Q: I’ve been putting my medication on top of my microwave oven for many years. It’s convenient and I never forget them. Does the microwave have any effect on my medication? — D.S., Exeter, Pa.
A: It might, only from the standpoint that medications have a recommended storage temperature and heat generated from placing pills on an oven of any type could cause pill degradation. The closer you place the pills toward the rear fan, the more heat they’ll receive. And obviously, a minute or two of use to reheat leftovers won’t generate as much heat as cooking a turkey or casserole.
While we’re on the subject of microwaves, several readers have asked me if I thought they are safe to use long-term.
Microwaves do not leave any residual radiation behind, since microwave energy is converted to heat energy as soon as it’s absorbed by food.
As soon as you open the microwave door, the magnetron that produces microwaves ceases immediately. It’s like a light bulb in that the filament stops glowing when the switch is turned off. By the way, microwaves are far less powerful than X-ray radiation.
A properly closed microwave door does not leak radiation; home microwave detectors are available to test your microwave if you’re in doubt (although their sensitivity is fair at best). Your local Food and Drug Administration office or your state health department may be able to arrange more accurate testing. Radiation exposure from microwaves should not occur unless there’s a leak from a damaged door.
The biggest danger I see with microwaves is the risk of burns from steam, boiling water and splattering of very hot foods. Of course, traditional ovens and stovetops cause their fair share of burns, too.
Q: I’ve been taking a gingko biloba supplement every day for the past five years to help with my memory and to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But I just heard on the news that a large study found that gingko doesn’t work. I think that it does help me remember things better, but should I stop taking gingko in light of this new study? — T.Y., Jackson, Mich.
A: Unfortunately, it seems that taking gingko biloba to help with memory, cognitive decline and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease is a wasted effort. Although some folks do feel that it helps, the perceived benefit is likely from hope and optimism rather than gingko.
The largest (3,069) and longest (six years) independent study ever conducted to assess gingko’s ability to prevent memory loss has just released its findings that gingko does not delay or prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (Dec. 30, 2009, Journal of the American Medical Association).
Although nothing can totally prevent Alzheimer’s disease, a study supporting the mind-body connection published in the Jan. 17, 2006, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that among the 1,740 well-educated, dementia-free, mostly white participants (age 65 and older), those who exercised three or more times a week had a 38 percent lower incidence of dementia.
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.