On prebiotics and probiotics – what labels won’t tell you

Dear Dr. Mo: I would like to know more about prebiotics and probiotics, especially in treating specific conditions – I found it difficult to find information on their applications and effects different strains of probiotics may have.

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Dear reader: In response to your interesting question about use and effectiveness of probiotics, I’ve been browsing the dairy sections (containing yogurts, kefirs and alike) of some popular supermarkets here in Vancouver, BC to actually see what are the health claims the manufacturers (are allowed to) put on their probiotic-containing products.

To my surprise I was unable to find any concrete or revealing claim, which would help a person (patient or clinician for that matter) decide which product to choose and whether or not this particular probiotic product is a right choice for a potential medical condition. Most claimed to support or improve a body function but not to treat a condition/disease. Continue reading

Blood in urine

Dear Dr. Mo: What is Heamturia and if I would have it, what could be causing it?

Dear reader: Hematuria is a medical term, which we use to describe presence of blood (or red blood cells) in urine and it always warrants further medical

Any blood in urine is a serious symptom

Any blood in urine is a serious symptom

investigation and evaluation.

Blood should not be found in urine in any amount under normal circumstances.

If it is there it may be visually undetectable – this condition is called micro-hematuria – and only urine lab tests can establish blood’s presence.
If you can visually notice blood in urine this condition is referred to as gross (macro) hematuria. Continue reading

That (in)famous water weight

Dear Dr. Mo: Why does weight fluctuate during the course of a day? Normally my weight is lower early in the morning than it is at night.

Dear reader: The most common reason for such daily weight fluctuations is so called “water weight”.

Water influences our weight

Water influences our weight

What does “water weight” mean?

You retain some water during the day and this is reflected in changes in your scaled weight within 24-hour periods. These changes are not drastic and are usually anywhere between a few hundred grams to about 2 kilograms (a few pounds).

Now to be clear, these gains are certainly not in fat – to gain so much fat in a day (say about 2 kilos) one would have to consume about 14 000 to 15 000 calories, which is borderline impossible and probably not even survivable. Continue reading

Each day is Valentine’s day

Dear readers, on February 14th, St. Valentine’s day, many are exchanging gifts and greeting cards with their partners and you can almost feel the festive-like atmosphere, mostly in shops, malls and restaurants.

Valentine's or not..

Valentine’s or not..

It’s an engineered occasion, designed and advertised solely for commercial purposes  (what’s called a  ‘hallmark holiday’) – to make us feel we actually want to celebrate this strange day and to make us, above all, collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars on greeting cards and associated gifts.

St. Valentine’s day is by no means a new date in the calendar – indeed it goes back hundreds of years as a romantic occasion – what’s been a vexing recent development is this global commercialization of the holiday, intended to have us buy outrageously expensive cards with stock photos and cheesy messages someone else thought of so we wouldn’t have to. Continue reading

The importance of eating breakfast

Dear Dr. Mo: How important is breakfast for my health? Should I skip it if I want to lose some weight? I see some of my friends do this.

Dear reader: To answer simply – breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you should never skip it.

That said; let me quickly give a few important reasons for this.

Make it a healthy choice

Make it a healthy choice

Fist and foremost, if you want to lose some weight or just maintain the one you have (especially if it is a healthy one and feels good to you) eating breakfast every morning is the way to go.

I’ve spoken to people whose strategy was to skip breakfast thinking they would reduce their daily amount of calories – you are guessing already – they have failed at that. The reason such a strategy doesn’t work is because without a proper breakfast, you become very hungry by lunch time and not only that but you drive your body into energy conservation mode in which calories are being conserved and stored rather than spent and where your metabolism slows down – all of which is bad news for weight loss. Continue reading

Caught a cold?

Dear Dr. Mo: What exactly is ‘common cold’ and how to recognize it – is that the same as flu? Should I be worried and what to do?

Dear reader: These days you can’t seem to escape people who sneeze, cough, have a runny nose or all of it together – in fact, you may be one of them.

Don’t worry, it’s usually nothing serious, just a mild viral infection of upper airways also known as common cold and it requires no special treatment.

Chicken soup helps in recovery

Chicken soup helps in recovery

The symptoms of common cold may bug us for up to two weeks at a time and if we can maintain our daily function, if there are no serious muscle or joint pains, no high fever or strong headaches and prolonged fatigue it’s not the flu or other serious conditions and you shouldn’t be concerned. But if symptoms persist even after two weeks or start to get worse after 7 – 10 days, visit your doctor to see what’s going on.

