Tongue piercing – complications, safety and the right choice of appliance

Dear Dr. Mo: I’d need some guidance about tongue piercing because my daughter has been mentioning she’d like to do it and I’d like to talk to her about it. What are the possible complications – is it infection, injury? What to do?

Avoid steel appliances

Avoid steel appliances

Dear reader: I understand your concerns. Being a parent myself, although blissfully still some years away from these and similar conversations with my daughter, I can appreciate your approach – being open about and discuss it is the right way to go.

To answer your question, it may come as a surprise that the most common complication of tongue piercing is not an infection and it’s not injury, although both of these tend to happen sometimes and could be serious. So, what is it? Continue reading

Marijuana, weight gain and other misfortunes

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m worried that smoking marijuana might make me gain weight – is it true that this could happen?

Dear reader: Consuming marijuana classically produces symptoms of increased appetite (so called the munchies) and in principle, it could lead to weight gain in otherwise healthy individuals. This, in addition to its anti-nausea effect (anti-emetic) is the reason marijuana is sometimes prescribed to cancer patients to alleviate some of their symptoms (from both the illness and its therapy).

Get high and fat

Get high and fat

It also often causes a dry mouth, which is usually noted by users and I should say that the munchies really should be the least of your concerns when smoking marijuana.
Let me explain.

I’ve heard people claim otherwise but the fact is that intoxication with marijuana does significantly impair motor function and consequently seriously interferes with driving ability – being high or being drunk makes almost no difference.
It can also cause a heart to race (tachycardia) and induce serious discomfort and even a panic attack.

Heavy marijuana use over long time is strongly linked to Amotivational syndrome, which is characterized by apathy and boredom – if this sounds too esoteric, let me put it into a real clinical scenario: Continue reading

Here’s Why You’re Really Gaining Weight

Dear Dr. Mo: Could obesity be contagious?

Dear reader: Obesity is of course not infectious per se but it’s well known to be ‘socially contagious’ and in that sense your question is spot on – eating habits of eating companions or groups exert significant influence on us; and we are mostly unaware of this fact.

Social contagion

Social contagion

One is more likely to be overweight if one has a lot of friends who are overweight and a very good way to gain weight is to have lunches or dinners with other people, especially if they are overweight.

On average, if you grab a meal with a friend, you will eat about 35% more than what you would eat if you were eating alone.

If you are eating in a group of 4, you will eat about 75% more and in groups of 7 or more people, you will probably eat 96% more! Continue reading

Stop With the Gluten-Free Already!

Dear Dr. Mo: Is gluten-free food generally a healthier option?

Dear reader: The trouble with gluten-free products is that they tend to have a health aura around them, which sometimes blinds people from seeing what they’re really eating.

There is nothing necessarily healthier about gluten-free bread or cookies or pasta or any other food you can think of. Often, if one took a closer look at the label, the product would likely be lower in protein and fiber than a non gluten-free alternative.  The catch is that the calorie counts remain the same or similar but because we may think that being gluten-free automatically means healthier food, we may eat more of it.

Many people who eat gluten-free foods say they think they’re healthier and also many believe it will help them lose weight but be cautious of this trap as you may actually be gaining weight by eating more and by eating foods with more fat, more sugar, less protein etc.

Continue reading

How to choose adequate UV protection for your eyes?

Dear Dr. Mo: How to be sure my sunglasses protect my eyes well from UV light? Is the price tag sufficient as guidance?

Dear reader: Your question is well timed and important and wherever we go, even when the skies are overcast with clouds, our skin and eyes are constantly exposed to UV light – invisible to us, but potentially damaging nonetheless.
Choosing the right protection becomes an integrative part of a healthy lifestyle.

Glasses UVThe two forms of UV (Ultra Violet) light that affect our health are UVA and UVB. There’s also UVC, which can be extremely damaging but our atmosphere’s ozone layer filters it out completely so it does not figure in our review here.

UVA is responsible for skin tanning and aging and UVB is linked to sunburn and skin cancer; a large portion of UVB is also absorbed by the ozone layer.

UV light also affects eye health and darker lenses may not necessarily provide better protection from it. In fact, a dark lens with poor or no UV protection can do just the opposite – it can damage the eye by allowing more UV rays into it. Continue reading

Zinc for the Common Cold – Does It Work?

Get your Zinc from food

Get your Zinc from food

Dear Dr. Mo: Is Zinc helpful in treating the common cold? Should I use it?

Dear reader: When we catch the infamous cold (acute upper respiratory tract infection), sometimes the symptoms may be severe enough that we reach out to anything that has even a hint of a promise of a quick cure.

 

The truth is, there’s no effective cure other than our own immune system and yet, many supplements are out on the market claiming to boost the immune response and help us fight off the virus.

Evidence is strong against any substantial effectiveness of any of these supplements.

Healthy diet and exercise remain the only sure fire ways to overcome the common cold – yes, even while you’re sick, if you can, you should moderately exercise (or at least stay active) and not rest for too long – this will speed up the recovery.

