Prevention

What the rise of Zika (and other viruses) might tell us about our planet

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

Zika, a virus that was almost unknown just a short time ago, is now certain to spread to almost every country in the Americas. But why have the U.S. and other countries become more vulnerable to the threat of exotic pathogens? There currently aren’t enough data to make any solid connections, but many experts agree that the rise of global trade and travel, climate change, and ecosystem changes are all major factors.

Lead poisoning: What everyone needs to know

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

Even though the use of lead has been regulated for many years, tragedies like the one currently ongoing in Flint, Michigan still occur. Exposure to lead in childhood can have health effects that can change a child’s life forever. We’ve listed steps you can take to keep your child — and everyone in your home — safe from lead poisoning.

What you need to know about Zika virus

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

Zika, a formerly rare and obscure virus, has recently spread throughout the Pacific islands and the Americas. Although Zika virus rarely makes people seriously ill, it’s been implicated in a huge rise in the number of birth defects in babies born to mothers who’ve had Zika. Although its impact in the U.S. is expected to be much less severe than in warmer climates, we’ve listed some tips to reduce your exposure to the type of mosquito that carries Zika.

Four new recommendations for adolescent health

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

Each year, the American Academy of Pediatrics updates it recommendations for well-child visits. The latest version emphasizes screening adolescents for high cholesterol, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and HIV. Many families may feel that their children don’t need these “checks,” but when it comes to the health and well-being of children, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Finding omega-3 fats in fish: Farmed versus wild

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Fatty fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But do is farm-raised salmon have a better or worse omega-3 level than wild-caught? While a recent study found that the omega-3 content of farm-raised salmon varies widely, the type of fish you choose probably isn’t as important as following the American Heart Association’s advice to eat two servings of fish a week, letting affordability and availability guide your choices.

Does fewer PSA tests mean less prostate cancer?

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

Fewer men are being given PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer. As screening rates have fallen, so have the number of prostate cancer diagnoses. This probably also means that fewer men are receiving potentially unnecessary treatment, with its attendant negative side effects. At the same time, it isn’t yet clear whether that comes at the cost of more aggressive cancers being caught at an incurable stage. Better screening tests may make the difference in helping strike the right balance between limiting harm and preventing prostate cancer deaths.

Only the overworked die young

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

Multiple studies have found a link between working long hours and having a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. The reasons why aren’t entirely clear, but may be related to chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, as well as lifestyle factors such as little exercise, poor eating habits, and a greater use of alcohol and tobacco among those who work the longest. But you can take steps to reduce the effects of long work hours on your health.

Exercise: You may need less than you think

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things one can do to protect and promote health, yet many people say they don’t have time to exercise. A recent study has confirmed that even a little exercise — just 8 to 15 minutes a day — reduced the risk of death. When it comes to exercise, some is always better than none.

The Nordic diet: Healthy eating with an eco-friendly bent

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

The Nordic diet features foods that are locally sourced or traditionally eaten in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. While the Nordic diet isn’t proven to prevent heart disease to the same extent as the Mediterranean diet, it’s healthier the average American diet. As an added bonus, it’s environmentally friendly — plant-based diets such as the Nordic diet use fewer natural resources (such as water and fossil fuels) and create less pollution.

The very high cost of very low cholesterol

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

The FDA recently approved two new drugs that quickly and effectively lower LDL cholesterol levels. This exciting development is tempered by the very high cost of these drugs. These costs can even trickle down to others on the same insurance plan as people taking these new drugs. Several politicians and institutions have spoken out against these high costs, but it is unlikely that the prices will be lowered anytime soon. For now, these drugs should be reserved only for those whose other efforts to reduce LDL have been unsuccessful.