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"The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

"You Can Lead a Horse to Water ..."

In promoting health and wellness, this old adage often comes to mind: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. When I see a secretary all jittery from drinking Mountain Dew before, during, and after work, I despair in explaining that the excessive caffeine consumption is addictive. I despair when we can't persuade a cigarette smoker to quit.

Caffeine and nicotine addictions are real. The sudden elimination of caffeine from the diet can cause withdrawal headaches and angst in adults. And kicking the nicotine habit is extremely difficult. We know that it is much easier to convince young children of the dangers of nicotine before they face the temptations of their teens. Teaching our youngsters not to smoke can save them from lethal illnesses and help prevent the devastating effects of smoking on our healthcare system in the future.

Prior to our Tulip Time Scholarship Games in Indianapolis, we offered a $5,000 college scholarship to the young reader of our children's magazines who wrote the best essay on how they could help someone quit smoking. We were surprised to receive more than 1,000 responses, and many innovative victories over the demon addiction were reported.

These essays are bound in attractive books in our Saturday Evening Post Museum. Any visitors who care to think about the future of Medicare in connection with the soon-to-be teenage population should ponder good ways to overcome the evil of tobacco addiction.

Saw Palmetto and Prostate Cancer Tests

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

A friend of mine heard that the use of saw palmetto forever skews the results of PSA tests. Would you please address this issue?

Jack Garton Cheyenne, Wyoming

You bring up an important point. Herbs and other supplements can sometimes interfere with diagnostic tests. In this case, however, Indianapolis urologist Dr. Phillip Mosbaugh says that saw palmetto does not seem to alter the results of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood tests for prostate cancer. Dr. Mosbaugh explains:

"Saw palmetto does not appear to have any effect on total- or free-PSA levels in studies where this has been monitored. The herb does have anti-androgen effects. Although most trials have been, done in Europe and not well monitored or standardized, taking saw palmetto has been shown to improve urinary flow rates and reduce symptom scores.

"The quality of saw palmetto depends on the purity of the Serenoa Repens fruit extract. There are currently over 30 brands available in the United States. The National Institutes of Health have authorized studies exploring various phytotherapies, including saw palmetto. For now, however, one should not be concerned about PSA levels while taking saw palmetto."

The Value of Cashew Nuts

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

Now and then I read something about the value of nuts in the diet. A few say peanuts are a valuable addition, while another claims walnuts are best for certain things.

My favorite is the cashew nut. They seem to have more oil in them than other nuts, and I am wondering if this is a "good" or "bad" oil.

Charles Stedman Tucson, Arizona

Our Post dietitian, Patti Olson, tells us that most nuts contain more "good" unsaturated oils than "bad" saturated ones and are an excellent source of energy.

Your favorite nut contains about 14 grams of fat per one ounce serving (10 grams of which is mono- or polyunsaturated). Dried walnuts contain about 17 grams of fat per one ounce serving (15 grams of which is mono- or polyunsaturated). The peanut--not a nut at all, but a legume--also contains good oils and more niacin and folate than any tree nut.

As part of a balanced diet, monounsaturated oils protect against heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, nuts contain the antioxidant vitamin E that helps keep blood vessels healthy. Nuts are also good sources of protein, fiber, and phytochemicals, the natural substances in plant foods that are thought to reduce cancer risk.

Swimming and Osteoporosis

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I subscribe to The Saturday Evening Post. "Medical Mailbox" is my favorite part of the magazine. I was wondering if yon could please answer this question:

I don't understand reports that swimming doesn't help prevent osteoporosis because water doesn't offer resistance like the land does. It would seem to me that the push on the water would provide enough resistance to help build bone density.

Marilee Sullivan Denver, Colorado

Swimming is a great exercise for cardiovascular fitness, but walking or jogging will usually promote better bone health. Here's why: Bones respond to weight and impact. When a person strikes a tennis ball or lands on their feet after jumping, bones become bigger and denser to be ready for that weight and impact again. When swimming in the middle of a pool, however, water supports the body and cushions impact on bones.

Water exercise expert and master swimmer Dr. Jane Katz explains that performing turns in a swimming pool may help strengthen bones. "Your body impacts the wall every time you push off," she says. "When it's a small pool and one has to do 100 turns, it's a bone-density plus." Dr. Katz adds that aqua-jogging in waist-high water provides some bone health benefits while protecting joints.

To reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, experts recommend daily weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, dancing, and stair-climbing; adequate calcium intake (1,000 to 1,500 mg per day); no smoking; and no more than two alcoholic drinks per day.

Nasal Polyps Research

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

Some years ago, possibly in the 1970s, you wrote an article outlining Benjamin Feingold's research on the aspirin/allergy and nasal polyps connection. I took prompt action, with most immediate, rewarding, and lasting results.

Are there any further developments in this area?

Basil Collins Holland, Michigan

You are referring to a 1977 "Medical Mailbox" article about a special diet initially developed by allergist Dr. Benjamin Feingold for aspirin-sensitive patients. As was your experience, some people reported that avoiding aspirins and salicylate-containing foods helped prevent recurrent nasal polyps.

Although we could find no reports of follow-up research, an experiment with the salicylate-free diet remains an inexpensive and harmless attempt at preventing the small saclike growths. Natural foods containing salicylates include potatoes, tomatoes, apples, oranges, prunes, grapes, apricots, nectarines, almonds, raisins, plums, peaches, strawberries, cucumbers, pickles, cherries, raspberries, and blackberries. Artificial food flavorings in commercial products may also contain salicylates.

Allergies, asthma, and chronic sinus infections may cause nasal polyps. Symptoms include a chronic "stuffy nose" feeling, impaired sense of smell, and repeated sinus infections. Polyps can reappear after surgery or drug therapy.

One Cause of Appendicitis

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

My 12-year-old son recently had appendicitis. The doctor says it was caused by a fecalith. I have never heard of this. What is it?

Patricia Goodman Tacoma, Washington

A fecalith is a hard mass of dried body waste, or stool. Sometimes a fecalith blocks the tube connecting the large intestine and the worm-shaped appendix. When this happens, the appendix swells and causes pain. Surgery is often required to remove the mass and the inflamed appendix.

Appendicitis is virtually unheard of in cultures whose traditional diets are rich in fiber. In industrialized countries, the condition is more common in males than in females and occurs most often between ages 15 and 25. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Bowel movements are usually less frequent or absent.

New Healthcare Initiative: Teaching Children to Save Lives

A bill that provides grants for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training in public schools may soon be introduced to the U.S. Senate by Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. We hope that the resulting legislation will also provide funds for purchasing automated defibrillators and training children how to use the lifesaving devices.

To learn more about this good initiative and to show your support for the increased availability of defibrillators, write to Senator Feingold at 506 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, call his office at 202-224-5323, visit his Web site at, or contact your U.S. senator.

Sarcoidosis Research and Support

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

When The Saturday Evening Post is delivered to me, I can't wait to see the medical section of the magazine. I have Parkinson's disease and appreciate all the articles on that condition.

Also, I have a sister that suffers with sarcoidosis. She is on oxygen, and I am seeking help for her. She is only 62 years old.

Jo Joy Milford, Connecticut

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

My daughter-in-law has sarcoidosis. She was in remission for four years, but it has come back in her lungs. She is on prednisone. Is there any research being done on this disease? She is not doing well.

Mrs. P. Schreck Nekoosa, Wisconsin

Sarcoidosis is a chronic disorder in which overactive blood cells called lymphocytes produce tumors, or growths, in affected parts of the body. The disease often attacks the lungs, skin, eyes, and lymph nodes. Symptoms range from slight to severe. Doctors may prescribe steroids, including prednisone, for severe shortness of breath, irregular heart rate, and nervous system involvement.

Patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis are needed to participate in a drug study being conducted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. For information on the study and how to participate, contact clinical research nurse Pauline Barnes toll-free at 1-877-644-5864, option 3.

For a referral to a sarcoidosis specialist and a list of local support groups, call the American Lung Association at 800-586-4872.

Stroke Risk

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

In the March/April 2001 "Medical Mailbox" it was stated that a wide range between the top and bottom blood pressure readings raises stroke risk. I have had a wide range in my readings for years--often 80 points apart. I am 78 years old, and the only reason I have gone to a doctor in the last five years is for yearly GYN checkups. I recently checked my pressure at the drugstore and it was 146/70. If I took blood pressure medicine, would that make my diastolic go even lower?

