Which is healthier—coffee or tea?

Providing you do not drink too much or lace either beverage with loads of sugar or high-fat cream, choosing between the two is more a matter of personal taste since studies suggest both offer health benefits. For example, both coffee and tea (especially green tea) contain antioxidants called polyphenols that help regulate blood sugar, which offers some protection against diabetes. An antioxidant-rich diet can help fight inflammation and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, so tea and coffee can help with that. A pool of studies that included more than 1 million test subjects showed that those who drank three to five daily cups of coffee had a much lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Coffee and tea also contain caffeine. Small amounts are safe and provide a mild stimulating effect to increase mental alertness. In addition, a study by Johns Hopkins University suggested that the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee may improve long-term memory. Another recent study showed a link between regular, moderate coffee intake (one to two cups a day) and reduced risk of mild cognitive decline. On the other hand, too much caffeine may cause serious illness, particularly in patients with hypertension and heart disease. Caffeine can raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, and, in extreme cases, be associated with cardiac arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and ventricular arrhythmias. So as long as you keep your caffeine consumption at a reasonable level, feel free to choose whichever beverage you enjoy most.

​Is it possible to improve my vision so I do not need such a strong prescription?

In the majority of cases, gradual loss of clear vision is based on changes in the shape of the eye, the pupil’s reaction to light, and the ability to shift focus. The need for eyeglasses as we age typically points to one or more of these variables. In terms of possible treatments, the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that alternative therapies offer no measurable benefit to visual acuity. However, many complementary medicine professionals believe that eye “training”—exercises that improve flexibility of eye muscles, along with dietary supplements targeted to eye health—can provide some natural vision correction. One typical eye exercise is to imagine yourself before a giant clock face, with noon directly above your head and 6 p.m. at your feet. Without moving your head, shift your eyes back and forth diagonally, horizontally, and vertically between the numbers until you have exercised your peripheral vision at every variable. Another exercise is to hold your pointed index finger in front of your face, just a few inches from your nose, then alternate focus between your finger and a set point in the distance. The Association of Psychological Science reported a recent study of seniors who participated in a week of extensive eye training using images of low and high contrast and varying orientation. The study targeted visual processing in the brain, not changes to the eye. Still, all the participants showed visual improvement at week’s end. As long as you do not overdo it, a daily regimen of simple eye exercises certainly cannot worsen your vision, so there is little to lose by trying.

​Can oral zinc supplements shorten duration, decrease severity, and/or reduce incidence of the common cold?

A compilation of studies on zinc’s effects on cold symptoms found that zinc lozenges or throat spray could slightly shorten a cold’s duration if taken within a day of the first symptoms. However, you must be careful with zinc products, as any prolonged use may be dangerous. Too much zinc can cause anemia and damage your nervous system. Zinc nasal sprays can permanently damage your sense of smell. Check with your doctor before taking any zinc products, and never use them for more than a few days.

​Editor-in-Chief Bruce A. Ferrell, MD, Professor of Medicine and Geriatrics, of Healthy Years is the property of Belvoir Media Group