Nutrition and health: Questions and answers

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The following queries have been received by this publication, in many cases following articles that have recently appeared.

For replies, various staff members, medical authorities and nutritionists have been consulted.

This publication emphasizes that the information supplied is not meant to be prescriptive.

A physician should be consulted where serious conditions exist.

Q: I am an adolescent male and have reason to suspect that I am carrying an infection known as Chlamydia. My friends tell me that to test for it can be very painful. Do you know of an alternative nonpain test?

A: A new noninvasive test for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia is available, but you will not be able to get it without a doctor's prescription (nor should you avoid medical counsel). The product is Chlamydiazyme, a component of a simple urine specimen test. It should cause you no pain.

Q: What is the best way of getting rid of nasal polyps? I'm concerned about their becoming cancerous.

A: Usually nasal polyps, appearing singly or in clusters, are benign. They shouldn't be confused with polyps that appear in the intestinal tract and that are potentially cancerous.

Nasal polyps result from overproduction of fluid of the mucous membranes that line the sinuses.

Allergies and chronic rhinitis can cause such polyps. If the use of antihistamines or nasal decongestants gives you no relief, you should consider having polyps removed surgically. The operation can be performed using local anesthesia.

Q: What are the risks of occasional marijuana use, if any?

A: If by "occasional" you mean less than once a week, the likelihood of addiction remains. Any kind of regularity can lead to habit formation. Also, the effects of marijuana cannot be predicted for everyone. Both infrequent and steady users have experienced episodes of anxiety, pain, panic, and paranoid thinking. Consider, also, the dangers of driving a car, handling complex tasks, or the cumulative effect upon brain tissue. Marijuana smoke also contains cancer-causing substances similar to tobacco smoke.

Q: Are there specific symptoms that signal the presence of gallstones?

A: Some signs of gallstones are nausea, bloating, belching, heartburn, cramps, and distress after eating a greasy meal. You can expect, however, that pain in the epigastric area (above the stomach) and steady pain that radiates to the upper back are indicative of gallstone activity.

Q: How dangerous is low blood pressure, and what treatment is currently recommended for the condition? My blood pressure is in the low-normal range of 95 mm. Hg. over 70 mm. Hg.

A: In the United States, most doctors regard low-normal blood pressure as desirable. Conversely, in France and Germany the belief is that low-normal blood pressure is pathologic and should be treated with antihypotensive drugs such as ergotamine and digotoxin.

A symptom complex such as tiredness, weakness, headaches, palpitations and fainting has been attributed to low blood pressure. The same reactions are also associated with ingestion of monosodium glutamate in processed foods. Consider, also, your nutritional state.

A study appearing in the British Medical Journal last year (8/18/90) revealed that low blood pressure could be beneficial. Research continues in quest of a definitive answer.

Q: What are the latest developments in treatment of enlarged prostates? Are there alternatives to surgery?

A: The safety and effectiveness of a new procedure that combines ultrasound guidance with laser delivery to treat noncancerous enlarged prostates is being evaluated at the Boston University School of Medicine Hospital.

To perform the procedure, surgeons insert a probe, which contains both the ultrasound and laser capabilities into the urethra. After visualizing the prostate with the ultrasound, the surgeon directs the laser energy at the enlarged prostate tissue to destroy it and to clear a larger opening for the urethra. Microscopic portions of the laser-treated tissue are subsequently disposed through urination.

Q: Does breastfeeding really prevent pregnancy?

A: Some theories contend that because breastfeeding can delay ovulation, it is a dependable form of birth control. Scientific evidence has not been found to confirm that assumption.

Q: My recent marriage seems to be heading for disaster. My husband's excuse for not consummating our union is that he is being treated for a fracture of the genital organ. The doctor says it's true. I suspect the physician is his personal friend. Is there really such a condition?

A: The condition is not a medical rarity. It is known as a rupture of the tunica albuginea of the corpus cavernosum. It occurs as a result of blunt trauma to an erect organ.

Treatment varies. Conservative treatment usually consists of applying a splint and application of pressure dressing over a bladder catheter of ice.

Q: Your recent issue featuring obsessive-compulsive disorder (O.C.D.) was very enlightening and gave me many insights. I'm worried, however, about the unusual need for sleep that overtakes me. I can sleep for fifteen and twenty hours at a time. Could it be narcolepsy -- or has it been associated with O.C.D.?

A: Your need for sleep does not fit the criterion for narcolepsy. Narcoleptic sleeplessness differs from the normal because it cannot be relieved by any amount of sleep. The severity varies among sufferers: many report falling asleep while driving, working, dining, or conversing.

Narcolepsy is also characterized by cataplexy, a condition in which complete or prolonged temporary paralysis takes place. Cataplexy may cause patients to drop objects, be unable to move during the onset of sleep, and have disrupted nocturnal sleep.

Individuals who have obsessive-compulsive disorder may require long periods of sleep because of their overactive limbic system in which the brain chemical serotonin is highly stimulated. You probably need the sleep because those areas of the brain operate at a high level of excitation. Consider how much mental energy is required to deal with O.C.D.

Q: My problem is reoccurring calluses and corns. I do not have easy access to a foot doctor. What treatment is recommended for self-care?

A: A callus is a thickened pad of skin, usually on the weight-bearing portion of the skin. A corn is a highly concentrated callus that appears at a pressure point, such as the top of the toe or under a toe joint. To alleviate callus-corn problems, soak feet daily for at least five minutes to soften skin. Use a rough towel, callus file, or pumice stone to remove the dead tissue, then cover the area with a light pad or bandage. Also use an unmedicated circular pad with a hole for corn or callus to relieve pressure. Do not attempt to cut the corn or callus. Do not use medicated corn or callus pads, salicylic acid or chemical corn removers -- they can remove healthy tissue with the unwanted. Eventually, you should visit a competent foot doctor.

CARTOON: "And as you go out in the world, remember our school motto: 'Stick it to 'em'!"

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