Prevention

The U.S. longevity gap

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

It may surprise some to realize that life expectancy in the United States is lower than in other developed countries. The reasons include higher rates of motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, and gun violence. They have a large effect on longevity because they predominantly affect young people. If there is good news, it’s that these contributors are preventable. Other factors that may be more difficult to tackle include inaccessible or unaffordable health care.

When hot gets too hot: keeping children safe in the heat

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

As temperatures around the U.S. continue to rise, it’s important for parents to recognize the risks that sunny summer days can pose to children. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are some of the most common issues overheated children may face, but simple measures, like taking rest breaks in the shade, watching the weather forecast for excessive heat, and drinking cold water can help keep children safe during the sunny summer days.

E-cigarettes: Good news, bad news

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

While e-cigarettes do not produce the tar or toxic gases found in cigarette smoke, this doesn’t make them a healthy option. The e-liquid found in e-cigarettes still contains highly addictive nicotine that also increases your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nicotine also increases the risk of addiction to other drugs and may impair brain development. Rather than rely on the perceived benefits of e-cigarettes, people should avoid smoking altogether.

Gut reaction: How bacteria in your belly may affect your heart

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Research suggests that the bacteria in your gut may also impact your heart health. Collectively known as the gut microbiota, these microbes assist with digestion, but also make certain vitamins, break down toxins, and train your immune system. These microbes also play a role in obesity and the development of diabetes, both of which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.

Quitting smoking during the second half of the menstrual cycle may help women kick the habit

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

Studies have shown that not only do women have a harder time quitting than men, but they also experience more severe health consequences from smoking. However, new research suggests that it may be easier for women to quit smoking during the second half of their menstrual cycle. During this time, the hormone progesterone is higher, and this appears to aid in quitting and avoiding relapse.

Fewer allergies: A possible upside of thumb sucking and nail biting

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

It’s no surprise that children suck their thumbs or bite their nails. These behaviors are often discouraged, as they can go on to cause damaged teeth, infections, or even elicit teasing from other children. However, a new study suggests that there are benefits for children who exhibit these behaviors, as it makes their immune systems better at attacking germs and decreases their risk of developing common allergies. Although these habits may be irritating for parents, they may improve your child’s health in the long run.

New blood test for colon cancer screening: Questions remain

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Contributor

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new screening test for colon cancer, making it the first blood-based test for this type of cancer. While this test does make it more convenient for people to get screened for colon cancer, it is also less exact than the current screening methods. It is important to discuss your risk factors and screening options with your doctor.

The right reasons to choose a sunscreen—and the right way to use it

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

There are a wide variety of sunscreen products on the market today that can help to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, but in a recent study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers found that 40% of the top 65 most popular sunscreens didn’t meet American Academy of Dermatology guidelines. When buying sunscreen, it is important to choose a product that is broad-spectrum, has an SPF over 30, and is water resistant. In addition to choosing the right sunscreen, it’s important to use it correctly in order to truly protect your skin from the sun.

For the good of your heart: Keep holding the salt

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

A recently published study claimed that people who ate a low sodium diet were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and death. However, there were problems with this study – including difficulty with accurately measuring each study volunteer’s daily intake of sodium. Low sodium diets may be harmful for small subsets of people, but for the majority of people restricting salt intake is still important for cardiovascular health.

What’s the best way to quit smoking?

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Quitting smoking can add years to your life. The earlier the better, but the benefits of quitting are real and significant, even if you’re 80. There are several ways to quit and it often takes multiple attempts to become and ex-smoker for good. Research suggests that for some people, quitting “cold turkey” may be the most effective approach.