Women’s Health

Carolyn Schatz

Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders in midlife and beyond

Carolyn Schatz, Former Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Eating disorders don’t afflict only adolescents and young women, but plague older women, too, and may be shrouded in even greater shame and secrecy. Many women don’t seek help, especially if they fear being forced to gain weight or stigmatized as having a “teenager’s disease.” As reported in the February 2012 Harvard Women’s Health Watch, clinicians are reporting an upswing in requests from older women for help with eating disorders. For some of these women, the problem is new; others have struggled with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or another eating disorder for decades. Eating problems at midlife and beyond stem from a variety of causes, ranging from grief and divorce to illness, shifting priorities, and heightened awareness of an aging body.

Kay Cahill Allison

Managing fluids is one step toward better bladder control

Kay Cahill Allison, Former Editor, Harvard Health

As many as 32 million American women and men have some degree of incontinence—the unintended loss of urine or feces that is significant enough to make it difficult to do ordinary activities without frequent trips to the restroom. The most common causes of incontinence are childbirth and aging in women; prostate disorders and their treatment in men. Treatments include exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, fluid management, medications, and surgery. For people with urinary incontinence, fluid management is an easy place to start, explains Better Bladder and Bowel Control, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. This involves drinking only when you are thirsty, limiting your fluid intake from all sources to six to eight 8-ounce cups of fluid per day from all sources, and minimizing caffeinated and carbonated drinks, as well as alcohol.

Carolyn Schatz

Study supports alcohol, breast cancer link

Carolyn Schatz, Former Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A 28-year study of 106,000 women found that moderate alcohol slightly increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Women who had the equivalent of three to six drinks a week had a modest increase in their risk of breast cancer (15%) compared to women who never drank alcohol. That would translate into an extra 3 cases of breast cancer per 1,000 women per year. The risks were the same for wine, beer, and spirits. Because moderate drinking appears to prevent some types of heart disease—which affects more women than breast cancer does—it’s important for women to think about alcohol in light of their own personal health situation.

Lloyd Resnick

Blockages in tiny heart arteries a big problem for women

Lloyd Resnick, Former Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

About 10% of women who have heart attacks seem to have clear, unblocked arteries. They don’t, really. Instead, they have a problem inside tiny arteries supplying the heart muscle, called microvessels. Traditional diagnostic tests can’t “see” into microvessels. In larger coronary arteries, the buildup of cholesterol-filled plaque creates distinct bulges that narrow the vessel at a particular spot, reducing blood flow. In microvessels, plaque uniformly coats the inner layer. This reduces the space for blood flow and makes the arteries stiff and less able to expand in response to exercise or other stress. Researchers are still trying to determine the best ways to diagnose and treat microvessel disease. Talking to cardiologists at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz said that the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil), which was originally developed to improve blood flow to the heart, is being tested as one possible therapy.

Carolyn Schatz

Painful, disabling interstitial cystitis often goes undiagnosed

Carolyn Schatz, Former Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Millions of Americans—most of them women—suffer from a bladder condition known as interstitial cystitis. According to a new study of this disorder, fewer than 10% of women with symptoms of interstitial cystitis are actually diagnosed with the disorder, even though it severely affects their lives. Without a proper diagnosis, women with interstitial cystitis are missing […]

Gaining weight? Beware potatoes—baked, fried, or in chips

Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Potato chips and potatoes (baked, boiled, and fried) were the foods most responsible for weight gained gradually over four-year periods among 120,000 healthy women and men in long-term studies. Other key contributors included sugar-sweetened beverages and red and processed meats. On the flip side, yogurt, nuts, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables were linked to weight loss or maintenance. Potatoes may be a “perfect food” for lean people who exercise a lot or who do regular manual labor. But for the rest of us, it might be safer for the waistline to view potatoes as a starch—and a fattening one at that—not as a vegetable.

Harvey B. Simon, M.D.

Belly fat is the shape of cardiovascular risk

Harvey B. Simon, M.D., Editor, Harvard Health

Extra fat that accumulates around the abdomen goes by many names: beer belly, spare tire, love handles, apple shape, middle-age spread, and the more technical “abdominal obesity.” No matter what the name, it is the shape of risk.

Carolyn Schatz

Mindfulness meditation improves connections in the brain

Carolyn Schatz, Former Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Mindfulness meditation can ease stress. It also seems to do a lot more, like help with physical and psychological problems from high blood pressure and chronic pain to anxiety and binge eating. New research shows that mindfulness meditation changes the way nerves connect.

At Harvard Forum, experts debate how much vitamin D is enough

Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor, Harvard Health

A panel discussion at Harvard School of Public Health called “Boosting Vitamin D: Not Enough or Too Much?” highlights the current controversy over the once-overlooked sunshine vitamin. A panel of experts assembled by the Institute of Medicine recommends a daily dose of 600 IU per day for everyone from ages 1 to 70 and 800 IU for those over 70. Other experts think the IOM recommendation is too low. One way to get vitamin D is to spend a few minutes a day outside in the sun, but that’s a hot-button issue because sun exposure is a cause of skin cancer.

Understanding heart failure

Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Heart failure, the condition that took Elizabeth Taylor’s life, affects millions of Americans. The term “heart failure” is a scary one, conjuring up images of a heart that is suddenly unable to work. In truth, it represents a gradual decline in the heart’s ability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. As the heart weakens, all parts of the body suffer the consequences. Harvard Heart Letter editor PJ Skerrett explains what heart failure is, how it affects the body, and what can be done to treat it.