Archive for June, 2016

Is it safe to take an antidepressant during pregnancy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have been on SSRI medicines for depression for five years. I'm trying to get pregnant, and I hear that SSRIs might be dangerous. What do I need to know?

DEAR READER: I love to receive questions that I can answer confidently. Yours is not one of them. The evidence from different studies is conflicting. Here's my best attempt to weigh the risks against the benefits.

Is exercise good for the brain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I do both aerobic exercises and resistance (strength) training exercises. Recently I heard that aerobic exercise might be better for the brain. Is there any truth to that?

DEAR READER: You probably are referring to a study published in February 2016 that got a lot of media attention. Before getting into the details of that study, it's worth talking more about exercise and the brain.

How much sleep do I need?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I average about six hours of sleep each night. How much is enough, and how much do most people get?

DEAR READER: Let's start with how much is enough. Many large studies have found that people who average fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, or more than nine hours, have more health problems. That is, there is an association between "too little" or "too much" sleep and health problems.

Could you discuss the new approach to vaccines that could supposedly revolution immunization?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I heard on television about a possible new vaccine against HIV, Ebola and other terrible viruses. That sounds like very good news, or is it just hype?

DEAR READER: You may well have heard about a new approach to creating vaccines. The approach is called "passive immunization with neutralizing antibodies." It could revolutionize immunization against Ebola and other viruses, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and influenza (flu) viruses.

Can I do anything to help prevent another kidney stone?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently passed a kidney stone, and it was really painful. My doctor gave me medicine. Is there anything else I can do to prevent another one?

DEAR READER: Besides the medicine, your diet can influence your risk of getting another kidney stone. Kidney stones are hard chemical deposits that form inside the kidneys. They can be as small as grains of sand and pass painlessly out of the body in urine. But they also can be the size of a pea, a marble or even larger.

What can elephants teach us about cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I heard on the radio about a new research finding that elephants don't get cancer. If we could figure out why, could we protect ourselves against cancer?

DEAR READER: A recent study found that elephants (and many animals) do, in fact, get cancer, but have lower rates of death from it than humans do. The study also found one possible explanation that, as you suggest, might someday help us deal with cancer.

How can I practice mindful eating?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard so much about mindful eating. How do I practice it?

DEAR READER: Mindful eating is the opposite of mindless eating -- a lack of awareness of the food we're consuming. What is mindless eating? Think about something you've eaten in the past few hours. You probably remember what it was -- say, an apple. But do you remember the sensation of eating it? The burst of juice as you bit through the skin? The initial tart bite, followed by the sweetness of the apple's flesh? If you're like many of us, then probably not.

Can children benefit from yoga?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 8-year-old daughter has expressed an interest in taking a yoga class, but I don't want to waste my money. Can children really benefit from yoga?

DEAR READER: Yes, they can. I spoke to Dr. Marlynn Wei, who is a psychiatrist, certified yoga teacher, and author of the upcoming Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga. She noted that yoga and mindfulness (a related practice) have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in children.