DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have read that in olive-oil-producing countries (Mediterranean countries), the people have very few heart problems because of all the olive oil they ingest.

I take aspirin daily (doctor’s advice) to thin my blood.

If I were to take olive oil daily, would this soften my arteries, or would it cancel aspirin’s effect? Put another way, would this help or hurt me? – J.B.

ANSWER: Olive oil can boast of many things that have earned it a nutritional four-star rating. Foremost is the fact that it is a monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats, chemically speaking, have one (“mono”) less hydrogen atom per molecule than they could hold. Such fats lower blood cholesterol levels, keep arteries free of obstructing buildup and reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Saturated fats, on the other hand, do just the opposite. They are called “saturated” because they hold all the hydrogen atoms they can possibly contain. They are filled to the brim with hydrogen. Examples of saturated fats are whole-fat dairy products, like butter, and meats marbled with animal fat.

Olive oil has other selling points. It contains antioxidants. Oxidants are byproducts of cell chemistry. If they are not neutralized, they damage cells. It’s the body’s equivalent of rusting. The antioxidants of olive oil give your body an undercoating that prevents it from rusting.

Olive oil also has polyphenols, substances that protect the body from infection by revving up the immune system.

All in all, olive oil comes out a winner.

Olive oil does not undo the benefits of aspirin, which works by preventing blood clots from forming within arteries. Aspirin and olive oil work hand in hand.

Don’t forget the other elements of Mediterranean people’s diets. They eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and cereals, and have a moderately high intake of seafood and a low intake of meat. They also drink wine. Olive oil cannot take all the credit for these people’s health.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My child just returned from camp with pinkeye. I have three other children, and I am afraid they will catch it from him. Is there any medicine I can give the children that will make them less likely to come down with pinkeye? – O.W.

ANSWER: Most pinkeye comes from a viral infection. The infection causes, in addition to the reddened eye, a watery discharge, and the infected feel like someone has thrown sand in their eye. Frequently, viral pinkeye comes with or just after a cold. It is highly contagious, so much so that people infect their other eye within a week after the appearance of the first eye’s symptoms.

There is no medicine that will protect others from acquiring an infection or that will shorten the duration of a person’s infection.

However, simple hygiene measures can limit the potential of transmission. The infected child should be instructed not to touch his eyes and to wash his hands frequently. His towels and washcloths should not be shared by any other member of the family. The same goes for any clothes he wears. His bedding should be kept segregated from the rest of the family’s.

Bacterial pinkeye is a different story. The eye discharge in bacterial infection is thick. Usually only one eye is involved. There is no association with a previous or current cold. Antibiotic drops are useful for this kind of pinkeye.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had a problem with constipation and tried your (and many others’) suggestions. It was finally discovered that I had a low thyroid. Upon taking thyroid medicine, the constipation troubles were solved. I thought I would let you know about this possibility. – E.F.

ANSWER: I deserve a big “duh” award. No discussion of constipation should omit the possibility of a sluggish thyroid gland. Thank you for jarring my brain into action.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother is in a nursing home with quite advanced Alzheimer’s disease. To add to her troubles, she drools, and that creates a red, raw area at the corner of her lips. What can be done for this? – D.R.

ANSWER: Medicines can dry the mouth, but quite often their side effects are worse than the drooling. One of these medicines is the scopolamine skin patch, which is marketed to prevent motion sickness.

Botox – botulinum toxin – which is used for almost every condition under the sun, has also been employed to stop drooling.

There are a number of surgical procedures, none terribly involved or complicated, that stop saliva from dripping out of the mouth. One is tying off the duct of a salivary gland.

A writer suggested using a dab of petroleum jelly at the corner of the mouth. It acts like a dam. The woman assured me that “a little dab will do it.”

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: With all the publicity focused on low-carbohydrate diets, I would like your read on this matter. Are low-fat, low-cholesterol diets a thing of the past? I want to lose about 15 pounds and wonder if I should go the low-carb route. – W.N.

ANSWER: My read is one of ignorance. I don’t know if the low-carbohydrate diets are better than the older recommended diets. I have read the reports that say people on those diets do lose weight, and some studies claim that there is also a drop in cholesterol.

I also know that the formerly promoted low-fat, low-cholesterol diets can bring about weight loss and a reduction in cholesterol.

I am waiting for the definitive word about the low-carbohydrate diet before I endorse it.

I also know that a calorie deficit will bring about weight loss regardless of the source of those calories – be they fat or carbohydrate.

The diet world has me bewildered, and I am not ashamed to say I don’t know which position is the correct one. It might take a year or so before the facts are in.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.


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