Harvard Health Blog

Join the discussion with experts from Harvard Health Publications and others like you on a variety of health topics, medical news and views.

What Michelangelo’s hands (can and can’t) tell us about arthritis

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

A recent journal article describes Michelangelo’s hands as depicted in an attempt to figure out potential joint diseases he may have had. Theories suggest some myths and misconceptions about the causes and symptoms of osteoarthritis and gout. This report has implications for today’s medical care. While a picture may tell a story, there is nothing like a thorough, in person exam to know accurately make sense of signs and symptoms.

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.

A placebo can work even when you know it’s a placebo

Mallika Marshall, MD
Mallika Marshall, MD, Contributing Editor

You may have heard of the “placebo effect,” in which people taking an inactive drug as part of a study actually experience an improvement in their symptoms. As it turns out, the placebo effect still exists if you tell people they’re taking a placebo. This “open-label placebo” strategy doesn’t work for every condition, of course, but it’s a promising way to relieve many common symptoms without medication.

“Superbugs” and the very real threat of untreatable infections

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

Doctors recently discovered a gene in E. coli bacteria that makes it resistant to an antibiotic that is typically used when other drugs fail. This new finding suggests that effectiveness of last-resort antibiotics is at risk. As more bacteria evolve to “outsmart” antibiotics, scientists are increasingly concerned about infections caused by “superbugs” that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics.

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.

The times, they are a-changin’ (and bringing new syndromes)

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

If you spend lots of time looking at a screen, you may be at risk for “computer vision syndrome,” a cluster of eye-related symptoms that tend to afflict computer users. But is this really a new “syndrome,” or just a fancy name for eye strain? Here, we explore exactly what a syndrome is — and give you some tips to combat this newest addition to the list of technology-related “syndromes.”

The (not-so-hidden) costs of caregiving

Leo Newhouse, LICSW
Leo Newhouse, LICSW, Contributor

Americans provide nearly $650 billion worth of unpaid caregiving for their ill or aging loved ones every year. But the less tangible costs are important, too. A new study has revealed that caregivers of critically ill family members are at high risk for depression — and that this risk remains high long after the initial health crisis is over. Fortunately, there are several strategies caregivers can use to keep their bodies — and minds — healthy.

The whole grain goodness of modern and ancient grains

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Whole grains are important for a healthy, nutritious diet. Eating whole grain foods improve your cholesterol, and decrease your risk of drying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. There are different types of whole grains; modern grains are the grains we eat today like wheat, corn and rice, and ancient grains, which include grains like black rice, quinoa, and emmer. These foods are grown just as they were a thousand years ago. Although they offer different benefits, eating a variety of ancient and modern grains are important for a nutritious diet.