If you have suddenly lost your energy and feel tired all the time, you may have hepatitis C, a viral infection that was discovered in 1988. There were 150,000 new cases last year.
Nobody knows all the ways that the virus is transmitted. You can pick up the virus through blood transfusions, infected needles and sexual contact with an infected partner, but a lot of people with hepatitis C have none of these risk factors. Country singer Naomi Judd was forced to retire because of this disease. More than 2 million Americans are now infected with hepatitis C, and several recent studies show that once you get hepatitis C, you probably keep it for life.
If you feel tired all the time, check with your doctor to see if you need a blood test for hepatitis C. If you have hepatitis C, you have a 40 percent chance of eventually developing serious liver damage. Hepatitis C can even cause liver cancer. Previously, doctors thought that all patients with active hepatitis C had abnormal liver tests. This is not true; people with active hepatitis C can have normal liver tests.
All people who have hepatitis C should probably be treated with interferon injections three times a week for at least six months, but 50 percent of those who improve will eventually need more treatments. Another drug, called ribavirin, can be taken in pill form and should be approved soon by the Food and Drug Administration.
Q: Can I improve my running by lifting weights?
A: Strengthening your arms will not help you to run faster. Your arms help to maintain your center of gravity during running, preventing you from falling on your face. When your left leg moves forward, your right arm also moves forward and your left arm moves backward.
When you run, your arms push against air, which simply moves out of the way. On the other hand, strengthening your legs can help you to run faster. Strong legs push against the ground, which is solid. Therefore your legs push you forward with greater force.
You can strengthen your leg muscles by using weights and strength-training machines, but the best way to run faster in races is to run faster in practice. For example, you will become faster by running a quarter mile in 60 seconds, repeated six times, than by running a quarter mile in 65 seconds, repeated 12 times.
Should I be taking folic acid pills to prevent cancer?
A: Recent research from Harvard shows that a vitamin called folic acid helps to prevent cancer. However, that doesn't mean that you should go out and buy folic acid pills.
Data overwhelmingly shows that eating fruits and vegetables helps to prevent cancer, and scientists are trying to find out why. Many previous studies show that vitamins A, C and E; fiber; and the mineral selenium help to prevent cancer. Recent reports from the Nurse's Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study showed that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of colon cancer, and that folic acid helps to form chemicals that turn off cancer genes.
The data clearly show that eating fruits and vegetables lowers your risk of developing cancer. It does not show that any chemical by itself prevents cancer.
Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.