Radioactive treatment of thyroid poses no danger
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 26-year-old woman, and I have been told I have Graves' disease. The doctor suggests I be treated with radioactive iodine. When I told this to my mother, she went ballistic. She says the radioactivity will make me sterile. The doctor never mentioned this. Could it really do so? -- D.F.
ANSWER: Graves' disease is a thyroid gland gone amok. The illness causes patients to make antibodies that shift the gland into overproduction of thyroid hormone.
Thyroid hormone speeds all body functions. The heart beats fast even when a person is sitting. Graves' patients are comfortable in a room that others find freezing. They lose weight in spite of an increased appetite. Trembling hands are common. Menstrual periods become irregular. Hair can thin. Graves' disease puts people in a state of high alert.
People with Graves' have three treatment options: They can take medicines that slow thyroid hormone production; they can swallow a capsule of radioactive iodine; or they can have the gland surgically removed.
The radioactive iodine treatment is the one most popular in North America. "Radioactive" is a word that sends chills down everyone's spine. But this has been used for the treatment of Graves' disease for many decades, and it has never been linked to cancer or to infertility. The thyroid gland acts as a magnet for iodine. The radioactive iodine is drawn to the gland and takes it out of commission. It's like having surgery without a scalpel.
After treatment, people usually have to take thyroid hormone replacement for life. That is not a big deal. It amounts to taking a single pill every day.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Four friends and I have gone on a low-carb, high-protein diet, and it seems to be working for us. We need a bit of clarification. What is the glycemic index? We would greatly appreciate it if you could explain it to us. -- F.M.
ANSWER: The glycemic index indicates how quickly and how high any given food raises blood sugar. You would be surprised at which foods have the highest glycemic indexes. A baked potato and instant rice have higher glycemic indexes than a spoonful of sugar. A cupcake with icing and cream filling has about the same glycemic index as a bagel.
Low-glycemic-index foods include apples, oranges, peanuts, pastas, pizza, skim milk and all-bran cereal. You cannot tell the glycemic index of a food by its looks. You must consult a chart, and there are many of them.
The importance of the glycemic index is a matter of debate. The high spike of blood sugar causes a concomitant spike of insulin. Some experts believe that the insulin spike fosters obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Glycemic indexes help exercisers choose the proper foods. A snack of foods with low glycemic indexes eaten three hours before exercise provides them with energy throughout their exercise session.
After exercise, foods with a high glycemic index restore the body's sugar reserves quickly.
Where the glycemic index fits into diet plans is somewhat obscure. About the only advice I can offer at the present time is not to make foods with high glycemic indexes the major items in the daily menu.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Bags under the eyes are a trait of my family. Both my parents and all my uncles and aunts on both sides have them. What causes them? Can they be prevented? -- P.R.
ANSWER: Fat stored under the eyes is kept in place with a sturdy fence of tough fibers. With age, the fibers become lax, and the fat bulges through as bags.
I can't vouch for the hereditary influence, but your story is making me a believer.
The only treatment for them is surgical removal.
I'm at a loss to provide you with any information on prevention.
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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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