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Harvard Health Letter: July 2013

Articles in this issue:

Supplemental nutrition drinks: help or hype?

Supplemental nutrition drinks provide a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. These drinks are helpful for people who struggle with a loss of appetite, have difficulty chewing, have trouble preparing balanced meals, or need to fill nutritional gaps in their diet. They fall into two general categories: shakes and formulas. Shakes are intended for oral consumption. They are formulated to help people meet general nutrition goals such as increased calories and protein. Formulas are often used with feeding tubes. They are designed for more specific health needs or disease states such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Read More »

Ask the doctor: Should I worry about x-rays?

When it comes to radiation risks from x-rays, it's not necessary to worry about exposure from chest x-rays and airport scanners. However, CT scans emit more radiation and should be used only when absolutely necessary.

Ask the doctor: Are there new treatments for COPD?

Two new medications offer hope for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: indacaterol and roflumilast. They can improve lung function and help reduce flare-ups.

Protect your heart, keep your thoughts clear

Heart health is key to thinking health. If the heart isn’t pumping effectively, the brain may not receive enough blood flow to function properly. Heart disease is associated with nonamnesic mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia. To protect thinking skills, it’s best to also protect heart health. Ways to do this include controlling high blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

Quick start to a Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet includes generous quantities of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish; limited portions of red meats or processed meats; and moderate amounts of cheese and wine. To switch to this eating style, start with small, gradual changes. Suggestions include sautéing food in olive oil, not butter; eating more fruits and vegetables by having them as a snack or adding them to other recipes; choosing whole grains instead of refined breads and pastas; substituting a fish meal for red meat at least twice per week; and limiting high-fat dairy by switching to skim or 1% milk from 2% or whole. Read More »

Top 5 ways to reduce crippling hand pain

The most common causes of hand pain include osteoarthritis, nerve conditions, and tendinitis. There are a number of ways to help manage the pain, retain hand function, and avoid surgery. Doctors recommend a splint to stabilize the position of the fingers, thumb, or wrist. An injection of a corticosteroid into a joint can also reduce hand pain, as can a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Applying heat can loosen hand stiffness. Applying cold is effective for hand pain that results from activity. Exercises and stretches can help reduce pain and stress on the hand joints.

Rethinking fructose in your diet

Fructose is a common sugar found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. It’s also a major ingredient in high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar. Recent studies have cast fructose as a bad guy, linking it to obesity, diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and inflammation, and leading to anti-fructose sentiment in the general media. However, Harvard experts say fructose itself isn’t unhealthy; it’s the combination of both fructose and glucose when they are added to foods in the form of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey, or fruit juice concentrates.

Deep belly fat may weaken your bones

It appears that men with increased deep belly fat, the visceral fat that surrounds our organs, have lower bone strength. Researchers speculate that it’s because visceral obesity is associated with reduced secretion of growth hormone, which is essential for bone health, and because of the inflammatory cytokines secreted by the visceral fat cells. Visceral fat is also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. Exercise and diet are effective at reducing visceral fat or keeping it from growing.

Reducing vertigo symptoms

One of the most effective exercises to fight vertigo caused by benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is the Epley maneuver. It helps reposition the loose crystals in the inner ear. The loose crystals cause a sensation of spinning. A physical therapist guides a person with BPPV through the Epley maneuver. The exercise can help reduce the sensation of spinning. Reducing this sensation may also help reduce the risk of falls. Falls can lead to fractures, immobility, and death. 

Take a walk, reduce your risk of suffering a stroke

Recent research shows that women who walk at least three hours a week have a 43% lower stroke risk compared with women who are inactive. Walking also lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and many other conditions. Doctors recommend 150 minutes of brisk walking per week. To begin a walking program, wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes; map out your route in advance; and keep track of your progress.

What can you do about corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses on the feet are usually the body’s response to protect against repeated pressure or friction. No treatment is necessary unless the hardened patches of skin are painful. Causes include poorly fitting shoes and pressure on the skin from an underlying problem such as a bunion or malformed bone. Treatment of any underlying condition will help keep the callus or corn from returning. So will removing the offending cause. The best protection is a pair of shoes that aren’t too tight, especially in the toes.

News briefs: Mammogram rates steady, even with new guidelines

Despite recent recommendations against annual breast cancer screenings, women continue to have mammograms each year. Researchers suggest this is because providers disagree with the recommendations.

News briefs: Fight kidney disease with a better diet, weight loss and smoking cessation

Poor eating habits, smoking, and obesity add to the risk of developing kidney disease. The National Kidney Foundation is urging people lower kidney disease risk by losing weight and quitting smoking.

News briefs: How to cope with the neurologist shortage

The demand for neurologists is growing faster than the supply. The result is that there are very long wait times to see a neurologist, especially for chronic diseases like dementia, and there are huge shortages of specialists to treat people with stroke.

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