Mental Health

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Would you know if your teen was depressed?

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Recently, the USPSTF updated their guidelines for screening teenagers for depression. This update gives pediatricians — and all family care doctors — a framework for addressing this disorder. There are plenty of good reasons to screen teens for depression: it’s common among teenagers, it can look very different from depression in adults, and it can be dangerous to a teenager’s current — and future — health and happiness. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments available.

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).

People who exercise more also tend to drink more (alcohol)

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A recent study that tracked healthy volunteers’ exercise and drinking habits found that they tended to drink more on days when they exercised more. But this study might have had drastically different results if conducted with different groups. For example, what results might we see if the volunteers were sedentary people looking to exercise more — or people with unhealthy drinking patterns who were working to cut back?

The missing rewards that motivate healthy lifestyle changes

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a healthy change — after a while, the motivation to keep at it just stops. Indeed, it can be incredibly hard to break old habits, or make new ones. But research has revealed that there are actually two different types of rewards in the brain — and that focusing on the less commonly pursued of the two can help you make lasting changes.

Is addiction a “brain disease”?

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A look into the “brain science” behind substance use disorders highlights the fact that for many people with addictions, “just say no” just doesn’t work. The biological underpinnings of addiction teach the brain to react unusually strongly if deprived of drugs, which can make recovering from an addiction incredibly difficult. Fortunately, it’s possible to teach the brain to rediscover healthier sources of joy and reward.

Decline in dementia rate offers “cautious hope”

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

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.

New depression screening guidelines benefit pregnant women and new moms–and everyone

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

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated their guidelines on depression screening to include pregnant and postpartum women, which will be a great help to the many new moms who experience mood changes that go beyond the “baby blues.” The updated guidelines offer other benefits, too, that help improve everyone’s access to mental health care — especially those who can’t currently afford it.

Neuroscience can help you live a healthier life

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Even when we’re determined to make healthy changes for the better, our brains can sometimes undermine us. But there are three things we can do — namely, decreasing stress, making our goals a priority, and being more specific — that will help our brains avoid old habits and make a positive change.

Managing worry in generalized anxiety disorder

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

For people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), worrying actually has a protective benefit: if they worry all the time, they don’t have to experience a sudden outpouring of negative emotion when something bad really does happen. Fortunately, people with GAD — and all the other “worriers” out there — can retrain their brain to accept the worry and then look past it.