Dr Ranj Singh, This Morning’s resident doctor, answers your queries on iron deficiency, gallstones and insomnia
Dr Ranj Singh is here to answer your health concerns, with expert advice on how to sleep better, the benefits of a healthy diet and how to use paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Dr Ranj is an NHS clinician who specialises in working with children and young people. You may recognise him from ITV’s This Morning, where he’s a resident doctor. Save Money: Lose Weight is a TV show based on his recent book of the same title.
Does drinking tea affect your iron levels?
“I have low iron levels and I’ve heard that drinking tea can reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron from your food. Is that correct, and should I stop drinking tea?”
Low iron levels are a cause of anaemia. This can be due to a number of reasons (most commonly because of a lack of iron in your diet), but we do know that drinking too much tea can reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron from what you eat.
Improving your iron status is relatively straightforward, providing you don’t have any underlying medical conditions: increase your intake of foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, brown rice, red meat, eggs and dried fruit. Reducing your intake of tea – also coffee, milk and other dairy produce – can help too as all these can reduce your ability to absorb iron, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give them up completely. If you’re struggling to get enough iron through food, then you can take supplements too – have a chat with your pharmacist about which ones might be best for you.
Read more of our health and wellbeing advice from the experts
Can diet help my symptoms of gallstones?
“I’ve recently been diagnosed with gallstones, but I’m really scared by the idea of surgery. Are there dietary or lifestyle changes I could make that may alleviate my symptoms?”
Gallstones are small stones made of cholesterol that form in the gallbladder – a small pouch just outside the liver that normally stores and concentrates bile (which helps us to digest fat). Often, gallstones don’t cause any symptoms at all and can be passed without problem. But if they block the tube out of the gallbladder then they may cause severe and sudden pain – and if the gallbladder becomes inflamed (cholecystitis), this may result in symptoms such as jaundice and fever.
The problem is that once the stones have formed, they can be hard to get rid of. If they’re small, they may just pass out of the gallbladder by themselves. You might be prescribed a medicine called ursodeoxycholic acid, which can help to dissolve them, and eating a healthy, balanced diet may also help with some of your symptoms.
However, if your gallstones are large and causing blockage, then you may indeed need to have surgery, which could involve removing the whole gallbladder. It would be worthwhile discussing the pros and cons of this with your surgeon before you have it.
What can I do to get a better night’s sleep?
“Lately I’ve been struggling with insomnia. I drift off without a problem, but then wake hours later and am unable to fall back to sleep. How can I get a decent night’s kip?”
Sleep is vital for good physical and mental health, but most of us don’t get enough of it. The average adult requires between seven and nine hours per night, but research shows that many of us get much less and this can have a significant impact on our wellbeing.
Improving the quality of your sleep could mean addressing various factors, not just one. Firstly, make sure your sleep environment is ideal – it should be warm, dry, dark, quiet and comfortable. It will also help if you have a good quality mattress that is comfortable and gives you adequate support.
Make sure you’re physically active during the day and then have a wind-down routine at night that includes a ‘power-down hour’ where you have no electronic devices in the bedroom for an hour before bed. Reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime can also help you sleep.
If you’re still struggling despite these simple measures, then a visit to your doctor may rule out any medical causes and also give you other options to help.
Should I take paracetamol or ibuprofen?
“What’s the difference between paracetamol and ibuprofen – and what sort of ailments should you use each one for? I’ve also read that you can alternate them in order to smooth out the peaks and troughs of pain relief – is this correct?”
Paracetamol and ibuprofen are both medicines used for symptoms such as pain and fever. So you might think they’re similar, but they belong to entirely different classes of medication. Paracetamol, as explained above, can be used to treat pain and fever. It’s safe for the vast majority of people. However, if you have liver or kidney problems, or have issues with alcohol misuse, then you may be advised against it (check with your healthcare professional).
Ibuprofen can also be used to treat pain and fever but, in addition to this, is anti-inflammatory (ie it reduces inflammation). It is taken in a different dose to paracetamol, and at different time intervals in a 24-hour period, but can be used in addition to it.
However, if you have ailments such as asthma, kidney problems, stomach ulcers or bleeding disorders, you need to be careful and consult a medical professional before taking ibuprofen. Often, it’s recommended to take it with food to avoid stomach irritation.
Usually doctors will advise you to take either paracetamol or ibuprofen (especially when it comes to children), but there are instances where you can take both medications, providing you are following the dosage instructions. If your symptoms are persistent despite taking them, you should definitely be speaking to a healthcare professional.