Archive for the ‘Ask Dr. H’ Category

ASK DR. H: Players can benefit from video games

Q: Do you think there’s any benefit to my 9-year-old granddaughter playing video games? — P.L., Atlanta

Can playing video games offer health benefits? AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Can playing video games offer health benefits? AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

A: Believe it or not, psychologists have found that carefully chosen non-violent games do have some surprising brain-enhancing benefits.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota looked at existing research on video games and found that avid video game players are fast and accurate information processors, not only during game play, but in real-life situations as well. For example, regular video gamers got faster not only on their game of choice, but on a variety of unrelated lab tests of reaction time. Additionally, the researchers found that contrary to the popular belief that fast decisions lead to more mistakes, avid gamers do not lose accuracy (in the game or in lab tests) as they get faster. They also found that playing video games enhances performance on mental rotational skills, visual and …

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ASK DR. H: Heat from microwave could degrade pills

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 …

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ASK DR. H: New technique helps study masses

Q: I recently underwent a needle biopsy of my left breast because of a mass that the doctors thought could be cancer. Do you know if there is a better way to tell if a mass is cancer without having to go through a biopsy procedure? 
— A.S., Philadelphia

A: The gold standard for the initial diagnosis of a breast abnormality is still the needle biopsy. That said, there is a new technique known as “elastography” that, when added to a breast ultrasound study, can help distinguish between cancer and benign breast lesions.

Elastography improves upon traditional ultrasonography by measuring the compressibility and mechanical properties of a breast mass. Since malignant breast masses tend to be stiffer than surrounding healthy tissue or cysts, a more compressible mass on elastography is less likely to be cancerous.

As part of an ongoing seven-year study conducted at the Charing Cross Hospital Breast Unit in London, 179 patients underwent breast ultrasound and elastography. …

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ASK DR. H: Extra selenium not recommended

Q: What’s your opinion on taking a selenium supplement? I’ve been taking one for years, but now I’m hearing that it might not be such a good thing. — M.C., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

A: Beyond the selenium content in food and a multivitamin you might be taking, I would not advise taking any extra selenium.

Although selenium is a known anti-oxidant that had been thought to protect against cancer and heart disease, several recently published studies suggest that too much selenium may actually be harmful. One study published in the Aug. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that people receiving 200 micrograms of selenium daily might have a higher incidence of diabetes. Another recent study from the University of Warwick, England, found that taking too much selenium or consuming too much dietary selenium was associated with an 8 percent rise in total cholesterol and a 10 percent rise in triglycerides and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.

Q: I have a burning …

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ASK DR H: No hard data on cherries treating gout

Q: On the advice of a friend, I’ve been drinking cherry juice every day to prevent a gout attack. I have not had a gout attack in more than four years. Can you explain how cherry juice prevents gout? — S.M., Philadelphia

CherryPharm, Inc.

CherryPharm, Inc.

A: Cherries, whether they are in the form of juice or in a bowl, are probably the No. 1 home remedy used in preventing and treating gout.

For those of you fuzzy on what gout is, it’s an inflammatory joint condition resulting when a supersaturated mixture of uric acid and tissue fluid form needlelike crystals under just the right set of conditions.

Does it really work? I can’t say for sure, because there’s just not enough clinical research behind the numerous anecdotal claims like yours.

One theory is that dark cherries rich in anti-oxidants may help combat inflammation.

A preliminary study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service published in a 2003 issue of the Journal of Nutrition suggests …

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ASK DR H: Alternative sweeteners do not contain sugar alcohol

Q: In products that use Equal/Nutrasweet as their sweetener, there is a sugar alcohol content. What other sugar substitutes have sugar alcohol amounts?
— T.P. Jackson, Mich.

A: No, that’s not quite right. Equal/Nutrasweet is a protein-derived sugar, and has no sugar alcohol content.

