Archive for August, 2009

ASK DR. H: Parathyroid problems can pull calcium from bones

Q: On a routine blood test, my serum calcium was high, and my doctor found that my parathyroid hormone level was elevated. For now, he’s just watching things. What is the implication of this? – K.W., Philadelphia

A: With all the talk these days about calcium and osteoporosis, you might think that a disorder that causes an increased level of calcium in the blood would be a good thing. But our bodies like balance. There’s a narrow range of calcium in the blood that’s needed for your muscle cells (including heart muscle) to contract and function properly, for clotting, for proper nerve function and for certain enzymes to activate normally. Too much calcium in the blood can cause confusion, constipation, kidney stones, nausea, excess urination, dehydration, muscle weakness and bone pain.

Parathyroid hormone, or PTH, is secreted by four pea-size glands in the neck, just behind the thyroid gland. A fall in blood calcium (or a rise in blood phosphorus) triggers PTH release. PTH …

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PEOPLE’S PHARMACY: Don’t use kerosene to kill lice

Q: My kids and I have a major problem with lice. We have spent lots of time and money fighting them, but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. A friend has recommended kerosene, but that freaks me out. Isn’t there a more natural way to free us from nit-picking?

A: Do not use kerosene to kill lice. It is toxic and a fire hazard. Lice have developed resistance to many of the common treatments used against them. The Food and Drug Administration has just approved a new prescription lice medication. The treatment, Ulesfia, contains benzyl alcohol as the active ingredient. This compound interferes with the critters’ respiration, so lice are unlikely to develop resistance.

Many parents tell us that Listerine works against lice. It contains ethyl alcohol along with a number of herbal oils that seem to kill lice.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. They can be reached at peoples

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Short on self esteem? Maybe not

For parents who worry that their short child will be psychologically damaged from merciless teasing, a new study provides reassurance that there will likely be no lasting effects from any exposure to short jokes.
The study, which appears in the September issue of Pediatrics, found that short children reported being teased only slightly more than their peers, but such teasing didn’t appear to affect their popularity or relationships with other children. And, short children were no more likely than their peers to have symptoms of depression.

Read more about the study here, and tell us what you think. Do you have a short child who is teased by classmates? How do you deal with it? Or, did you face similar teasing as a child? Did it have any long-term effect?

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DOCTOR IS IN: Protecting your child from heat-related illness


Medical Director, Sports Medicine Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine.

From recreational activities to free-play to team sports to camps, outdoor activities in the south during the late summer months have one thing in common — the heat.

Heat-related illness is responsible for thousands of emergency room visits.  Heat injury can range from mild heat cramps to heat stroke and death.  It’s always concerning when I get a call from an athletic trainer, coach or parent telling me a child had to go to the hospital to be treated for dehydration or heat illness, because these conditions are largely preventable.

Armed with basic knowledge about how the body regulates temperature and simple hydration tips, parents can reduce the risk of children suffering heat-related illness.

How children’s bodies regulate temperature

Kids generate more heat during exercise …

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THINNER YOU: Fend off the ‘Freshman 15′


College opens up a whole new world for many. A world of freedom, hard work, late nights and late mornings, cramming, fun with friends, and all too often, binges on unhealthy food. Before calls for convenience overrun calls for health, take a minute to think about what you are eating. Make smart choices to ensure that the “Freshman 15″ weight gain will pass you by.

The”Freshman 15″ is the weight that young people who first go away to university can gain once in their new environment, often 15 pounds or more. It’s much easier to prevent extra pounds than to try to lose the excess weight later. Going to college is such a big change in life; you’ll want to be the healthiest that you can be to get off on the right foot. The freshman year is a critical period to combat this or any weight gain.

It’s probably a lot harder to get the right things in your body when you or the school cafeteria is doing all of the cooking, not your parents. To start with, …

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AGING & CARING: The secret guilt of caregivers


Many of us looking after an elder have heard the nagging whisper of guilt, like a pesky monkey parked on the shoulders who just won’t quit poking us: Feeling guilty when you lose your patience, feeling guilty for complaining about lack of sleep or lack of money, feeling guilty about not having enough time for the person or for the rest of your family.

