Drugs and Supplements

Can aspirin protect against cancer?

Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH
Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

You may have heard somewhere that an aspirin a day can prevent cancer. It almost sounds too good to be true. For many people, it is, but for a select few, it might not be. We’ve taken a look at the (often confusing) evidence that gave rise to this statement.

Antidepressants and pregnancy: More research needed

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

A significant number of pregnant women suffer from depression. However, there are still many unanswered questions about how best to treat depression during pregnancy, especially regarding the use of a class of antidepressants called SSRIs. We’ve taken a look at some of the most salient research on the topic and listed tips for what to do if you’re pregnant (or planning a pregnancy) and think you may be depressed.

Diabetes drug pioglitazone could get personal: Neither panacea, nor peril

Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH
Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Doctors are often hesitant to prescribe newer drugs. We simply can’t know everything about them until the experiences of early adopters tell us what they’re really like. Such is the case with thiazolidinediones. Some of the more recent diabetes drugs fell out of favor, but a new study suggests that may be helpful for very specific types of patients.

Taking your medications as prescribed: Smartphones can help

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

Many people don’t take their medications exactly as prescribed. While some do this purposefully, plenty more simply forget. Researchers have studied several different methods to help people remember their medication, but a new study has revealed one that stands out among the rest: texting. While the study does have some limitations, it’s an impressive reminder that the technology sitting in many people’s pockets and purses can be a powerful tool to help them improve their health.

Starting an osteoporosis drug? Here’s what you need to know

Maneet Kaur, MD
Maneet Kaur, MD, Contributor

In its early stages, osteoporosis has no symptoms but causes millions of bone fractures every year, often resulting in loss of function and, disability and even death from the complications of the fracture. There are effective medications to prevent osteoporosis, but they can have serious (though rare) side effects. It’s best to talk discuss with your doctor to understand all your options and make an informed decision on how to best protect your bones.

Is there a “best” pain reliever for osteoarthritis?

Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

Osteoarthritis can contribute significantly to a reduced quality of life, and many arthritis sufferers have come to rely on pain medication for symptom control. A recent study compared NSAIDs against opioids for pain relief and found no significant difference between them. But as always, the right treatment choice for any individual person depends on their unique medical situation and what works best for them.

Can a heartburn drug cause cognitive problems?

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

Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).

ADHD medication for kids: Is it safe? Does it help?

Ellen Braaten, Ph.D.
Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., Contributor

Methylphenidate — known as Ritalin and Concerta, among other names — has been the standard medication for ADHD for over 50 years. But until now, there had been no comprehensive, systematic reviews of the benefits and risks of this drug. A recent review has concluded that, if prescribed correctly by a doctor who’s familiar with methylphenidate and its possible side effects, its downsides probably will not outweigh the positives.

Muscle problems caused by statins: Can a genetic test reveal your risk?

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

One of the most dreaded side effects of cholesterol-lowering statins is myopathy, or severe muscle pains. A new test on the market can evaluate whether you’re genetically susceptible to myopathy. But true statin-induced myopathy is uncommon, and most muscle pain a person experiences while taking a statin likely isn’t caused by the statin. So, is this test really worth the (significant) price?

Vitamin D and physical function: Is more better?

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

Much has been promised about the potential health benefits of vitamin D, but the evidence behind many of these promises is lacking. In fact, a recent study that tested whether vitamin D supplements protected older people from physical decline found that those on higher doses were more likely to have a fall. It’s important to get enough vitamin D in your diet. But when it comes to supplements, more is not always better.