Could stem cells be used to treat Type 1 diabetes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 8 years old. Fortunately, exercise, a good diet and insulin treatments have kept her healthy. I recently heard of a breakthrough at Harvard that might someday cure Type 1 diabetes. Can you explain?

DEAR READER: The research you're referring to was conducted in the Harvard laboratory of Dr. Douglas Melton. Like you, Dr. Melton has a child with Type 1 diabetes. When his child became sick, he redirected his laboratory to the goal of finding a cure.

Is there a treatment or vaccine being created for Ebola?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Like everyone, I'm afraid that the Ebola virus could spread in the United States. There must be research underway to find treatments, and vaccines to prevent it in the first place. Please tell me there is.

DEAR READER: Infection with the Ebola virus is indeed frightening. In West Africa, the site of the latest outbreak of Ebola, more than half the people who have become infected with it have died. I doubt there will be an epidemic of Ebola in the U.S. and other developed nations, but there have been cases, and there will be more.

Should I stop taking niacin to raise my HDL cholesterol?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For years I've taken niacin to raise my HDL cholesterol. Now my doctor wants me to stop. Why?

DEAR READER: When we talk about cholesterol, we're generally referring to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL is also known as "bad" cholesterol. When there is more LDL than necessary in the bloodstream, the LDL cholesterol burrows inside blood vessel walls. It slowly forms plaques of atherosclerosis. When those plaques rupture and block blood flow, they cause heart attacks and strokes.

What are phytonutrients?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've mentioned phytonutrients in a few recent columns. What are they? And what can they do for our health?

DEAR READER: Let's begin by breaking "phytonutrients" into its two parts. First, "nutrients." These are chemicals in our environment that we need to get inside our body, usually through eating foods that contain them. Nutrients are a necessary part of our body chemistry. Indeed, many are necessary for the life of most living things.

Is there evidence the HPV vaccine has real benefits?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter's pediatrician would like her to have the HPV vaccine. I'm not sure. Is there evidence the HPV vaccine has some real benefit?

DEAR READER: Yes, there is evidence -- overwhelming evidence. And with this vaccine, the benefit is not that it will reduce the risk of a short-lived illness, like the flu. This vaccine will reduce your daughter's risk of getting a common and life-threatening cancer. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and genital warts

What is diabetic nephropathy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have diabetes. My doctor says I'm at risk for diabetic nephropathy. What is that? What can I do to prevent it?

DEAR READER: Diabetic nephropathy is kidney disease that is a complication of diabetes. Your kidneys are made up of hundreds of thousands of small tubes that filter your blood and help remove waste from your body. In people with poorly controlled diabetes, these structures thicken and become scarred. Over time, the kidneys lose their ability to remove waste products from the blood.

What can I expect when my daughter goes through puberty?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What should I expect when my daughter goes through puberty? How can I help her as she goes through these changes?

DEAR READER: Full disclosure: I don't have any personal or parental experience to tap into for this question. Experienced colleagues and friends always emphasize how important it is to discuss puberty with your daughter before these changes begin. She needs to know what to expect and also that these changes are perfectly normal. Otherwise, she might be frightened by the first signs of change, such as her first menstrual bleeding.

What are natural methods of treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have irritable bowel syndrome with alternating constipation and diarrhea. Will eating more fiber help? What about probiotics or other non-medical treatments?

DEAR READER: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder with many unpleasant symptoms. Many people with IBS go back and forth between diarrhea and constipation, with pain and bloating in between. Others always have diarrhea or constipation. Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS. However, there are a number of things you can do to improve your symptoms. Adding fiber to your diet can help relieve constipation.

What should I know about traveling during pregnancy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My job requires a lot of travel, and I recently became pregnant with my first child. What do I need to know about traveling safely during pregnancy?

DEAR READER: Being pregnant doesn't mean you have to stay at home for nine months. There are exceptions; particularly in the last three months, some women develop complications of pregnancy that require them to be resting. But for most women, travel poses no threat to the mother or child. But travel by car, train or airplane can be less comfortable when you're pregnant, so you should take a few precautions to travel comfortably and safely.

Do I need an annual physical if I’m in good health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 73 and in great health. Do I really need to have an annual physical?

DEAR READER: Let's start by defining "great health." I would define it as having no known chronic (ongoing) illnesses. However, most people your age have at least one chronic illness, such as high blood pressure. People with chronic illnesses need to be checked out at least once a year, and usually more often.Even if they don't have any chronic illnesses, I ask my patients to come in for a checkup every year. That includes asking and answering some questions, a physical examination and some screening tests.