Q. My family has a history of colon cancer, so I worry about my risk. What’s considered normal bowel activity?
A. People are different—so are bowel movements. Instead of looking for “normal,” look for a change. Do you now have trouble moving your bowels, when you previously didn’t? Is your “output” a different consistency? When you experience a noticeable change that lasts, see your doctor. It may be stress—unresolved issues can show up in the bathroom—but it’s worth checking out.
One thing to note: If there is blood in your stool on a recurring basis, call your doctor. It can be caused by benign conditions such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures, but it can also signal polyps or colorectal cancer. If you see blood, watch for other symptoms: weight loss, fever, chills, abdominal pain. When they come together, those are “high-alert” symptoms of bowel disorders.
—Brooke Gurland, MD, surgeon with the Department of Colorectal Surgery at Cleveland Clinic
Q. Will the “100 diet” help me lose weight—and keep it off ?
A. The 100: Count Only Sugar Calories and Lose Up to 18 Lbs. in Two Weeks, by diet guru Jorge Cruise, may very well help you lose weight quickly, but because the diet is so strict, it will be difficult to keep off long-term. Plus, this super-low carb regimen makes healthy foods like whole grains and fruit the bad guys. The diet restricts you to 100 “sugar calories” per day—not just refined or added sugar, but all sugar from the carbohydrates in fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. By this rule, a medium-sized apple, a half cup of brown rice and a half cup of black beans would each have about 80 “sugar calories”—almost your daily limit.
Most Americans overeat carbohydrates, so watching your carbs is definitely a good idea. But eating a balanced diet is more important, and so is portion control. The “100 diet” isn’t dangerous, but it doesn’t supply all the elements you need for overall good health. And losing fat so quickly affects electrolytes and your body’s balance. Instead, aim to take weight off safely and gradually—1 or 2 pounds a week. You’ll have a much better chance of keeping it off.
—Laura Jeffers, MED, RD, LD, registered dietitian and Outpatient Nutrition Manager in the Center for Human Nutrition
Q: I have high blood pressure, and I’m limited to less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Are salt substitutes a good alternative?
A: Many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride in place of sodium chloride. Excess potassium may be harmful for some people. If you have kidney problems or are on medication for your heart, kidneys or liver, check with your doctor before using salt substitutes. Otherwise, a salt substitute containing potassium chloride is an acceptable alternative if used in moderation. Your best bet, though, is to go salt free. Experiment with flavorful herbs and spices. Try fresh garlic or garlic powder, lemon juice, flavored vinegar, salt-free herb blends, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, fresh ground pepper, tarragon and oregano. This may help you reduce your craving for sodium and learn to appreciate new flavors.
—Julia Zumpano, RD, registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center
Q: I’ve heard that smoking can cause back pain. Is this true?
A: There are so many health reasons to quit smoking—including that it may ease an aching back. Researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki conducted an analysis of 121 studies and found a modest connection between low-back pain and smoking. Smokers also are more likely to have intervertebral disc degeneration, where the spinal discs become less effective at absorbing shock, causing pain along the spinal column.
—Deborah Venesy, medical spine specialist at the Center for Spine Health
Cleveland Clinic, home to 120 medical specialties and subspecialties and pioneer of medical breakthroughs including coronary artery bypass surgery, is consistently named one of the nation’s best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report.