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.

Tossing flossing?

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

The recent media focus on the lack of evidence supporting the benefits of regular flossing overlooks the fact that it has not been studied in depth. Given the established links between gum disease and other health conditions, continuing to floss regularly makes sense.

4 back to school tips to get your child off to a great start

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

As summer begins winding down, it’s time to begin preparing your children for life back at school. Although going from a relaxed summer to a regimented schedule can be difficult at first, parents can follow simple steps to set up their kids for health and academic success as they get back into the swing of school.

Words matter: The language of addiction and life-saving treatments

Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative

The challenges of drug addiction are compounded by stigmatizing language and incorrect perceptions about the medications used in addiction treatment. Viewing addiction as a disease and likening it to other chronic diseases can help remove the negative connotations from the illness.

Perspective on alcohol use and cancer risk

Steven J. Atlas, MD, MPH

There seems to be general agreement that, for most people, moderate alcohol use isn’t particularly harmful to health. At the same time, some people have seen the negative effects of alcohol up close and personal. A new study makes alcohol seem even more controversial, suggesting that there is sufficient evidence to say that alcohol causes several types of cancer. However, this startling news it is based on reinterpretation of existing data and may further muddy the waters on the benefits and risks of alcohol use.

New urine test predicts high-grade prostate cancer

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

Researchers believe that a non-invasive screening test that can identify genetic markers for high-grade prostate cancer in urine may eventually reduce the number of prostate biopsies needed. However, experts also caution that while the number of non-invasive tests for prostate cancer diagnosis is growing, these are still early days in their development.

Can exercise help relieve teen depression?

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Depression isn’t confined to adulthood. One recent survey showed that nearly 11% of adolescents ages 12-17 were depressed. But one treatment commonly used to combat depression in adults may also be beneficial for adolescents who suffer from depression. According to a recent meta-analysis collected from rigorously evaluated studies, adolescents may experience improvement in their depression symptoms if they incorporate exercise into their treatment.

The 5 things parents need to know about drowning

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

About 10 people die from drowning every day. Of these 10 people, two are children. For every child that dies from drowning, five other children are treated in hospitals for injuries sustained from drowning. Although swimming can be a dangerous activity for even the most experienced swimmer, there are ways that parents can help protect their children from the dangers of drowning. Fencing off your pool, teaching your child how to swim and simply being observant of your child in any sort of water are all easy steps to help keep your child safe.

What “native” Zika infections mean for the United States

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

News that mosquitoes in the U.S. carry Zika is concerning, but experts say that Zika likely won’t spread here as it has in Central and South America. The virus poses a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children because Zika may cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s head is unusually small and the brain does not develop properly. The CDC warns pregnant women, or those trying to become pregnant, to avoid areas with high rates of Zika infection, and warns all travelers to such areas to take certain precautions.

Fentanyl: The dangers of this potent “man-made” opioid

Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. It is far more potent — and potentially more dangerous — than heroin and morphine. Overdose deaths related to fentanyl are on the rise. The drug is cheaper than heroin and recently is being used to dilute heroin or substitute for it. Users may be unaware that they are taking this potent drug, or may even seek its intense high. People at risk from using fentanyl can be treated successfully with therapies used for other opioid use disorders, but taking steps to prevent overdose are critical until a person is ready to seek care.

“Double dipping” your chip: Dangerous or just…icky?

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

The idea of double dipping became a mainstream public worry because of an episode of Seinfeld, bringing up the idea that double dipping might be grosser than we originally thought it was. Although it originally started as a playful debate, double dipping does raise questions about the spread of bacteria, and believe it or not, research has tried to address these questions.