Over 100 viruses can cause a common cold and you may experience anything from a runny nose to sore throat, cough and sneezing to watery eyes and strong congestion. Part of the package may also be mild muscle ache and headache, slightly elevated body temperature, mild fatigue and upset fellow elevator passengers. Those unlucky enough may get all these symptoms at once. Continue reading

Butter or Margarine?

Dear Dr. Mo: I love butter but is margarine better for my health? And which one?

butter

Butter is tasty but could hurt health

Dear reader: I remember when I was a child, I used to steal a stick of butter from the fridge and eat it whole, biting on it as if it were an apple. I loved the way it melted through my little fingers and the greasy and salty taste it had as I munched on it. Whenever my theft was discovered, my grandmother wasn’t too happy about it – she thought I would spoil my stomach with that much butter – often times she was right.

For a little child to eat food high in fat content is actually beneficial so my ventures to the fridge weren’t too harmful to my health (apart from occasional diarrhea) but as we age, eating a lot of butter on a regular basis can hurt our health. Butter is made from animal fat (usually from cow’s milk), which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Continue reading

Stop panicking – how to deal with panic attacks

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve been experiencing panic attacks. Is there something other than pills I can do to stop them from happening?

Dear reader: Since I am no psychiatrist, my answer will come out of my own experience and how I had dealt with the same problem years ago.

Panic attack can strike out of nowhere

Let me tell you one thing first – you are not alone.

Over the years I have spoken to many people who have had some variety of a panic attack or an anxiety attack – my interest in the subject wasn’t only medical in nature, it was also personal as I was trying to understand my own struggle and figure out a way to deal with it as well as to help others deal with it.

It was many years ago when it first struck me. It was sudden, out of the blue and right at the time when I was studying the many different diseases a human being can develop and all the complications and adverse outcomes of such conditions. Naturally, I instantaneously began thinking of all the worst case scenarios and thought to myself: “This is it – I’m going to die tonight.” Continue reading

Alcohol – that social lubricant

Dear Dr. Mo: I want to know some basic facts about alcohol and what it does to me when I drink. Is there a safe amount that’s actually good for health?

Don’t drink and drive!

Dear reader: Sometimes you might hear from a doctor that moderate alcohol consumption is good for health.

The peril lies in the word “moderate” for it is arbitrary; it is not the same for everyone and one could easily slip from moderation to amounts that are not at all useful to health. We could certainly argue if alcohol is useful in any amount because while it may be beneficial to one part of the body, it is damaging to another.

We don’t really need alcohol as far as maintaining our health is concerned so if you’ve never drank, don’t start as risks outweigh potential benefits.

Chocolate & health

Dear Dr. Mo: Are there any health benefits I could possibly get by eating chocolate? I just love it so much.

Dear reader: What a sweet question (and I mean literally).
The answer is YES but let me make one clarification right from the start: when we talk about potential health benefits of chocolate, we always refer to dark chocolate, which has a high cocoa content.

Dark chocolate has health benefits

It is the Flavanols in cocoa beans that have antioxidant effects responsible for most of the benefits that come from dark chocolate consumption. Flavanols reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease and also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. Eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate was associated with a lower risk of being hospitalized for heart failure.

Flavanols are thought to also reduce the levels of stress hormone Cortisol and its metabolic effects and they are being researched for their sun protecting abilities, doubling the time before which skin turns red in the sun, marking the beginning of a sun burn. Continue reading

Ibuprofen – pros and cons

Dear Dr. Mo: Why is Ibuprofen so ‘good’ and always prescribed as a medication in flu conditions? Are there any known side effects for using it?

Dear reader: Ibuprofen belongs to a class of medications called NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It works by discontinuing the body’s production of chemical messengers that cause pain, fever, and inflammation. These substances are called ‘prostaglandins’. But prostaglandins also help protect the lining of your stomach and other tissues, so blocking their production can cause side effects such as ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding, which is the most common concern when NSAIDs are being used.

Use pain relievers with caution

Ibuprofen is one of the drugs used to relieve pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis (arthritis caused by a breakdown of the lining of the joints) and rheumatoid arthritis (arthritis caused by swelling of the lining of the joints).

Most people use ibuprofen to reduce fever and to relieve mild pain from headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, menstrual periods, the common cold, toothaches, and backaches. Ibuprofen also works well to alleviate hangover symptoms (mostly headache and chills).

All these effects are reasons why this drug is so often prescribed and used.

Now let’s turn to the other part of your question: the side effects. Continue reading

Drink water to stay healthy

Dear Dr. Mo: How much water do I really need to stay hydrated and healthy?

