Archive for September, 2015

Overweight children are at risk for heart disease as adults

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

In a recent study of nearly 9,000 overweight and obese children and teens, doctors found that these young people had concerning blood pressure readings and worrisome cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In adults, such test results suggest a much higher risk for heart disease — so they are of particularly great concern in children. The good news is that with help and support, kids can lose weight — the results are a healthier, happier childhood and a greater chance of a healthier, longer adult life.

How well does calcium intake really protect your bones?

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

How much calcium do you really need for strong, healthy bones? The answer isn’t as clear as we once thought. Recent analyses suggest that neither dietary calcium nor calcium supplements reduce the risk of fractures. In the absence of a clear deficiency, it’s impossible to know how exactly much calcium a person needs. Ideally, you should get most of your calcium through food. Be sure you’re getting adequate vitamin D as well.

Why some parents don’t follow the “safe sleep” recommendations for babies

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

The very thought of losing a baby to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is terrifying. Safer sleeping practices for infants have greatly reduced the number of babies lost to SIDS, but many parents are unclear on the reasons behind these recommendations and therefore often don’t follow them. The safest way to put your baby to bed is: on the back; in a crib, minus blankets, bumpers, and stuffed animals; and with a pacifier. Another critical factor is maintaining a smoke-free home and family.

“Not Again!” — When UTIs won’t quit at midlife

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

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur in women of all ages. Physical and hormonal changes can leave women at midlife particularly vulnerable. No woman should have to put up with the inconvenience and discomfort of recurrent UTIs. Self-help measures can be effective, but if they don’t do the trick, see your doctor. He or she can identify and treat any underlying problems and recommend other strategies to keep UTIs at bay.

Treating unexplained infertility: Answers still needed

Jeffrey Ecker, MD
Jeffrey Ecker, MD, Contributing Editor

One of the most common treatments for unexplained infertility is ovulation induction, in which a woman takes drugs that will increase the number of eggs the ovary releases in the hope that at least one will result in a pregnancy. But when too many eggs are available for fertilization, the rates of high-risk multiple pregnancies go up. A recent study compared three drugs used for ovulation induction and found that the one more likely to result in a live birth was also more likely to result in a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, or more). The options for treating unexplained infertility remain less than ideal, but careful choices mean that the pregnancies that do result will be safer for moms and babies.

Tai chi can improve life for people with chronic health conditions

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Tai chi has become popular in the United States in recent years, thanks in part to growing evidence for its many health benefits. This ancient Chinese exercise not only improves balance and flexibility, it may prevent falls, ease pain, and even help your heart. A recent analysis of 33 studies of tai chi suggests that doing tai chi can help older adults with common, long-term health conditions move about more easily and enhance their quality of life. The quality of life improvements may stem from the meditative, mind-calming aspects of tai chi.

Following low-risk prostate cancers before starting treatment becoming more common

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Treatment decisions are complicated for men with low-risk prostate cancer that grows slowly. These cancers may never become deadly during a man’s expected lifespan. And there is no conclusive evidence showing that treatment in these cases extends survival. So cancer specialists have been leaning toward monitoring low-risk prostate cancer carefully and starting treatment only when it begins to spread. This approach was once used only in academic cancer centers, but new research suggests that this strategy is becoming more common in urology practices throughout the United States and other countries as well.

Join us for a special webcast: “Rethinking Cholesterol”

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

If the latest information on health and wellness is important to you, you will not want to miss a special live-streamed webcast, “Rethinking Cholesterol,” which will be aired on Thursday, September 24, from 12:30pm to 1:30pm Eastern time. The webcast, which is free to all viewers, is co-sponsored by Reuters, Harvard Health Publications, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School.

The type of fat you eat matters!

Contributing Editors, Harvard Health

Media coverage of a study published in the medical journal BMJ last month left the impression that eating saturated fat is not harmful to one’s health. These news stories left out an important point. Low–saturated-fat diets, in which those fats are replaced with even less healthful food (refined carbohydrates, for example), may not be any healthier than diets higher in saturated fats. Experts generally agree that the overall quality of a person’s diet matters more than any one particular food or food group. That said, the type of fat you eat is important, so choose foods with healthy unsaturated fat (fish, nuts, and most plant oils), limit foods high in saturated fat (butter, whole milk, cheese, coconut and palm oil, and red meats), and avoid foods with trans fat altogether.

Turning to drugs and treatments before they are “ready for prime time”

Amy Ship, MD
Amy Ship, MD, Contributing Editor

Having a terminal illness or debilitating disease is devastating. Imagine, then, being in that situation and exhausting the available treatment options — or having limited options to begin with. It’s understandable that people in these circumstances might welcome the opportunity to try experimental drugs or treatments. But it is not always easy or expedient to gain access to such therapies. So called “right-to-try” laws are supposed to help doctors and patients access these treatments. However, it isn’t clear that right-to-try laws will actually help, and they can create additional dilemmas in what are already complicated situations.