Prevention

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.

Good — and bad — news about today’s teens

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

The results of the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, suggests that few teens are smoking cigarettes, having sex, getting into physical fights, and drinking less soda. This good news is tempered by concerning trends, for example fewer adolescents use condoms when they do have sex, and more of them are trying e-cigarettes.

A bummer for kids: Nasal flu vaccine not effective

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

For years, many kids could skip the traditional flu “shot” — along with the tears — and still be protected by the nasal spray vaccine also known as the LAIV (live attenuated influenza vaccine). But not this year. Studies now show that the nasal vaccine is quite ineffective, and pediatricians are starting to change their flu recommendations from a nose squirt to a shot.

Your resting heart rate can reflect your current — and future — health

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

How many times your heart beats per minute when you’re resting — also known as your resting heart rate (RHR) — can provide important clues to your current overall health and even predict possible future health problems.

Farewell to the fasting cholesterol test?

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

If you’ve ever fasted overnight before having blood drawn, you know how uncomfortable and inconvenient this can be. But for many people, fasting blood draws might be a thing of the past. Recent guidelines reinforce that fasting is not required to have your cholesterol levels checked. This move, along with the advent of a non-fasting test to monitor diabetes, means you might not have to skip breakfast before your next visit to the doctor.

The many ways volunteering is good for your heart

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

If you’ve ever volunteered for a school, community center, or other nonprofit organization, you’ve probably felt the emotional reward that comes with helping others. But volunteering has other benefits, too. Multiple studies have confirmed that volunteering is, quite literally, good for your heart — and for the rest of your body. We’ve described the positive effects of volunteering on your health, plus listed some organizations that can help you get started.

The truth about tequila and your bones

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

You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that tequila is good for bone health. While that sounds appealing to many, the truth is that there are many caveats to the study behind those headlines. This latest story is just one example of news articles that proclaim our favorite foods, like coffee and chocolate, are actually good for us. As with all these stories, it’s important to look deeper than the flashy headline.