Dear reader: This is the time of year where common colds are indeed common and when you will often hear that advice to drink lots of fluid, usually herbal teas or water. Of course, water is essential to your health but the needs for water vary from person to person and many factors may influence that, like for example your health condition, your daily activities, where you live, your age, metabolic rate etc.

Water means health!

Water is our main constituent – it makes up about 60% of our body mass. We need water to maintain normal functions: we throw out waste matter dissolved in water, water participates in digestion of food, it carries nutrients to cells, we use water to show emotions when we cry etc.

Water also helps to regulate body temperature through perspiration (sweating).

When water is insufficient we dehydrate. Dehydration is a state in which our cells don’t have enough water to function normally. Even a mild dehydration could cause fatigue because when tissues lose water, enzymes are slowing down their functions and energy production drops.

A simple way to see the link between health and water is to observe what happens when we age. As we age, the water content of our bodies is decreasing steadily and while a newborn is 80% water, in an adult this ratio is at 60% and it keeps on decreasing as years go by. Continue reading

Diabetes and weight – what is the link?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the link between being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes? Can diabetes be prevented or cured somehow?

Dear reader: First of all it is worth pointing out that diabetes is a chronic condition. For most types (except gestational type) this chronicity means that once it occurs, it stays for life – this is not a disease we can effectively cure with our present knowledge but we can quite successfully manage it.

Before I go into your question, let me first explain the diabetes landscape and basic mechanisms behind it as Type 2 is not the only game in town.

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The danger of diabetes lies in a condition called Hyperglycaemia – raised blood sugar level – which is a common result of uncontrolled/undiagnosed diabetes, which over time causes serious damage to the body, especially to blood vessels and nerves.

Food choices affect our health

Diabetes has its types and these differ in both the ways they start and the ways in which we manage them.

Type 1 Diabetes

This type had previously been known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes. Here, our pancreas gland becomes deficient in insulin production and there is simply no longer enough of it to properly regulate our blood sugar levels. Management requires daily administration of insulin and this type cannot be prevented with our current understanding as the cause is not known although we do think it is due to the self-inflicting damage to pancreas (process called “auto immune response”). Continue reading

Sleep, health and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking into some weight loss programs and I am trying to work out my strategy to come back to my healthy weight. My work sometimes requires giving up on sleep and I tend to be too tired too often. Should I also consider better sleep as part of my weight loss strategy?

Dear reader: What an insightful question! Many of the dieting programs focus heavily on dietary habits and the types of foods we eat, when we eat them and how much. This is rightly so because to attain and maintain a healthy weight, we require a careful selection of healthful foods and a balanced way to eat them. We should also be mindful of our calorie total– don’t go below 1200 calories a day to avoid driving your body into starvation mode.

Sleep is a big part of your healthy weight

Dieting programs also focus on exercise, again rightly so because you need a way to burn through a few hundred calories a day in order to lose about 500 grams a week – which is the pace I’d recommend.  If you cut out 500 calories a day, every day, you’ll be losing about 500 grams of weight a week.

What most dieting programs don’t talk about, and I think they should, is a major component of our health – sleep.

If we don’t sleep well and don’t get enough of it, our health suffers and it becomes increasingly difficult to curb the appetite and control our weight. Being overweight deteriorates our health in both the short and the long run.

Disrupted sleep patterns disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase sleep deprivation, which in turn increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
There are two of these hormones that regulate our appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness – leptin and ghrelin – and both are directly affected by how much sleep time we give ourselves. Continue reading

Multivitamins – yes or no?

Dear Dr. Mo: How useful are multivitamin supplements and when should you take them? I tend to take them during the winter when I think I might be more likely to catch a cold from my students…

Dear reader:First of all, try to eat a healthy diet – this goes without saying. A multivitamin daily dose does provide some help against nutritional deficiencies but cannot and should not replace the natural way we take in vitamins – through a healthy and balanced diet. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, nuts and low in red meat and unhealthy fats.  For those people who manage to eat a healthy diet like that, a multivitamin may have little or no benefit.

Healthy diet removes the need for multivitamins

I realize however that many people don’t manage to eat such balanced and healthy diets for a variety of different reasons, some economic, some behavioral, some social etc.  In such cases, as well as in cases like yours (prophylactic), a simple message is this: a daily multivitamin is a good insurance policy for your nutrition!

Taking a daily multivitamin and perhaps some extra vitamin D is an inexpensive way for you to fill in some of the nutritional gaps and make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.

There are even added health benefits to such habits – Folic acid found in most multivitamins helps prevent neural tube deficits in newborns if women take it before they become pregnant and during pregnancy; this acid also lowers risk for breast and colon cancer and heart disease. Continue reading