Archive for February, 2014

What is the “paleo” diet — is it healthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter and several of her college friends are on the "paleo" diet. What is that? Is it healthy?

DEAR READER: The paleo diet, short for "Paleolithic" diet, restricts what you eat to foods the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age ate 10,000 years ago. While the diet doesn't require you to live like a caveman, it does require you to eat like one. Here's an example of what you can and can't eat on the paleo diet:

How does deep breathing help to control stress?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How does deep breathing help to control stress?

DEAR READER: When we're under stress, our muscles tighten, our heart beats faster, our blood pressure rises and our breathing quickens. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response; it puts the brakes on the biological changes that put us into overdrive. And it turns out we can elicit the relaxation response at will -- by taking deep breaths.

How can I relieve my carpal tunnel discomfort without drugs or surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have carpal tunnel syndrome. How can I relieve the discomfort without drugs or surgery?

DEAR READER: Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain and discomfort in the wrist that can extend into the hand or forearm. It's often caused by activities that require constant use of the wrists. People who spend a lot of time at a computer keyboard, for example, pounding away at the keys, are more likely to experience it.

How often should I have my eyes examined?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How often should I have my eyes examined? What will the doctor check for during the exam?

DEAR READER: Routine examinations in people without known eye diseases, and who don't have hereditary eye diseases in their families, usually are done by optometrists. They also can be done by ophthalmologists (doctors who specialize in eye diseases). You should have your eyes examined every two to four years between the ages of 40 and 64, and then every one to two years after that.

How soon can I resume normal activities after an episode of low back pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm recovering from an episode of low back pain. How quickly (or slowly) should I resume my normal activities? I don't want to reinjure my back.

DEAR READER: You're right: It's a balancing act. Too rapid a return may precipitate a relapse, but too timid a return can delay -- or even prevent -- recovery. I can't give you a definitive answer because I don't know the details of your condition. But here's some general advice.

Is coconut oil healthier than other cooking oils?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Coconut oil is all over the grocery store shelves lately. Is it healthier than other cooking oils?

DEAR READER: I've also noticed that coconut oil seems to be catching on these days. I consulted with Walter Willett, the chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, to get his opinion. Here's what we discussed. Not all cooking oils are created equal. Some are good for your health, while others promote disease. Here is a side-by-side comparison of several common cooking oils:

Is acupuncture an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is acupuncture an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction?

DEAR READER: During an erection, arteries supplying blood widen, and veins leading blood away from the penis clamp down. As a result, more blood is inside the penis, causing it to swell and become firm. It sounds simple, but getting to an erection requires extraordinary orchestration of blood vessels, nerves, hormones and, of course, the psyche. Here is an illustration of this process:

I have irritable bowel syndrome. Can you explain what has caused it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have irritable bowel syndrome. Can you explain what has caused it?

DEAR READER: The honest answer is we don't know what causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over the past 20 years, we've discovered some clues and developed some new treatments. IBS is a common condition. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloating, gassiness and cramping. Here is the criteria that doctors look for when diagnosing IBS:

Will studies of our genes change medicine and improve our lives?

In yesterday's column, a reader asked whether she should be tested for genes linked to Alzheimer's disease. Today, I thought I'd give you my view on the larger question: Will studies of our genes change the practice of medicine and improve our lives?

My answer: During my career, progress in human genetics has been greater than virtually anyone imagined. However, human genetics also has turned out to be much more complicated than people imagined. As a result, we have not moved as rapidly as we had hoped in changing medical practice.

Will it help to get gene testing for Alzheimer’s if it runs in my family?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Alzheimer's runs in my family. Will it help to get gene testing for this disease?

DEAR READER: Family history is indeed a risk factor for Alzheimer's. If you have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's, you're more likely to develop the disease than someone who does not have a close relative with this condition. Genetics is most important in families with a history of early-onset Alzheimer's (occurring between ages 30 and 60). The early-onset form accounts for less than 1 percent of all Alzheimer's cases, but in most people with early-onset disease, the cause is one of several altered, or mutated, genes that the person has inherited from a parent.