Q: I've been under a lot of stress lately, and my stomach is always churning. Could I have given myself an ulcer?
A: Doctors used to think that ulcers (sores on the inside lining of your stomach, small intestine, or esophagus) were caused by stomach acid, which does increase during times of stress, and may be causing your churning feeling. But we now know that the majority of ulcers are caused by a type of bacteria called H. pylori, which can trigger inflammation in the gut. It's estimated that 20 percent of the population carries H. pylori in their digestive tract, putting them at greater risk of an ulcer, though it's not clear how the bacteria are transmitted.
Q: Is it safe to take antidepressants during pregnancy?
A: Though some drugs (like Wellbutrin) have no established risks, no one can say for sure that any antidepressant is completely safe during pregnancy—and several drugs (like Paxil, which has been associated with fetal heart defects) definitely pose a known danger. Still, you shouldn't stop taking your medication cold turkey. That's because untreated depression can weaken your motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as well as raise your risk of early delivery and postpartum depression. If you're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about the best course of action.
Q: Short of surgery, is there anything I can do about my bunions?
A: Unfortunately, surgery is the only way to remove a bunion (a bony bump around the joint at the base of the big toe), and there are drawbacks: Recovery can take up to six months, and the bunion may return. So you might consider a more conservative approach first. For pain and swelling, try anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) or an ice pack two to three times a day. Orthotic shoe inserts can help prevent bunions from getting worse by controlling abnormal foot movement as you walk; you can buy them at a drugstore, or your podiatrist can prescribe custom-fitted ones.
Keep Reading: O's ultimate guide to buying shoes
Q: I get so anxious before parties that I often end up staying home instead. What can I do?
A: While it's normal to feel a little shy or nervous before entering a roomful of people, it sounds like you may be struggling with social anxiety disorder, which affects about 15 million American adults. People with social phobia feel intensely afraid of being negatively judged, and so tend to avoid mingling altogether. You may also have panic-attack-like symptoms, such as sweating, heart palpitations, or chest pain. This disorder can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves mental strategies and relaxation techniques that help you conquer your fears.
Q: Is kosher food safer or healthier?
A: While research is scant, kosher food is carefully supervised by certifying agencies as it's processed and prepared. (The most reliable agencies are OU, OK, KOF-K, CRC, and Star-K.) Every butchered animal is examined for disease, and produce is inspected for insects. Moreover, kosher companies must keep records of where their ingredients come from and demonstrate that their products contain only what's on the label. So when you're buying kosher, it can be argued that you know more accurately what's in your food.
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