Heart disease runs in the family, how do I talk to my kids about what this means for them?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had a heart attack in my 50s, and so did my dad. Heart disease obviously runs in the family. How do I talk to my kids about what this means for them?

DEAR READER: As a parent, you already know that taking care of your children is just as (if not more) important as taking care of yourself. If you have a family history of heart disease, that means teaching your children what they can and should do to prevent heart disease.

Will tai chi help my fibromyalgia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have fibromyalgia, and my doctor recommends that I start tai chi exercises. Like any exercise, it will take time. So I want to be sure it really might help me. Can it?

DEAR READER: One of the many practices from Asia that have spread to the West in the past 40 years is tai chi. It is often described as "meditation in motion." I think it could just as well be called MEDICATION in motion. This mind-body practice appears to help treat or prevent many health problems. Tai chi is a low-impact, slow-motion exercise.

Does a healthy diet include red meat?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I love red meat and I'm not going to stop eating it. Is it still possible for me to eat a healthy diet?

DEAR READER: I can't think of any food that a person should never eat; it's always a matter of degree. As you've read many times in this column, there is solid scientific evidence that a healthy diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins such as fish, poultry, nuts and legumes. But you don't have to give up red meat entirely.

What could cause fecal incontinence?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my late 50s, but I have fecal incontinence. What could be causing it?

DEAR READER: We begin having bowel movements soon after birth, and controlling the process soon thereafter. So it is a surprising and disturbing event when we cannot hold our stool long enough to reach the bathroom, or experience unexpected leakage of stool when we haven't felt any urge. You should know that there are many people with this problem.

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.