1. Coffee is a necessity for me, especially when school gets into full swing. Are there healthier alternatives for that much-needed energy boost and is it OK that I indulge my caffeine fix daily?

It depends on what is causing your fatigue. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, then sleep is the answer — perhaps try power napping, which is shown to really invigorate the body. Otherwise, coffee, in moderation, is a fairly healthy choice. Coffee is full of antioxidants in addition to the stimulating effects of caffeine. Remember, coffee is the natural source of caffeine; other energy-like beverages are all artificial with many additives and can contain dangerous amounts of stimulants. So having a cup or two of coffee daily is perfectly healthy (barring any underlying medical issues).


2. I keep reading that fats are good for you. Are fatty foods now a must where health is concerned, or are there good and bad fats?

It is important to eat all foods in moderation, and fats are no exception. All fats improve taste and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and give you “satiety” or a full feeling. The fats that are heart-healthy include olive and canola oils, fatty fish and other polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils). The fats that should be limited say “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient label; these can be harmful to the body’s circulatory system.


3. True or false: Chocolate is healthy.

It’s not quite that easy. Chocolate (cacao bean) has many healthy qualities that may improve heart health. However, what we add to it and how much of it we consume can overwhelm those benefits, making it unhealthy. For example, small amounts of minimally sweetened chocolate may be beneficial, but adding lots of corn syrup and saturated fats to chocolate (as found in many candies) would cause more harm than good.

Betsy Reynolds-Malear, M.S., R.D. is a Registered Dietician & Nutrition Specialist at Student Health.


4. I’m an athlete here at UCSB and I often get muscle cramps. I’ve heard of many remedies such as eating bananas or drinking pickle juice. Do these claims have any merit and is there one best way to prevent cramps?

The primary cause of muscle cramps is a decrease in coordination between muscles and nerves due to extreme fatigue in the exercised muscle. While dehydration, abnormal electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium or calcium) in the blood and heat or cold stress during sport might increase your risk of cramping, the research doesn’t indicate that this is the direct cause. As an athlete, you are more likely to deplete your electrolyte stores, so do make bananas and avocados (potassium) and dark, leafy greens (magnesium and calcium) a part of your diet. The best way to reduce your risk of muscle cramps is to 1) stretch before and after exercise and 2) eat adequate carbohydrates before and during exercise, which may help prevent premature muscle fatigue.

Carrie L. Flack, M.S., R.D. is a Registered Dietician & Nutrition Specialist at Student Health.


5. I’ve been hearing about a terrible flu spreading across the United States. Have we had cases at UCSB?

Yes, we’ve started seeing influenza cases at Student Health as soon as everyone came back for Winter Quarter. This is a serious viral illness that can keep you in bed for seven to 10 days! The best way to prevent this disaster is to get a flu shot (available daily at Student Health) and to avoid contact by washing hands and staying away from ill persons if you can. In a crowded environment like UCSB, we all need to respect each other by staying home when we’re ill to avoid passing it to others, and at the minimum, cover your cough with your sleeve. Most persons infected do not need to be seen medically unless they have a high fever, trouble breathing or worsening symptoms.  Further information can be found at http://studenthealth.sa.ucsb.edu or http://www.flu.gov. Student Health Advice Nurses can help by phone (805) 893-7129 or by confidential email through “Gateway” on our website.

Mary Ferris, M.D. is Executive Director at Student Health.


6. I just started a new birth control where I only have my period a couple times a year rather than every month. I know the product is FDA approved, but is this healthy for my body?

Continuous birth control pills are popular with women because they decrease the number of periods in a year. Research has not shown any harm in decreasing monthly bleeding and in fact shows benefits such as less painful periods, fewer PMS symptoms and fewer headaches caused by menstrual migraines. There are always risks and benefits to any medication you take. The most common reported side effect is irregular vaginal bleeding, but this usually improves over time (after a year many patients will have no periods at all). Overall, continuous birth control pills are felt to be reliable and safe. Their effects on the body are similar to monthly birth control pills.

Mary Miller, M.D., Pharm.D. is Medical Director at Student Health.