctor can help you figure out a proper dosage. Ask your oncologist to review the research with you. This will help you make an informed decision.

-- We recently wrote about direct physical contact with bats and when a rabies vaccine may be needed. We heard from a reader whose husband was holding their infant daughter when he found a bat on the living room ceiling. He placed their daughter on the couch, covered her with a blanket and left the room to fetch a net. "When he returned a minute later, the bat was still in the same spot. We were able to capture the bat and released it outside," she wrote. "Do you think our daughter was at risk? Does she need rabies shots?" Bats can transmit rabies through a scratch or bite. However, simply being in the vicinity of a bat, as occurred in this situation, does not pose a risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who has direct physical contact with a bat, even if a bite or scratch is not apparent, immediately see a health care professional regarding possible vaccination. Anyone whose skin has been breached by a bat, and the animal is not available to be tested for rabies, will need to be vaccinated.

-- A reader who runs 100-plus miles per week asks about her resting heart rate. "My resting heart rate is between 32 to 40 beats per minute," she wrote. "Is this normal, or should I be worried?" On average, resting heart rate ranges from about 60 to 100 bpm. But in well-trained athletes, it can be closer to 40 bpm, or even less. At 100 miles of running per week, you certainly qualify as a well-trained athlete. But if you are concerned, you may find a quick chat with your doctor to be reassuring.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

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