Drugs and Supplements

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.

Promising results for a targeted drug in advanced prostate cancer

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

The same BRCA mutations that increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers can also increase a man’s risk of dying from prostate cancer. Recently, an ovarian cancer drug intended for BRCA-positive women has shown impressive results in BRCA-positive men with metastatic prostate cancer. This drug, and others like it, could provide another, much-needed treatment option for men with advanced prostate cancer.

Follow the poodle? Alternatives to prescription sleep medications

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you may be concerned that there’s no other option besides prescription sleep aids. Fortunately, there are many other treatments to pick from. In fact, sleep specialists now agree that behavioral (non-drug) treatments should be the first treatment for most cases of insomnia. But beware: not all non-drug insomnia treatments are created equal.

Why are doctors writing opioid prescriptions — even after an overdose?

Joji Suzuki, MD

A recent study of nearly 3,000 patients who had an overdose during long-term opioid treatment found that more than 90% of these patients continued to receive opioids — even after their overdose. Poor communication between emergency rooms and prescribing doctors is likely the culprit. What’s more, doctors receive little training in recognizing patients at high risk for overdose, or in treating addiction when they do spot it. An important strategy to address the current opioid crisis is to improve how doctors are educated about opioids.

Cold and flu warning: The dangers of too much acetaminophen

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

Many common cold and flu medications and prescription-strength pain relievers contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) as one of their active ingredients. If you take several of these drugs at once during a bout of cold or flu, you might accidentally take more than the safe dose of acetaminophen, potentially causing liver damage. It’s always best to read the labels — and to keep in mind that most winter viruses get better on their own with rest, fluids, and time.

Taking new aim at cancer

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

Last year, only months after announcing that he had an aggressive form of melanoma, former President Carter declared that he was cancer free — thanks at least in part to a recently approved immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy that helps boost the body’s own immune response to cancer. It does so while sparing healthy cells, thus minimizing side effects.