Harvard Health Blog

Join the discussion with experts from Harvard Health Publications and others like you on a variety of health topics, medical news and views.

Gut reaction: How bacteria in your belly may affect your heart

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Research suggests that the bacteria in your gut may also impact your heart health. Collectively known as the gut microbiota, these microbes assist with digestion, but also make certain vitamins, break down toxins, and train your immune system. These microbes also play a role in obesity and the development of diabetes, both of which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.

Quitting smoking during the second half of the menstrual cycle may help women kick the habit

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Studies have shown that not only do women have a harder time quitting than men, but they also experience more severe health consequences from smoking. However, new research suggests that it may be easier for women to quit smoking during the second half of their menstrual cycle. During this time, the hormone progesterone is higher, and this appears to aid in quitting and avoiding relapse.

The trouble with antibiotics

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

The overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase in antibiotic resistance, and inappropriate prescribing and antibiotic misuse are major contributors to this problem. In one study conducted between 2010 and 2011, researchers noted that as many as 34 million prescriptions for antibiotics were written for illnesses like the flu, upper respiratory infections, and bronchitis, all of which typically don’t require the use of antibiotics. Although antibiotic use is necessary for some infections, like pneumonia and urinary tract infections, many people will often get better in a reasonable amount of time by simply treating symptoms.

Fewer allergies: A possible upside of thumb sucking and nail biting

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s no surprise that children suck their thumbs or bite their nails. These behaviors are often discouraged, as they can go on to cause damaged teeth, infections, or even elicit teasing from other children. However, a new study suggests that there are benefits for children who exhibit these behaviors, as it makes their immune systems better at attacking germs and decreases their risk of developing common allergies. Although these habits may be irritating for parents, they may improve your child’s health in the long run.

New blood test for colon cancer screening: Questions remain

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Contributor

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new screening test for colon cancer, making it the first blood-based test for this type of cancer. While this test does make it more convenient for people to get screened for colon cancer, it is also less exact than the current screening methods. It is important to discuss your risk factors and screening options with your doctor.

Buying into generic drugs

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Generic versions of drugs are just as effective as their name-brand counterparts, and they cost less than the brand names. Although there are various reasons why your doctor might not always recommend switching to the generic version, it is important to speak with your doctor about the cost of your prescriptions and ask if there is a generic version available.

Summer is the perfect time to fine tune your diet

Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD

If you’re feeling down about not sticking to your New Year’s Resolution to eat better, don’t fret! Summer is the perfect time to kick start your new eating routine. It’s important to establish an eating pattern and stay with it. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are some great ways to eat healthfully. These tips can help you eat swap the sugar for fruit and the red meat for lean protein.

What Michelangelo’s hands (can and can’t) tell us about arthritis

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

A recent journal article describes Michelangelo’s hands as depicted in an attempt to figure out potential joint diseases he may have had. Theories suggest some myths and misconceptions about the causes and symptoms of osteoarthritis and gout. This report has implications for today’s medical care. While a picture may tell a story, there is nothing like a thorough, in person exam to know accurately make sense of signs and symptoms.

The right reasons to choose a sunscreen—and the right way to use it

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

There are a wide variety of sunscreen products on the market today that can help to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, but in a recent study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers found that 40% of the top 65 most popular sunscreens didn’t meet American Academy of Dermatology guidelines. When buying sunscreen, it is important to choose a product that is broad-spectrum, has an SPF over 30, and is water resistant. In addition to choosing the right sunscreen, it’s important to use it correctly in order to truly protect your skin from the sun.

For the good of your heart: Keep holding the salt

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

A recently published study claimed that people who ate a low sodium diet were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and death. However, there were problems with this study – including difficulty with accurately measuring each study volunteer’s daily intake of sodium. Low sodium diets may be harmful for small subsets of people, but for the majority of people restricting salt intake is still important for cardiovascular health.