To drink or not to drink

Your health

By Dr Gita Mathai
  • Published 3.01.18

I am confused about the amount of water I should be drinking. Is eight glasses a day really enough?

The amount of water you need to drink depends on the climate of the place you live in, the amount of exercise and the type of work you do. Basically, you need to pass light-coloured urine and drink a glass of water with each meal. Drink water at other times before you actually feel thirsty.


My 66-year-old father has an inguinal hernia on the left side in the groin. It becomes small when he lies down and then increases when he stands up or coughs. He is scared of surgery. Can we just leave it alone?

The problem with hernia is that it can remain trouble-free for many years and then suddenly, unexpectedly become stuck. If this occurs, it is dangerous and can be life-threatening. It is better to have the surgery while he is relatively young and fit. He does not need to be afraid. There are newer laparoscopic techniques, so hospital stay is minimal.


My mother woke up this morning with half her face immobile and unable to close her eye.

She has developed a classic case of Bell’s palsy, a common condition involving the seventh cranial nerve. It usually follows a viral infection that activates the immune system, which for some reason goes and attacks this nerve. It is usually a temporary phenomenon. It responds well to steroids, electrical stimulation and exercise. Most people recover within three months.


My father has an enlarged prostate and he was advised medication as an alternative to surgery. It does not seem very effective. How long does he have to take it? 

The distressing symptoms of an enlarged prostate, such as the need to urinate several times at night thus disrupting sleep, a feeling of incomplete evacuation of the urine, straining and sometimes even dribbling, can take up to six months to respond optimally to medication. Treatment then has to be continued for life. He can increase the medication’s effectiveness by not drinking alcohol, not smoking, reducing his caffeine intake and relaxing instead of straining while passing urine.


There are so many diets advertised to lose weight that I am confused.

Basically any diet that is very different from your normal family diet is really not sustainable in the long term. All the shakes and substitutes for meals work only for a while and then the hunger sets in and weight creeps up. The only really time-tested diet is the Paleo diet with meat/fish, nuts, vegetables and olive oil. Dairy products are limited and processed grains cut out. Your best bet is to calculate your calories and table them in a diary (or on your phone) and carry it around with you. Try to restrict yourself to 1,200-1,500 calories per day. Build muscle using light weights as muscle can efficiently burn calories. Exercise aerobically for an hour every day.


Can I eat sugar-free snacks? I am diabetic and cannot resist chocolate and biscuits.

Even though these are advertised as “sugar-free”, they may contain carbohydrates, trans fats and chemicals such as mannitol and sorbitol that are added for taste. Read the list of contents carefully and check the calorie content. Some “bites” seem small and tasty and then you wind up eating more than one!

The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. 
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