Dorothy Pledger Mountain City, Tennessee

We sent your letter to Dr. Myron Weinberger, professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and director of the Hypertension Research Center. Dr. Weinberger responds:

"Fortunately, the systolic (upper) pressure generally responds to treatment much more than the diastolic (lower) pressure, particularly in those with the major increase in systolic pressure. Thus, with the proper medication, it should be possible to lower the systolic pressure without excessive reduction in the diastolic pressure.

"In 1997, the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure indicated that the goal blood pressure for all individuals should be less than 140/90. In older individuals there is often a disproportionate increase in the systolic blood pressure number, resulting in a wide difference between the two readings. As you mention, an increased pulse pressure has been shown to be the strongest predictor of every cardiovascular event in comparison to systolic or diastolic pressure alone."

Controlling Roller-Coaster Emotions

In the Jan./Feb. 2001 "Medical Mailbox," we published a letter from a reader in Minnesota who was seeking to control her roller-coaster emotions. She and other readers with mood problems will be interested in the following:

A preliminary study conducted by psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Stoll at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston suggests that omega-3 fatty acids improve and help stabilize mood in people who suffer from mania and recurrent bouts of depression.

In the four-month study, 15 bipolar patients were given ten grams of fish oil in addition to usual treatment. A control group was given an olive oil placebo. The experimental treatment was well-tolerated ,and improved the short-term course of the potentially devastating illness.

Dr. Stoll advises his patients on omega-3 therapies to take vitamins C and E. He explains that these antioxidant vitamins preserve the beneficial fatty acids by protecting them from oxidation.

Reader Remedy for Recurrent Boils

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I'm responding to the letter about recurrent boils in the May/June "Medical Mailbox." Several years ago, I had many boils and a carbuncle. The suffering was terrible. A coworker told me to take 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar each morning and evening in a glass of water. I took this remedy and have never had another boil.

J.C. Palmer, Alaska

Possible Causes of Tailbone Pain

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

In response to the letter from S.D. in Portland, Oregon (May/June 2001 issue):

The pain in the rectal and tailbone area could be due to a broken coccyx. Mine was broken as a child when I fell onto concrete while roller-skating. Years later I had mysterious rectal pain. I consulted a spinal surgeon, who removed the coccyx. The pain was gone forever.

Grace Gary Port Hueneme, California

Dear Dr. SerVaas:

I have had discomfort in the tailbone area for over 12 years and was diagnosed with levator syndrome (spasm) and coccygodynia by my colorectal surgeon. The enclosed information he gave me may help S.D. find relief. Only a fellow sufferer can understand the agony these disorders cause and how they severely limit your life.

Cornelia McDonald Winter Park, Florida

The information you enclosed suggests that Kegel exercises and muscle relaxants may help some people with pain in the tailbone area. We are sending a copy to our Oregon reader.

Readers may send their letters to 1100 Waterway Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46202 or via e-mail: Please include mailing address.

RELATED ARTICLE: Medical Progress

Some people with multiple sclerosis are finding relief with personal cooling systems, a treatment first suggested in the late 1950s and studied by NASA researchers in the 1990s. Cooling may restore nerve function and help improve vision, fatigue, spasticity, cognitive function, and other MS symptoms. For more information, visit the Multiple Sclerosis Cooling Foundation's Web site at

Researchers in Lund, Sweden have identified a substance in mothers' milk that kills every type of cancer cell tested in the laboratory. The protein, a form of alpha-lactalbumin, also eliminates pneumococcus bacteria. If animal studies are successful, the naturally occurring component may someday be an effective treatment for cancers and bacterial infections in humans.

Recent research shows that allergy sufferers and their physicians give high marks to Zaditor, a treatment for itchy eyes associated with hay fever. The prescription eye drops provide relief within three minutes and last 12 hours. Symptoms of seasonal eye allergies also include tearing, increased sensitivity to bright light, and mild eyelid swelling.

A new blood test has been developed to detect carriers of Canavan disease, a life-threatening neurological disorder of infants most common in Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazic Jews). Carriers of the disease do not show any symptoms and usually have no health problems related to the disease. If two carriers have a child together, each child has a one in four chance of having the genetic disease.
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Title Annotation:Questions and Answers
Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Next Article:Letters.

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