Archive for September, 2015

Can you explain what a low glycemic index diet is?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Diabetes runs in my family, and my mother says I should eat a "low glycemic index" diet. Can you explain what this is?

DEAR READER: Carbohydrates ("carbs," for short) are one of the main types of nutrients in food. Common sources of carbs include bread, pasta, cereals, fruit, milk, vegetables and beans. The carbs we eat are mostly too big for us to digest. Carbs are long strings of a certain type of molecule. Think of them as a string of pearls. When they hit the gut, digestive enzymes start to chop them up. It is the one-pearl and two-pearl strings that are the sugars that get digested and travel from the gut into the blood.

What is tooth decay, and how does it happen?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is tooth decay, and how does it happen?

DEAR READER: Tooth decay is a disease of the mouth that can lead to cavities and infection. But before we start talking about sick teeth, let's talk about healthy teeth. Each tooth has one or more roots that are anchored in the bones of the jaw. Since those roots are inside the jaw bone, they are invisible. The part of the tooth that we see, sticking out above the gumline, is the crown. The crown of the tooth is covered with a hard, whitish material called enamel.

Can I do anything to reduce the risk of glaucoma?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother has open-angle glaucoma. This increases my risk for glaucoma. Can I do anything to reduce that risk?

DEAR READER: You're right to think that your risk is increased. Because your mother has the condition, your chance of getting it is at least double that of most people you know. That doesn't mean you definitely will get glaucoma; it just means you inherit a risk, and therefore need to be particularly careful.

I hurt my back, how soon can I return to my normal activities?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I hurt my back a few weeks ago. I'm feeling better now, but not 100 percent. How quickly should I return to normal activities? I don't want to reinjure my back.

DEAR READER: You're wise to be cautious. After an episode of back pain, it's essential to properly time your return to normal activities. Too rapid a return could lead to a relapse. But -- and this is an important "but" -- too timid a return can delay, or even prevent, recovery. It used to be that doctors recommended immobility and bed rest for people with a sudden back injury that was causing a lot of pain.

How do you treat restless legs syndrome?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've just been diagnosed with restless legs syndrome. Can you tell me the latest medicines for this condition?

DEAR READER: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs. In describing these odd sensations, my patients use words such as "tingling," "prickly," "crawling," "pulling" and, sometimes, "painful." The discomfort of RLS usually comes with an overwhelming urge to move the legs. In fact, moving the legs may actually make them temporarily feel better.

Are there health benefits to spices?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've read about the health benefits of spices that most of us have in our kitchen cabinets. Is there anything to this?

DEAR READER: I'll bet you've been seasoning your food for years, using herbs and spices to add freshness and depth to your dishes. Researchers have begun to investigate the effects of these flavor enhancers on health. It turns out that herbs and spices may do much more than make your food more inviting.

Are mouth guards an effective treatment for sleep apnea?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have sleep apnea, and I don't particularly like the CPAP treatment. I've heard that night guards might be an effective alternative. What can you tell me?

DEAR READER: One way or another, getting treatment for sleep apnea is really important. Untreated, sleep apnea increases your risk for high blood pressure, stroke and early death. The airways of people with obstructive sleep apnea narrow as they sleep, and air struggles to get through. People with this condition may breathe shallowly or stop breathing several times an hour.

Should I eat fish, or take fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Heart disease runs in my family. Should I eat fish, or take fish oil supplements?

DEAR READER: Eating fish regularly reduces a person's risk of sudden death from heart disease. It's also brain-healthy. For that reason, I and most doctors recommend a regular diet of fish for people who have heart disease. And also for people like you where heart disease runs in the family. Fish oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of "healthy fat."

How seriously do I need to take prehypertension?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 20s. My doctor says I have prehypertension. How seriously do I need to take this?

DEAR READER: Quite seriously. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher. Only a few decades ago, blood pressure lower than that was considered normal -- or, at least, not worth worrying about. But during the last 20 years, multiple long-term studies have shown that people with blood pressures higher than 120/80 but lower than 140/90 have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

How can I get rid of bloating?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I feel bloated and my belly looks larger than normal. Is this due to excess gas? What can I do to feel better?

DEAR READER: That feeling of fullness and tightness in the abdomen is called bloating. Distension is the term for the increased size of your abdomen. Excess gas is probably not to blame for either problem. It makes sense to think that bloating and distension would be due to excess gas. But scientists have measured gas content in those who have bloating and distension, and people with these symptoms do not have more gas than people without symptoms.