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Buying organic may not be wasting money

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Q. My husband, a chemical engineer, insists that buying alkaline water is “a bunch of hooey.” He also says organic food is a waste of money. What do you think?
— Leslie, Australia

A. We think he’s kinda right and kinda wrong. He’s right about the water. There’s virtually no data supporting the idea that alkaline water affects your body’s pH in any healthful way. It just changes the pH of your pee and lightens your wallet.

He’s wrong — or mostly — about organic food. You don’t need to buy organic raw chocolate nibs for your cookies (which we hope you’re not eating much of anyway). But plenty of fresh produce (which we hope you’re eating lots of) is coated with pesticides that pose unique risks to children and aren’t so good for you either (think birth defects, nerve damage, cancer). By contrast, some organic, pesticide-free produce has as much as 60 percent more phenols — powerful, disease-fighting plant nutrients.

You can reduce your exposure to these toxins by 90 percent if you concentrate your organic money on just 12 products: peaches, imported nectarines, strawberries, apples, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, celery, kale/collard greens, domestic blueberries and sweet bell peppers. Their nonorganic versions are so soaked in pesticides that they’re known as the “Dirty Dozen.”

Q. Are there any recent developments concerning ulcerative colitis? What actually causes it?
— Ilona, via email

A. We still don’t know what causes the colon inflammation and ulcers that are the hallmark of ulcerative colitis. While its symptoms (diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, fatigue) are mild in many people, for others, discomfort can be so severe and the risk of cancer so great that 25 percent to 40 percent eventually have their colons removed. Clearly, we’re not talking about a simple tummy ache.

There is recent progress. Research has turned up what are called biomarkers, substances in the blood, stool or elsewhere that are tip-offs to different types of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis being one.

This matters because biomarkers can predict which treatment you’ll respond to. For example, if you have high blood levels of C-reactive protein, you’ll likely benefit from infliximab (Remicade), a drug that puts out inflammation like water douses a campfire. But it can have major side effects, so targeting those who’ll benefit most is key.

New research is also looking at stress. A predictor of colitis relapse is being highly stressed and stressing about being highly stressed. What often helps is to act like an ostrich. Head-in-the-sand time! Distraction often can rein in symptoms when your stress gets out of control — and everybody’s does now and then. Try meditation, a sweaty Zumba class or Dr. Mike’s Stress Free Now program at www.clevelandclinicwellness.com.

Q. Lately I’ve been seeing DHA supplements for kids that are supposed to support “brain health.” Do they work? — Eileen, Allentown, Pa.

A. There’s no doubt that the brain needs docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, to develop to the max. Kids who don’t get enough fatty acids from their moms during pregnancy are at risk of low birth weight and a small head, which can affect central nervous system and cognitive ability (“smarts” to you).

So what’s the controversy about kids? Someresearchers say DHA supplements contribute to a child’s smarts. Others say they don’t. Still others say they negatively affect the young memories and kids’ ability to do easy tasks.

We don’t think taking DHA will hurt a child (just buy algae-based formulas, to avoid mercury and other possible toxins in fish oil types). In fact, a supplement may be the only way to get enough DHA into many kids’ diets (especially if the only food with fins they like is Swedish fish candy).

But the top ways to boost smarts are stimulating teachers, supportive parents and hard work. That’s what’ll get them into Williams or Harvard, where we went. And, yes, we were lucky enough to have parents who fed us DHA in cod liver oil as kids and who pushed us hard to outstudy our pals.

The YOU Docs — Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic — are the authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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