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House Calls, September 27, 2012

Practicing family physicians from the UNC Department of Family Medicine have teamed up with The Carrboro Citizen to bring you a weekly feature responding to your questions about health and medicine. Send your questions or comments to yourhealth@unc.edu

This week we respond to questions about exercise-induced asthma and organic foods.

Dear HOUSE Calls, I have difficulty breathing sometimes when I run, and my friend said that I might have asthma. What exactly is it? Do you think I have it?

Your friend may be right. Asthma is spasm or inflammation of the bronchioles – the tubes in your lungs. Exercise-induced asthma simply means that exercise brings on this spasm. Many people with regular asthma also have exercise-induced asthma, but some people only have exercise-induced asthma. Some indications of asthma might be tightness in your chest, coughing or an audible wheeze. Also a history of asthma, allergies or eczema in you or your family can be associated with exercise-induced asthma. You should speak to your doctor about this. She or he might recommend a pulmonary function test, useful for identifying underlying asthma, or an inhaler medicine (albuterol) before exercise to open up those breathing tubes.

Dear HOUSE Calls, What does organic really mean on a food label, and are these foods better for you?

Eating organic seems like a good idea, but there are some practical issues. Organic has become a bit of a marketing tool; it is trendy. It costs growers or manufacturers money to have food inspected and certified as organic for labeling purposes. In some cases, organic food may be of lower quality than non-organic food that is grown locally. We would be hard-pressed to show you clinical studies demonstrating improved health from eating organic. That said, there is little downside to eating organic, except the cost. We find that organic food costs 20-50 percent more, which is prohibitive for many people. There is a growing concern about the number of chemicals that come in contact with our foods, so I think it is very reasonable to buy organic. One compromise rule is if you peel it, go cheap. If you eat the peel, consider organic. Apples and peaches are very high in chemicals, so we might lean toward organic, but bananas and pineapples, because we throw away the peels, are less of a problem. Buying local is a good approach, and you can often talk to the farmer about the use of chemicals. Some small growers are very concerned about chemicals but can’t spend the money to get their crops certified as organic. Also, washing produce is a great way to get rid of some chemicals, dirt and germs.

House Calls is a weekly column by Dr. Adam Goldstein, Dr. Cristy Page and Dr. Adam Zolotor on behalf of Your Health and the UNC Department of Family Medicine.

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