A Question Of Health

What's the link between colds and cold sores?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

COLD COMFORT

Q. I have assumed that the wretched cold sores I get have been instead of the normal cold symptoms, which I haven't had for five years. This year, I tried Zovirax to treat the cold sores. It worked perfectly, but I'm now suffering from colds with a vengeance. Is it possible that preventing the cold sores from developing has forced the virus to appear as a common cold?

A. Cold sores and colds are completely unrelated. Cold sores are caused by a virus that is a member of the herpes and chickenpox family. Once this virus gets into the body, it tends to hang around in a dormant state for many years. Colds are caused by different viruses. The only link between the two is that some people develop cold sores around the time they have colds. This is probably because the cold reduces their natural immunity to the dormant cold-sore virus, and allows it to start multiplying. This makes a cold sore appear.

ATKINS ANGST

Q. I recently read that tests have shown that people on the Atkins diet show significantly reduced stored energy in the heart. What does this mean? Five years ago, I was given an artificial heart valve. Two years ago, I started the Atkins diet. I lost two stone, and have kept it off, a hitherto impossible feat. I don't eat an excessive amount of fat - all meat is grilled - but I do eat cheese every evening as a second course. The only carbohydrate I eat is the occasional banana, apple or carrots. I've never felt more active or healthy, and, at 65, have returned to work. Should I worry about "lack of heart energy"?

A. The story about the Atkins diet that hit the papers recently resulted from a research study undertaken at Oxford University. Researchers studied the heart using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which allowed them to see what was happening to various chemicals used to store energy in the cells of the heart muscle. They found that people on the high-fat low-carb Atkins Diet didn't have much energy stored in their heart muscle. One man even said he was unable to complete his morning run when on the diet. The researchers also found (but this didn't make headlines) that many aspects of heart function were unchanged by the diet.

The Atkins diet clearly helps you to keep your weight down, and this may be one reason why you feel so well. It is too early to know whether the "lack of heart energy" is good or bad for the heart, or of no significance. The British Heart Foundation, which funded the Oxford study, says: "This research tells us that our hearts are directly affected by this kind of unbalanced diet. It remains to be determined whether these small changes have any importance for long-term heart health."

Have your say: Readers write

GS has an itchy scalp, too:

I'd like to know where and how the person obtained the safflower or the castor-oil pills that solved their itchy-scalp problem. I can't find them anywhere on the web or locally. Can anyone help?

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail to health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally

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