Is chocolate actually good for the brain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is chocolate really good for the brain?

DEAR READER: It sounds too good to be true, but research has found that certain compounds in chocolate, called cocoa flavonols, may protect brain function. In one recent study, researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavonols in 90 healthy 61- to 85-year-olds with good memory and thinking skills. Participants drank a special brew containing either a low (48 milligrams, or mg), medium (520 mg) or high (993 mg) amount of cocoa flavonols each day.

Can Botox injections help treat chronic migraines?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from chronic migraine headaches. My doctor mentioned Botox injections as a possible treatment. Can you tell me more?

DEAR READER: I'll bet you were surprised when you told your doctor you needed treatment for your migraines, and he or she said, "You need Botox!" After all, what does removing wrinkles have to do with headaches? Botox can do much more than remove wrinkles. Botox -- short for botulinum toxin -- is a substance made by the bacteria responsible for botulism.

Is coffee bad for your heart health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard that coffee is good for your health -- but I've also heard that it increases your blood pressure and heart rate. What's true?

DEAR READER: Right now, the evidence I'm aware of points to health benefits for most people from regularly drinking coffee. I'm talking about straight coffee -- minus the cream and sugar. Straight coffee is a nearly calorie-free beverage brimming with antioxidants. There's evidence that drinking coffee might help prevent Type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. And studies show lower rates of gout and liver disease among regular coffee drinkers.

How can you prevent developing colon polyps?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My young son had rectal bleeding caused by a colon polyp, which the doctor surgically removed. Why did he develop a polyp? Can we do anything to prevent more polyps from forming?

DEAR READER: Colon polyps are growths of tissue inside the colon (large intestine). I've put an illustration of a colon polyp below. Most people think of colon polyps as a problem only for adults, but children also get colon polyps. In fact, they are a relatively common cause of bleeding from the rectum in children.

How do you put in eye drops?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have dry eye syndrome. My doctor prescribed artificial tears, but I can't manage to get the drops into my eyes. Any advice?

DEAR READER: Dry eye syndrome occurs when your body doesn't produce enough tears. Tears moisten, protect and cleanse our eyes. Without enough tears, your eyes may burn, itch, or feel like there is something gritty in them. Dry eye syndrome can also increase your sensitivity to light and cause excessive tears. Dry eye syndrome is often effectively treated with artificial tears. Available over the counter, they mimic the composition of natural tears. Of course, they work only if you can get them into your eyes. Like you, many people need to learn how to do it.

How do I know if I’m pushing myself too hard while exercising?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I like really intense exercise, so I expect things to hurt when I'm working out. How do I know if I'm pushing myself too hard?

DEAR READER: The expression "no pain, no gain" has misled many an exercise enthusiast. The fact is, pain and other symptoms during exercise are not normal. You should pay attention when your body is sending you warning signs. Let's start with what you should expect. At the height of a workout, you should be breathing a little harder. You should still be able to talk, but you shouldn't be able to sing. You should feel your heart beating faster than normal during exercise. And you may feel your muscles burn a little as they work hard for you.

Is an endarterectomy the best treatment option for a clogged carotid artery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a clogged carotid artery. My doctor wants me to have an endarterectomy. Is this the best treatment option for my condition?

DEAR READER: It's impossible to answer your question without a lot more information. What I can do is describe what a clogged artery is, and what some of your treatment options are. The carotid arteries of the neck carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to the brain. Deposits of fat and cholesterol -- plaque -- on the walls of the carotid arteries increase the risk of a stroke. Plaque can block blood flow to part of the brain. Or, a piece of it can break loose and completely block a smaller vessel in the brain.

Will giving my baby peanut products increase or decrease his risk for a peanut allergy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My baby has an egg allergy. His doctor says this increases his risk of developing a peanut allergy. She recommends avoiding peanut products for now. But another doctor gave me the opposite advice. What should I do?

DEAR READER: If your child has a food allergy, you may well agonize over the safety of his every meal and snack. And no wonder. Food allergies can cause severe -- even deadly -- allergic reactions. Peanut allergies can cause bad rashes, severe difficulty breathing, a dangerous drop in blood pressure and other dangerous results. But a study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine offers some hope for parents of infants who may be headed toward a peanut allergy. That hope is peanuts.

Why should I increase my postassium intake if I have high blood pressure?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have high blood pressure. As I expected, my doctor told me to cut down on sodium. But he also told me to increase my potassium intake. Why?

DEAR READER: Sodium and potassium are two minerals that form salts. Your question reminded me of a patient I look care of long ago, who also had a high blood pressure problem. I asked her to substitute potassium salt for the usual table salt (which contains sodium). I'll tell you what happened later. People with diets high in potassium have lower blood pressures than those with potassium-poor diets.

Is there a way to prevent delirium during a long hospital stay?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My elderly mother has a number of health conditions. Over the past year, she has ended up in the hospital four times. The last two times, she became delirious. Is there anything we can do to prevent delirium if she has to have another hospital stay?

DEAR READER: Unfortunately, delirium is common among older patients in hospitals, particularly after surgery or during a stay in an intensive care unit (ICU). One-third to two-thirds of elderly hospital patients develop delirium.