Rating the Safety of  Everyday Products

Dear Dr. Roach: There is so much information on the Internet about the toxins found in the plethora of hygiene products that we consumers purchase and use daily.

When I visit the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database (www.ewg.org/skindeep) to research the products my family and I use, I feel a sense of urgency to throw out those that raise a “moderate” to “high” health concern and replace them with the items that have the “low” to “no” health concern rating. The problem is, many of the safest products are difficult to find at your local super centers and drugstores. In addition, they are more expensive. What do I do as a consumer to keep my family and myself safe and healthy? Is all of this hype and blown out of proportion? Thank you for your response. — D.B.

Answer: I had never seen that group’s work before, and I took a careful look at the site and methodology. I was a bit surprised but pleased that the information presented seemed to be well-researched and based on good science.

I certainly would consider their ratings, and given two products that I liked equally, I would choose the one with a better safety score. I am not sure that everything you choose for yourself and your family needs to be in the “safest” category, but the potential safety of a product should be in the list of attributes you consider, along with price, when choosing a product.

If we all stopped buying products with less-safe ingredients, manufacturers would get the message and stop using them. I suspect that the risk of using the non-preferred products is modest, but nobody really knows how much risk there is. If reducing your risk is easy, then why not?

Dear Dr. Roach: Whenever I eat a meal or drink any kind of fluid, my stomach balloons out and I look four or five months pregnant. It doesn’t cause any pain, just discomfort. The next morning when I get up, my stomach is normal again. A few years ago, a doctor said only that this should have been addressed when I was an infant. I’m now in my late 40s and am a little nervous. Could this stomachache be the start of something bad that should have been taken care of years ago? Any idea what this might be? — A.S.

Answer: I would be a lot more worried if you hadn’t said that this has been going on for years. Even so, it’s not normal, and I would recommend that you see a gastroenterologist.

A partial mechanical blockage of the stomach outlet would explain the symptoms, but I wouldn’t expect that to last for years without a crisis. One condition that comes to mind is gastroparesis (gastro-par-EES-us), which is an inability of the stomach to empty properly. It’s often associated with diabetes, but it can happen for no reason or after a viral infection. Gastroparesis is diagnosed by a gastric (stomach) emptying study, and there is effective treatment.

Dear Dr. Roach: Is it OK to re-use bottled water bottles for 1) water from a new gallon container of drinking water, and 2) tap water? — S.K.

Answer: Reusing water bottles is a great idea, since it helps the environment. There is no medical reason not to. I have a steel thermos that I like to use because it keeps the water nice and cold. I also drink only tap water, being in a fortunate area with outstanding-quality water.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am an 87-year-old male in very good health but with constipation. My doctor has me on Metamucil, which helps greatly. What causes this condition, and is there anything that is more effective? I keep forgetting to take it on a constant, almost unwavering basis. I have severe flatulence, which strikes at the worst possible times. Any suggestions? — I.H.

Answer: Constipation is very common, especially as we get older. Some causes of constipation include not getting enough fiber in one’s diet, not getting enough exercise and taking in inadequate fluids. Some prescription medications can cause constipation as well.

I agree with your doctor, because Metamucil is a fiber supplement. Unfortunately, flatulence is a normal side effect of fiber. Taking it every day does help the body get used to it and may reduce side effects, including gas and bloating. You also can get fiber through foods, especially whole grains and vegetables. Make sure you are keeping up your fluid intake and doing plenty of walking.

Email: ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.