I’m guessing that you got the mistaken impression from looking at the label of a “sugar-free” food like dietetic cake, cookies or candy. Those products use alternative sweeteners to sugar such as xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol or lactitol.

Although they’re derived from the alcohol molecule, they’re 100 percent alcohol-free.

Such sugar-free sweeteners are as different from alcohol as a drinking glass is to a handful of sand.

Alcohol-free sugars have been used safely for many years to sweeten calorie-controlled foods, especially commercially baked goods and candy.

Although you might think of sugars as natural sweeteners derived from sugar cane or fruits, there are ways that …

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ASK DR. H: Diseases linked to not breastfeeding

Q: Are there any health problems a mother might face because she did not or could not breastfeed? 
— C.L., Orlando

A: There are a number of diseases linked to women who never breastfed: high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, ovarian and breast cancers and metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that includes obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL “good” cholesterol and a pre-diabetic state of elevated fasting blood sugar). The reasons are not clear, but some proposed explanations include greater weight retained after pregnancy; absence of oxytocin (milk-stimulating) hormone production results in higher blood pressure and pulse rate; women who are not breastfeeding have higher cortisol hormone levels in response to stress, which can cause higher blood sugar, blood pressure and weight gain; and women who are obese and/or diabetic have pre-existing health problems and a more difficult time producing milk.

Dr. Mitchell …

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ASK DR. H: Understanding Fragile X syndrome

Q: What can you tell me about “Fragile X syndrome”? — Anonymous, Dublin

A: Fragile X syndrome may be the most common cause of genetically inherited mental retardation you’ve never heard of. One in every 2,000 males and 1 in every 4,000 females are born with it. Surprisingly, 1 in 259 women in the general population carry the Fragile X gene.

fragile x

Elly and Mike Scott’s son, Morgan, has Fragile X syndrome. Photo by Bob Andres,

It’s a bit tricky, because there are some who have the genetic defect and are normal by all appearances and IQ tests — and then there are those at the other end of the spectrum with severe mental retardation; specific physical appearances (long face and large ears and mitral valve prolapse and double-jointed fingers); and behavioral problems like autism or attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder. Those with Fragile X syndrome may have symptoms that fall anywhere in this spectrum.

This is a genetically inherited disorder, and not …

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ASK DR. H: Chickenpox vaccine not perfect

Q: One of the girls in my daughter’s preschool class came down with the chickenpox even though she was vaccinated against it. Can you explain why her vaccine didn’t work? — A.B., Atlanta

A: The two-dose chickenpox vaccine is very effective, with published efficacy data of 98 percent to 99 percent efficacy after receiving the recommended two-dose vaccine given four to eight weeks apart.

That means that roughly 1 percent or 2 percent of those immunized will still get a bout of chickenpox.

The reason for the vaccination failure is that the individual failed to mount an adequate immune response to protect against someone infected with the chickenpox.

The good news is that this little girl likely had a much milder bout of chickenpox than she otherwise would have had if she had not received any vaccination.

The vaccination almost always protects against serious disease.

Q: For the past few months, I’ve had a swelling of my left testicle that’s occasionally …

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ASK DR. H: Many causes of miscarriage

Q: I recently had a miscarriage, and I’d like to know how long I should wait before trying to conceive again. What do you think caused it? — Anonymous, Orlando

A: When a miscarriage happens, we are forced to bear witness to the complexity of human life and the mystery of creation. Miscarriage is often kept private, and its frequency of occurrence (15 percent to 25 percent) is in sharp contrast to the view that “pregnancy = healthy birth.”

The why may be a simple matter of the mother’s age: Over the age of 35, the risk of chromosomal defects that are incompatible with life increases significantly. About 7 percent of all miscarriages or stillborn deaths are due to a chromosomal abnormality.

There may be a disease or infection that the mother has contributing to an unfavorable environment for a developing baby to grow and develop. Examples include severe kidney disease; uncontrolled diabetes; an underactive thyroid; autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or …

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