Q: I heard that there are magnets that can change your gut biome and make you thinner. Sounds like sci-fi to me — although I would love it if it works! What's the story? — Patricia J., Boise, Idaho
A: Lots of experimental research on obesity gets broadcast far and wide, and the stories can make it sound like there's an instant cure — or that there will be soon. That's a shame, because it may make you think you can put off doing the tough but rewarding work that it takes to upgrade your health as you shed excess pounds. Magnet stimulation therapy isn't a solution now, but avoiding the Five Food Felons and getting 10,000 steps a day are proven ways to upgrade your health and help you lose weight.
That said, what we believe you're referring to is what's called noninvasive, deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS). In a new study presented at the Endocrine Society's 99th annual meeting, researchers used dTMS to alter neurotransmitter/hormones, such as norepinephrine, in the brain and in the gut (yup, the neurotransmitters are there too). After giving volunteers either three dTMS or three sham sessions a week for five weeks, researchers found that those getting the real dTMS lost over 3 percent of their body weight and more than 4 percent of their fat, along with measureable changes in their gut bacteria.
Many obese folks lack the right mix of certain glucose- and weight/appetite regulating gut bacteria. It seems that those bacteria can be induced to multiply through dTMS (electronic probiotics, you might say!).
What it means for you today: Amp up your intake of prebiotics (high-fiber foods), probiotics (yogurt and kefir) and supplements (we favor Culturelle and Digestive Advantage) so your body can work to promote stable glucose levels, which will help you control your appetite and promote weight loss.
Q: I have sciatic nerve pain going down my leg, and it stops me from walking. I tried stretching my leg muscles, but it doesn't help. Is walking good or bad for this? — Andy M., Freehold, N.J.
A: Walking is very good for just about everything — from having a younger RealAge to protecting your cardiovascular system and brain! But if you really have sciatica, a compression of the sciatic nerve, the problem probably won't be solved simply by walking more. You need to find out what is causing the nerve pain. The good news is that it should be fairly easily diagnosed.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, and it branches out from your lower spine and heads down the back of your legs, passing through your buttocks. Accidents can cause problems with your spine that lead to sciatic nerve damage, but the most common triggers are prolonged sitting and not getting enough exercise. Smoking, being overweight and sleeping on a too-soft mattress also can lead to the spine problems that cause sciatica.
Ninety percent of true sciatica pain is due to a herniated or slipped disc; the rest usually is related to spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal cord in the lower back), causing compression on the nerve root. In rare cases, it can be related to the growth of a tumor. So before the problem becomes chronic, which means it lasts more than eight to 12 weeks, ask your doctor for an evaluation. Hopefully you'll walk out with a physical-therapy referral. With physical therapy, most sciatica resolves within six weeks. After six weeks, if your pain persists, most docs will order an MRI.
We know it's strange, almost counterintuitive, to think your leg pain stems from a problem in your spine, but that's where sciatica usually starts. Fixing the problem there is the only thing that'll bring you lasting relief. Luckily, a combination of physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs most likely will relieve the pain (occasionally, surgery is needed) and get you back out there, walking your 10,000 steps a day.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.