Health

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.

Can genetic testing help determine the best medications for you?

Shannon Manzi, PharmD
Shannon Manzi, PharmD, Contributor

The use of pharmacogenomics, the study of how a person’s genes affect the body’s metabolizing of medications, can help doctors predict if a person will have a negative reaction to a particular medication, or whether one drug may provide better results than another. However, this information is just one piece of the puzzle when trying to help find the medication that will provide the greatest benefit with the fewest side effects.

The “thinking” benefits of doodling

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Remaining focused for extended periods of time is difficult, but researchers believe that doodling gives a break to parts of the brain, making it possible to absorb and retain more information overall. While this phenomenon is not well understood, neuroscience is starting to learn how doodling might help boost attention and and focus.

How much artificial trans fat is still in our food?

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Although the FDA has mandated that trans fats must be removed from processed foods in 2018, many products still contain the fats. Because small amounts are not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label, consumers must read ingredient lists to find these fats. The trick to finding trans fats: read the ingredient lists on Nutrition Facts labels. If partially hydrogenated oil is among the ingredients, you’ll know the food contains trans fat, even if the label states that a serving has zero grams of trans fat.

The 3 kinds of toys that really help your child

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

During the holiday season, advertisers push numerous toys on consumers that do not necessarily have the positive impact on a child’s life that are promised. There are other options during this holiday season, gifts as simple as blank paper for drawing, that can stimulate children both mentally and physically.

Keeping the human connection in medicine

John Sanford Limouze, MD

As the practice of medicine evolves, electronic medical records can simplify care and help make it more thorough, but the tools that help make doctors more efficient, have real consequences for how doctors interact with their patients, and one another. Doctors must work harder to maintain good communication and relationships with their patients and colleagues.

Understanding suicide in children and early adolescents may lead to more effective prevention

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

Though suicide in children and young adolescents is rare, it is still a far-too-frequent occurrence. It is also one that is increasing, particularly in black youth. There are differences in the characteristics and circumstances of children and adolescents who commit suicide. A better understanding of these could lead to more effective prevention programs.

Cervical cancer screening update: Not your mother’s Pap smear

Andrea Chisholm, MD
Andrea Chisholm, MD, Contributor

Recent research supports the theory the human papilloma virus (HPV) plays a critical role in the development of abnormal cervical cells and cervical cancers. Based on this knowledge, experts believe that many women are being over-screened and treated for abnormal cells that are unlikely to ever become cancerous. Testing for strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer, along with the Pap smear, may do a better job preventing cervical cancer than the Pap smear alone. Guidelines are evolving and that yearly Pap smear may be unnecessary for many women.

Spice up your holidays with brain-healthy seasonings

Uma Naidoo, MD
Uma Naidoo, MD, Contributor

Spices and herbs have a long history as a safe component of human diets and traditional health practices. Aromatic ingredients that flavor our holiday meals also deliver antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and other bioactive compounds that benefit the brain.

The 3 biggest feeding mistakes you can make with your preschooler

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

Instilling good eating habits in children is not easy, especially when they are young. It’s important for parents to set rules and limits around meals and snacks, and just as important to stick to them, which is the difficult part. It can take a many tries before a child figures out that healthy foods like kale, strawberries, or brown rice taste great.