My eyesight is deteriorating - could a change in diet help? And what could be causing the baldness on my legs?

WILL BLUEBERRIES DO ANY GOOD?

Q. I am 74 and have been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (the dry form of the disease). My vision is slowly getting worse and I am finding it more and more difficult to read. Are there any nutritional remedies that will slow down the progression of this disease? I have heard that blueberries are good, but I don't want to spend time or money on hopeless remedies.

A. Macular degeneration comes in two forms - wet and dry. The dry form is more common, but the wet form is more devastating, because it sometimes causes a rapid deterioration in vision. The macula is the centre of the retina, and the part of the eye that is responsible for the central field of vision. When the cells in the macula deteriorate, it becomes more and more difficult to see things clearly. There are no effective medical or surgical treatments for the dry form, but there is some evidence that changes in the diet might keep the macular cells from deteriorating too quickly. A research trial showed that high doses of antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins A, C and E, had some effect in slowing down dry macular degeneration. There has also been a lot of talk (but less convincing evidence) that some foods contain substances (flavonoids) that will help. Blueberries are often mentioned, as are onions, cranberries and many other fruits and vegetables. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (www.rnib.org.uk) recommends a diet high in fruit and vegetables, avoiding smoking, and vitamins, if you and your GP think your diet is inadequate.

ICE-CREAM MAKES MY HEAD HURT

Q. Whenever I drink more than a few sips of an ice-cold drink, I get a headache. It lasts for perhaps half a minute and then goes away. The worst cause is a Mcdonald's milkshake, which causes the headache after a few sips. Is there a cure for this?

A. The technical name for this is a cold stimulus headache, more commonly known as ice-cream headache. It is caused by cold liquids coming into contact with the palate and the back of the throat. It has been estimated that as many as 75 per cent of people have had this problem at some time in their life. About three years ago, a group of Canadian 14-year-old school pupils published a research paper in the British Medical Journal about ice-cream headache. They discovered that if you eat ice cream quickly, you are much more likely to get a headache than if you eat it slowly. Suggested cures include pressing your thumb up against the front of your palate - said to bring almost instant relief, probably by raising the temperature of the palate. Another is to firmly massage both sides of the back of the neck. The final cure is to avoid cold drinks and ice cream.

A HAIRY PROBLEM

Q. Some of the hair on my legs has disappeared. On each leg the bare skin extends from a centre line starting below the knee and radiating outwards around to the back and down to the ankle. What could this be caused by? My GP discounted poor circulation, as I have a good pulse in each foot. I hardly ever eat meat but I do eat fish."

A. I think your hairless legs are caused by wearing socks. The pressure and friction from the socks prevents hairs from growing and rubs away the hairs that have grown. This is probably nothing to do with circulation, and it's certainly nothing to do with your diet. If you really want to test my hypothesis, try wearing a short sock on one foot and a longer sock on the other for a couple of months.

Send 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 health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

Readers write

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