Dear Dr. Roach: Do you know of any evidence saying that beets could stop a gallbladder attack? Is there a mechanism by which this is plausible?
Dear M.J.: A gallbladder attack is caused by the gallbladder squeezing to release stored bile in response to eating food. But it cannot do this when the duct is blocked, usually by a stone. Treatment is supportive. The goal is allowing the inflammation to decrease before elective removal of the gallbladder. Most people are recommended to have elective gallbladder removal, because the likelihood of recurrent attacks is high.
I read many websites that say beets are good for the liver or for the gallbladder. It is true that a diet high in vegetables tends to decrease the rate of gallstone formation. However, for a severe, acute attack, hospitalization is indicated. The risk of severe complications, including infection and perforation of the gallbladder, is high enough that careful monitoring is essential. I could find no reliable evidence that beets have a significant impact on gallbladder attacks.
Dear Dr. Roach: How safe is it to take biotin? I took it for four months and then stopped because I read that it interferes with the thyroid. Does it interfere with medications? I’m losing some hair, my skin is dry and my nails peel and crack. I heard that biotin helps.
Dear Anon.: Biotin, a B vitamin, is very safe when taken in reasonable quantities, such as the 30 micrograms in most vitamin supplements. One study looked at a much higher dose, 2,500 micrograms (the same thing as 2.5 milligrams), and found limited benefit to hair and skin.
Biotin does not affect the thyroid, but it can affect the lab tests designed to look at the thyroid. Depending on the type of test used, taking biotin can cause a false high result or a false low result, so people who decide to try high-dose biotin for skin and nails should tell their doctor about it, in order to prevent confusion.
Dear Dr. Roach: So many seniors wear medical-alert-type devices. Are there any long-term health effects associated with their use? They sit on the chest cavity if using the necklace type. Alongside the protection from falls and possible broken bones, are there concerns with this protection? I am concerned about the lithium batteries.
Dear J.S.: In rare cases, lithium batteries — the rechargeable type used in cellphones and computers — can fail in an explosive fashion, but this doesn’t happen to the small button-type batteries in a device like a medical-alert necklace. Button batteries are dangerous to swallow, but that’s a fear for infants and toddlers. The low voltage of the battery makes any concern about electromagnetic fields nonexistent.
In my opinion, the risks are negligible compared with the benefit of being able to call for help in an emergency (or having help alerted for you, as is the case with some devices that can recognize if you fall). Not many people will need them, but I think of it as a reasonable insurance policy that is appropriate if affordable.
Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.