Question:

I know that there are a number of health benefits to babies and mothers from breastfeeding. But are there any health problems that a mother might face because she did not or could not breastfeed?

Answer: There are actually a number of diseases linked to women who never breastfed: high blood pressure; diabetes; elevated cholesterol and triglycerides; heart disease; ovarian and breast cancers; and metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that includes obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL "good" cholesterol and a pre-diabetic state of elevated fasting blood sugar).

The reasons for these associations are not clear, but explanations include: greater weight retained after pregnancy (breastfeeding helps with weight loss); absence of oxytocin (milk-stimulating) hormone production results in higher blood pressure and pulse rate; women who are not breastfeeding have higher cortisol hormone levels in response to stress, which can cause higher blood sugar, blood pressure and weight gain; women who do not breastfeed are more likely to be smokers; and women who are obese and/or diabetic have preexisting health problems and a more difficult time producing milk.

nolead begins

Little science behind cherry juice to ward off attacks of gout

Q:

On the advice of a friend, I've been drinking cherry juice every day to prevent a gout attack. I have not had a gout attack in over four years. Can you explain how cherry juice prevents gout?

A: Cherries, whether they are in the form of juice or in a bowl, are probably the No. 1 home remedy used in preventing and treating gout. For those of you fuzzy on what gout is, it's an inflammatory joint condition resulting when a supersaturated mixture of uric acid and tissue fluid forms needlelike crystals under just the right set of conditions.

Does it really work? I can't say for sure, because there's just not enough clinical research behind the numerous anecdotal claims like yours. One theory is that dark cherries rich in antioxidants may help combat inflammation.

A preliminary study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service published in 2003 in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that cherries transiently decrease the amount of uric acid in blood of healthy volunteers (and increase the amount of uric acid excreted in the urine). Measurements of three blood markers of inflammation were not statistically lower. Limitations of the study are its small size (10 subjects) and healthy young (ages 22-40) female volunteers.

A follow-up study involved 18 women and two men and more cherry consumption. While the results of this study are not yet available, one weakness is its small size. A potential bias is that the California Cherry Advisory Board helped fund the research.

There doesn't seem to be any harm in using cherries to prevent gout attacks, but some of the more clear risk factors you should address are avoidance of gout-provoking foods like sardines, organ meats, and lentils; alcohol (especially wine and beer); and avoiding daily aspirin and thiazide water pills. Obesity is also a risk factor, so weight loss can reduce attacks. Last, get your uric acid level below 6.0 with an adequate dose of medication like allopurinol. Uric acid crystals won't precipitate at a level below 6.0.

Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H.," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. Due to the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.