Zinc time and again emerges as one of the supplements suggested to help us fight the common cold but, does it work? Continue reading

Last Resort: Oral Contraceptives as Emergency Contraception

OCP 2Dear Dr. Mo: What if I needed an emergency contraception and didn’t have it (couldn’t get it) – would a regular pill do the trick?

Dear reader: Even though I don’t recommend this as a contraceptive practice of choice, the answer is Yes.

Any Oral Contraceptive Pill can, in principle, be used as an Emergency Postcoital Contraception (EPC) as long as it contains a certain amount of estrogen hormone; the required amount is 200 μg of ethinyl estradiol (usually 20 – 35 μg of ethinyl estradiol per tablet but it may vary – read the composition label) – take the number of tablets to amount to 200 μg, then repeat in 12 hours. Continue reading

Stroke – The Brain Under Attack – know when to act and do it fast

Early symptoms can be elusive and missed

Early symptoms can be elusive and missed

Dear readers: Some time ago, father of a friend of mine had suffered a stroke – he’s still alive and on his way to recovery mostly because of the prompt and immediate reaction of the people who were there when it happened.
Those first few hours following a stroke are what decide between living or dying, between serious and irreversible brain damage and a minor, repairable one.

Identifying and treating a stroke as quickly as possible can and does save brain cells, brain function, and ultimately, lives. With this in mind, all of us need to know the warning signs of a stroke and when to get help as fast as possible.

So, what signs to look for to suspect a stroke?

I like The U.S. National Stroke Association’s mnemonic FAST as it both conveys the urgency of the situation and it helps us memorize the most important clues. Remember it as Act FAST!

Here’s what it stands for: Continue reading

What is Glycemic Index and how to use it to eat healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I am trying to lose some weight and improve my diet. Is there a way to shop around for good foods that will load me with less sugar and help me eat healthier?

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Dear reader: The total amount of carbohydrates we consume (with a meal or with a snack) mostly determines what happens to our blood sugar levels right after we eat. But, it’s not just the absolute amount of carbs that’s important – the food itself also plays a big part. So, for example, a serving of white bread or white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure table sugar— it produces a quick, high spike in blood sugar. On the other hand though, a serving of something like zucchini, beans or squash has a slower, smaller effect.

Strategically picking good sources of carbs can help us control our blood sugar and in most cases, our weight although I don’t want this to sound too simple. The levels of our activity, age, sex, overall health and metabolism and genetics are all important parts of the equation.

Okay so let me give you one good way we can choose our foods: we can use the glycemic index (GI) to know how much any given food boosts blood sugar.

The glycemic index gives us the effect a certain amount of specific food would have on blood sugar as compared with the same amount of pure glucose. This means that a food with a glycemic index of say 20 boosts blood sugar only 20% as much as pure glucose would. One with a GI of over 90 acts almost like pure glucose.

Glycemic index is easy to use, just choose foods with a low(er) index rather than higher whenever you can. Here’s the breakdown: Continue reading

The powerful vitamin A and what happens in vitamin deficiency

Dear Dr. Mo: You’ve mentioned that Squash is rich in vitamin A but cautioned not to take too much of it. How can vitamins hurt us? Specifically, why is vitamin A important and how can it be harmful? What’s happening in vitamins deficiency?

Squash and pumpkins are awesome sources of vitamin A

Squash and pumpkins are awesome sources of vitamin A

Dear reader: Vitamin A has many vital functions and people associate it with good vision and this is certainly true. This vitamin along with vitamins D,E and K is not water soluble, which means they are not easily removed from our body and can hang on for a long time in our fat tissue, being fat-soluble. That’s why too much of it will stick around and cause problems. Apart from good vision, here are a few other equally significant roles of vitamin A in normal, deficient and excess situation:

1. It is a cofactor for a hormone called PTH (Parathyroid hormone) and this means that without it the hormone cannot function properly. PTH is necessary for Calcium balance in our body – this means that PTH controls the levels of Calcium in our blood; it affects the strength and health of our bones, the absorption of Calcium from our gut etc. Except for bone health, Calcium is also very important in cellular functioning and without it (or with too much of it) many of our vital processes stop or become excessive (for example, muscle contractions including heart, secretion of hormones like for instance insulin etc..).
Contrary to deficiency, vitamin A excess will cause PTH to work too much and increase levels of Calcium at the expense of our bones; too much Calcium will cause problems with muscle contractions known as tetanic contractions, our heart will not beat properly, kidneys may develop stones, Calcium will leak out into urine and the entire system will be thrown off balance.

2. It’s necessary for production of the fluid that cushions and maintains our brain and spinal cord called Cerebro-Spinal Fluid (CSF) – in vitamin A deficiency the CSF production is low but the body doesn’t know it; on the flip side of it, if vitamin A is in excess, too much CSF will cause dangerous increase in pressure in the skull which manifests itself with strong headaches and optic nerve swelling and can lead if left untreated to blindness and/or even death via something called brain herniation.

