Drugs and Supplements

Cracking the coconut oil craze

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

The health benefits of coconut oil remain unproven and there is no evidence that consuming it lowers the risk for heart disease. Results of studies of populations in parts of India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Polynesia who consume large amounts of coconut must be tempered with the fact that these traditional diets include more healthful fish, fruits, and vegetables than the typical American diet. That said, it’s fine to enjoy foods prepared with coconut oil provided they are occasional treats.

Treating pain after opioid addiction: A personal story

Peter Grinspoon, MD
Peter Grinspoon, MD, Contributing Editor

What happens when a person who was addicted to opiates is injured and needs pain medication? A doctor who is in recovery has firsthand experience.

Long-term use of opioids may depend on the doctor who prescribes them

Scott Weiner, M.D.
Scott Weiner, M.D., Contributor

With opioid addiction such a serious problem, new research indicates that some doctors are more likely to prescribe opioids to their patients than others, and those patients are more likely to end up taking these medications long term. That means it is crucial for consumers to educate themselves about the risks of taking opiates, and to consider alternative medications and treatments if possible.

Is ADHD overdiagnosed and overtreated?

Updates in Slow Medicine
Updates in Slow Medicine, Contributing Editors

As the percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased in recent years, a new book delves into the connections between pharmaceutical companies and medical experts, and how these relate to rates of diagnosis.

Some medications don’t help back pain as much as we thought

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

With back pain affecting so many of us, it’s eye-opening that a new review of dozens of studies is reporting that many people who took NSAID medications did not feel any better, or felt only slightly better, after treatment.

Parents: As more states legalize marijuana, here’s what you need to know and do

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

As marijuana becomes legal or is decriminalized in more states, teens are less likely to view its use as risky, so parents need to talk with their children about safety, especially if they use it themselves.

Bad bug, no drugs: The real end of antibiotics?

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

The constant stream of antibiotics in the food we eat and in the hospitals that treat us is creating the perfect environment for antibiotic resistant bacteria. It’s not cost effective to develop new antibiotics to replace the now-useless ones, so our pipeline is drying up. And while this sounds bleak, there are things you can do as a consumer and as a patient to help. You can start by paying attention to the food you eat and by not pressing your doctor for unnecessary antibiotics.

Taking medications correctly requires clear communication

David Scales, MPhil, MD, PhD

Taking medications incorrectly means that patients don’t get the full benefit of the drugs and may experience unnecessary (or unnecessarily severe) side effects. The result can even cause a simple ailment to turn into a hospital stay. It’s essential that patients understand when to take their medications, and why they’re taking them in the first place. This understanding relies heavily on successful communication between patients and their doctors. Gaps, such as language barriers, can be bridged in a number of ways.

Is aspirin a wonder drug?

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

People at high risk for heart problems are often prescribed a daily low-dose aspirin, but many more people who could benefit from taking aspirin do not do so. A recent analysis suggests that for people ages 51 to 79 in the United States, regular low-dose aspirin can help reduce rates of heart disease and some cancers as well as save substantial health care dollars.

Vitamin D: What’s the “right” level?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

Agreement on the adequate level of vitamin D is difficult to come by in the medical community, with respected organizations offering widely divergent guidelines on how much is enough for most people. All that said, most experts agree that doctors should be checking vitamin D levels in high-risk people — those most at risk for a true deficiency.