There’s even happiness guilt – when caregivers feel bad about feeling good.

It’s a strange paradox that having positive feelings should be yet another source of self-flagellation, but there you have it. Take, for example, the caregiver I talked with recently who’d been agonizing over whether it was time to place her mother in a care facility. Her mother, an obese diabetic, had incontinence that was getting harder to manage, and there were increasing signs of advancing dementia. The daughter just couldn’t decide what to do. Then the mother needed a foot amputation related to her diabetes. …

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HEALTHY EATING: Sensible advice from Julia


The August release of the film “Julie & Julia” and commemoration of Julia Child’s birthday on Aug. 15 inspired me to reflect on food and nutrition lessons learned from time spent speaking with and reading about the late culinary icon.

Julia Child and Carolyn O’Neil enjoy lunch at Le Cirque 2000 in New York (1997).

While working on the manuscript for my book, “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!,” I asked Julia — who was then well into her 80s and known for her love of butter and cream — what advice she might have for planning a healthy dinner party menu. She offered a stealth strategy. “If you serve a health-conscious meal to guests, don’t say so. Don’t mention it at all. You shouldn’t let nutrition get in the way of planning a good meal. Think taste first!”

Sensible. Her advice, whether for chopping celery or whisking a bowl of meringue, was always sensible. During an interview in 1997 at my home in Atlanta for a CNN profile, she shared that …

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PEOPLE’S PHARMACY: Is Listerine a mouthwash, and a deodorant?

Q: I have suffered from foul-smelling armpits as far back as I can remember. I have tried every deodorant on the market to no avail — Dove, Lady Speed Stick, Soft & Dri, Degree, Suave, Mitchum, Ban, Crystal, vinegar, baking soda, milk of magnesia, alcohol, Arrid Extra Dry and Certain Dri. Certain Dri was the best of these, but there still seemed to be an underlying aroma to my pits.

I decided to try Listerine, as I’d seen it in some comments on your Web site. I was worried that I would smell before the day’s end, but I was actually fresh when I got home. That just doesn’t happen, trust me. Listerine is the way to go!

A: We are as surprised as you are that Listerine worked to control odor so well.

This old-fashioned mouthwash has no antiperspirant activity, but perhaps the alcohol and herbal oils (thymol, eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate) kill germs and fungi well enough to prevent an unpleasant smell for hours.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist and Teresa Graedon is an …

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ASK DR. H: Should I get shingles vaccine?

Q:  Is it helpful to get the shingles vaccine if I’ve already had shingles? — M.P., Lima, Ohio

A:  Yes. The Zostavax vaccine, approved for folks 60 older who have a healthy immune system, can cut the risk of having an outbreak of shingles (a reactivation of the chickenpox virus) at least in half — even if they’ve already had a previous outbreak. Furthermore, in folks who receive the Zostavax vaccine and end up getting shingles, there’s a two-thirds reduction in the incidence of “post-herpetic neuralgia,” a very painful, often chronic nerve pain that typically follows a bout of shingles.

Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.

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DOCTOR IS IN: Long summer days bring sunshine and skin challenges


Associate Professor of Dermatology, Emory University School of Medicine, Co-Director of Dermatologic Surgery for Emory Healthcare.

Doctors who specialize in caring for the skin know it is a complicated, living organ system that fulfills important functional and aesthetic roles. The skin is the envelope that not only covers our body, but it is also the structure that gives rise to our hair, our nails and allows us to sense hot, cold and pressure.

Skin protects virtually all other organs, plays a key role in body temperature regulation and is equipped with myriad early warning systems. The skin serves as a barrier between germs, such as bacteria, and internal organs; and prevents the loss of too much water and other fluids.

With the important role skin plays in our health overall, dermatologists are always talking about protecting the skin by preventing problems whenever and wherever possible. We all want our skin to look its best as we age, and …

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