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DR. ROACH: Radiation therapy often has side effects

DEAR DR. ROACH: In 2003, I had surgery for throat cancer, followed by radiation treatments. I have been negative ever since. My salivary and thyroid glands were damaged. Does the thyroid gland control bowel movements? I've been constipated a lot. I've tried different laxatives without good results. -- J.

ANSWER: Radiation therapy, though it can be lifesaving, often has side effects. In the case of head and neck cancers, you have had two common side effects: damage to salivary glands and to the thyroid gland. Both can affect bowel function.

There are three major salivary glands: the parotid (in the cheeks), the submandibular (under the jaw) and the sublingual (under the tongue). Low amounts of saliva can cause severe dental damage, but saliva is helpful in several other ways: Saliva has enzymes that help break down food, and the liquid swallowed helps the food move through the digestive tract. Without adequate saliva -- whether it's due to radiation treatment, medical conditions like Sjogren's disease or a side effect from medication -- constipation is more likely.

Low thyroid levels are a frequent cause of constipation, and radiation damage to the thyroid predisposes you not only to low thyroid levels but also to thyroid cancer, so your thyroid gland needs to be periodically examined. You should have a lab test to check your thyroid function.

Most constipation improves with increased dietary fiber and water.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I'm an 80-year-old woman with very few ailments. The only medication I take is for low thyroid. About two weeks ago, I woke up feeling tired, lightheaded and with a poor appetite. My granddaughter took me to my primary care doctor, who did a checkup, including a urine test. He told me that my symptoms were due to the "super moon." It affects people in flat-roof dwellings, and he said my symptoms would last only three days.

I had to laugh when he told me this. He didn't prescribe anything, and I did feel better after three days, like he said. My family says I should change doctors. Have you ever heard of "super moon" ailment? -- E.F.

ANSWER: It grieves me to dash this romantic notion, but at least four studies have looked at whether any behavior changes or medical illnesses occur more or less frequently according to the moon cycle, and there is no correlation.

As far as changing your doctor goes, maybe he felt laughter was the best medicine.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I have only one question: Is it inevitable for a woman to gain weight at menopause? I am approaching that time in my life, and my friends are all telling me that weight gain cannot be avoided. -- L.S.

ANSWER: Because of the hormonal changes around menopause, many women do indeed gain weight. In fact, many women gain weight in the abdomen, rather than in the hips and thighs, and abdominal fat is more closely associated with heart disease, so it's important to try to avoid it.

Fortunately, weight gain is not inevitable. Increasing exercise (my favorite recommendation remains walking) and a diet low in red meat but high in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts and whole grains not only help with weight management but can improve how you feel.