Q: My 3-year-old won’t stop sucking his thumb. I’m concerned about all the germs he puts in his mouth and that he’ll get buck teeth. How can I get him to stop? -- Kendra K., Miami
A: Well, you don’t have to worry about buck teeth if he stops sucking his thumb before his permanent teeth come in, around age 6. Most kids stop thumb-sucking on their own by age 4. But if his permanent teeth come in and he’s still sucking his thumb, he could alter the alignment of his teeth and damage the roof of his mouth. In that case, you can help him stop by offering gentle reminders that it can hurt his teeth, offering positive reinforcement and identifying stressful triggers that prompt the thumb-sucking. Peer pressure at school often is the most powerful deterrent.
Now, as far as germs he gets from thumb-sucking ... A new study from New Zealand found that kids who were thumb-suckers (and nail-biters) have fewer allergies later in life than those who weren’t. Score one for the hygiene hypothesis: the theory that our oversanitized world deprives our immune system of exposure to a wide range of infectious agents, resulting in an increase in the incidence of autoimmune and allergic diseases.
According to the study, children who sucked their thumbs and bit their nails (we don’t advocate either behavior, by the way) had a 31 percent risk of allergy at age 13, while those who didn’t had a 49 percent risk. That’s a big difference. And the percentages stayed the same when the study’s subjects were tested again at age 32.
So don’t worry too much about your toddler’s thumb-sucking. And don’t think you have to douse the house -- and him -- with antibacterial products. That’s not good for the environment or your child. Soap and water will do.
Q: I don’t like taking the statin I am on, and I hear there’s a new medicine that’s been approved to lower cholesterol. How does it work? -- Tom B., Albuquerque, New Mexico
A: You’re right, there is a new class of cholesterol-modifying drugs. They’re called anti-PCSK9 antibodies, and just recently have been approved for lowering lousy LDL cholesterol (they’re administered as an injection). The generic names for these monoclonal antibodies are alirocumab and evolocumab. In clinical trials, they seemed to be well-tolerated. However, they are currently approved only for folks who must lower their lousy LDL cholesterol because they have familial hypercholesterolemia or clinical atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke, and who cannot tolerate a statin. They cost $10,000 or more per year.
At Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Steve Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine, and his colleagues put the medication through a clinical trial focusing on folks who could not tolerate statins because of severe muscle pain: In one part of the study, people taking the PCSK9 inhibitor for 24 weeks saw their LDL levels drop by more than 50 percent, compared with a 17 percent drop among those on another (non-statin) cholesterol-lowering medication.
If this new med is not for you, ask your doctor about switching to another brand of statin (there are seven; their generics run about $4 a month) or a non-statin cholesterol reducer. You might well be able to find one you don’t mind taking.
You also can lower your lousy LDL cholesterol and raise your good HDL by managing stress (meditation), exercising (start walking, with a goal of 10,000 steps a day), and identifying and avoiding the Five Food Felons, which are: trans fats, found in fried food; saturated fats, found in full-fat dairy products and red and processed meat; added sugars or syrups, such as high-fructose corn syrup; and any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole.
Replace the felonious foods in your diet with fruits, nuts, vegetables and lean proteins. You’ll get used to their great tastes pretty quickly. Then you’ll be loving the foods that love you back!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign)sharecare.com.