Health

Are fresh juice drinks as healthy as they seem?

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

For people on the go, it’s easy to turn to a fruit juice or a smoothie when you don’t have time to sit and eat a full meal, especially when this seems like a healthy option. There are definite benefits to this decision. After all, cold pressed juices and smoothies are often served fresh, and they contain most of the vitamins and minerals from the pressed fruit. However these fruity drinks can also raise blood sugar levels and pack on the calories, even if they are made with healthy ingredients.

The U.S. longevity gap

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

It may surprise some to realize that life expectancy in the United States is lower than in other developed countries. The reasons include higher rates of motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, and gun violence. They have a large effect on longevity because they predominantly affect young people. If there is good news, it’s that these contributors are preventable. Other factors that may be more difficult to tackle include inaccessible or unaffordable health care.

Pace to breathe — New treatments for sleep apnea

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Sleep apnea is a common condition that currently affects 26% of all Americans. When a person suffers from sleep apnea, their breathing becomes shallow or even disrupted during their sleep. This results in poor sleep and daytime sleepiness. However, a recent study showed that the use of a pacemaker on the hypoglossal nerve in the neck effectively treated people with moderate to severe sleep apnea. Although there isn’t widespread use of pacemakers to treat this sleeping disorder just yet, it may be an effective solution for people with sleep apnea.

When hot gets too hot: keeping children safe in the heat

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

As temperatures around the U.S. continue to rise, it’s important for parents to recognize the risks that sunny summer days can pose to children. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are some of the most common issues overheated children may face, but simple measures, like taking rest breaks in the shade, watching the weather forecast for excessive heat, and drinking cold water can help keep children safe during the sunny summer days.

E-cigarettes: Good news, bad news

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

While e-cigarettes do not produce the tar or toxic gases found in cigarette smoke, this doesn’t make them a healthy option. The e-liquid found in e-cigarettes still contains highly addictive nicotine that also increases your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nicotine also increases the risk of addiction to other drugs and may impair brain development. Rather than rely on the perceived benefits of e-cigarettes, people should avoid smoking altogether.

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.