Alternatives to taking pills

Medications have their dark side. Exercise, diet, and other changes can be alternatives, but could feel like a whole lot of hard work. We've gotten used to taking pills for much that ails us, but these days, the medicine cabinet is looking like a rogues' gallery. There's been bad news about the painkiller rofecoxib (Vioxx), the diabetes drug rosiglitazone (Avandia), and, most recently, the cholesterol-lowering combination of ezetimibe and simvastatin (Vytorin). Problems with hormone therapy and antidepressants have also been bannered in headlines. We don't lack for alternatives. Plenty of research shows that exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes are effective weapons against many chronic diseases. But there are more findings about preventing diseases with so-called lifestyle changes than there are about treating them. And you won't find many head-to-head comparisons between the conventional drug treatments and the nondrug ones. Often it seems like the nonpharmacological approach doesn't quite get its due. The long review papers on treatment choices typically squirrel it away in a small section, almost as an afterthought. (Locked) More »

More questions about calcium answered

Because milk and dairy foods supply so much of the calcium in the typical diet, it's hard to tease them apart when using data from epidemiological studies. With ovarian cancer, there's reason to believe that dairy products are the culprit because of evidence pointing to intake of lactose, the sugar in dairy foods, as a risk factor. With prostate and colon cancer, the evidence points to calcium itself. Studies have repeatedly found that we're far better off getting most of our nutrients from food rather than from pills. With calcium, it's more complicated. In many ways, dairy products, and milk in particular, are an ideal source of the mineral. The calcium content is high and easily absorbed. But when dairy comes into the diet, saturated fat comes with it, and high saturated fat intake increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. A few studies suggest that dairy food itself increases the risk of certain cancers (see the answer above). Of course, people can easily get around the saturated fat problem by buying nonfat products, but not everyone likes the taste of those nonfat products. Many vegetables are a good food source of calcium, but spinach, chard, and a few others also contain oxalate, and the presence of oxalate interferes with the absorption of calcium. Food is still the best way to get calcium, with the best choices being nonfat dairy products (in limited amounts), certain types of fish (salmon, sardines), and certain vegetables (kale). Whether you need to "top it off" with a supplement depends on your diet and whether you're trying to adhere to the official recommendations. (Locked) More »

Getting out the gluten

Doctors are diagnosing more cases of celiac disease, leading to an increased interest in gluten-free foods, although not everyone who has difficulty digesting gluten has celiac disease. More »

Calcium curious

Concerns about calcium are addressed by answering some commonly asked questions about this nutrient. More »