3. It’s crucial in maturation of cells such as the ones in hair, skin and eyes or linings of our organs like the lungs or intestines. So if for example a child is recovering from Measles, a doctor may give some vitamin A to speed up the regeneration of the child’s worn away cells in the lungs. We also give vitamin A to transform one exceptionally lethal type of Leukemia called PML (Pro-Myeloblastic Leukemia) into one less lethal called AML to help patients live longer with the disease. Vitamin A is used in Dermatology to manage some diseases etc. Continue reading

Tired legs, fatigue and Low Energy State – what’s the connection?

Dear Dr. Mo: I feel tired and my legs feel tired and not just in the morning but sometimes during the day and in the evening. What could be causing me to feel low like that?

Dear reader: Feeling tired, sleepy and lacking energy is called fatigue and all these symptoms are our body’s response to something we call Low Energy State.

Legs can be just tired from too much use

Legs can be just tired from too much use

Weakness is usually one of the first symptoms of any medical condition (as 90% of them are tied to Low Energy State) and it should not be ignored. Together with shortness of breath these two are the most common first presentation of majority of illnesses.

If weakness/fatigue doesn’t go away after enough sleep, good nutrition and reduced stress a doctor should check it out.

Tiredness in legs can commonly be just a result of too much walking, standing or running but if it doesn’t go away or keeps coming back even without excessive physical exertion then you may be in a Low Energy State for some reason that you should discover and correct asap.

Now, a whole variety of reasons exist that result in Low Energy State, which then goes on to cause weakness, fatigue and more specifically, tired legs among other symptoms. These can include:

Lifestyle reasons – feelings of fatigue are most commonly caused by (before we jump to illnesses) sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders (like apnea), overwork (or working in shifts), sedentary behavior (lack of exercise) or unhealthy habits (like smoking, alcohol consumption, drug abuse, skipping meals and inappropriate dieting);

Medical reasons – unrelenting weakness may signal an underlying illness, such as a thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroidism), heart disease, diabetes, cancer, anemia, infection etc. All these deprive us of energy for cells’ functioning and cause exhaustion and fatigue; Continue reading

Health benefits of Melons

Dear Dr. Mo: I loved your posts on Squash and I have a question about Melons – I love Melons and I was wondering about possible health benefits I can incur from that fruit?

Refreshing and healthy!

Refreshing and healthy!

Dear reader: Melons are related to Squash and comparable to it in their health benefits. Let me list a few important ones:

Blood pressure control

Eating melons can help control blood pressure as they contain potassium and potassium lessens the effects sodium has in elevating blood pressure; cutting back on dietary salt is also important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure level.

Vitamins

Melon is a fine source of vitamin B6 which helps maintain our body’s metabolism and some recent data shows that this vitamin reduces inflammation, oxidative stress and helps regulate metabolic disturbances including obesity and diabetes.

Just like carrots for example, melons too owe their bright colour to vitamin A — one cup has about 40 percent of our daily needs. Vitamin A is important for vision and bone growth.

Another vitamin found in plentiful supply in Melons is vitamin C and this one is crucial for collagen formation to maintain your cartilage, bones, gums, skin etc. Vitamin C won’t do us much good when we catch a cold, just so you know, that’s a (pharmaceutical) myth. Continue reading

Cortisol effect – why do we suddenly go ‘uu-uu-uum’?

Dear Dr. Mo: Sometimes, when a professor calls out my name to answer a question, I just block and can’t answer even though I know that I knew the answer just moments ago. Why is that?

Cortisol effect can blur your mind's eye

Cortisol effect can blur your mind’s eye

Dear reader: To block when you want to speak can happen when you are suddenly put on the spot and it’s called the Cortisol effect – there’s a hormone called Cortisol and it is associated with stress among other things. Whenever you get nervous, even the smallest, tiniest amount of Cortisol that comes out into your blood in that fraction of a second can block the long term memory. All of a sudden, you start to stutter, mind is blank and you can’t remember what you knew a second ago. Familiar?

This effect can be desensitised by repeated practice and the more you’re being called out the better you’ll be able to cope with it but for some, no amount of practice will ever entirely defeat the underlying physiology. People who are terrified of public speaking know this all too well.

Continue reading

Should you wash poultry and other meats before cooking?

Dear Dr. Mo: My question is simple and yet kind of age old – should I wash poultry (and other meats for that matter) before cooking? I’d traditionally say yes, but when I think of it, I’m not so sure.

No need to wash it but handle it with care

No need to wash it but handle it with care

Dear reader: Contrary to popular belief, my answer has to be NO – you should not wash or rinse any raw meat prior to cooking. This is not just a matter of preference – it is really ill-advised.

Let me quickly explain why:

Washing raw meat and rinsing its juices only splashes any existing bacteria on that piece of meat all over your kitchen sink, utensils and nearby surfaces – this is termed “cross-contamination” and does very little to protect your health – quite on the contrary, this cross-contamination can easily cause a foodborne illness.
In addition, there are some bacteria so tightly attached to the meat that you would not remove them no matter how long or vigorously you washed it.

So how to be safe then? Continue reading