Archive for January, 2012

Living to 100 and beyond: the right genes plus a healthy lifestyle

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

A new study from the ongoing New England Centenarian Study suggests that protective genes may make a big contribution to helping people live to age 100 and beyond. Researchers analyzed and deciphered the entire genetic codes of a man and a woman who lived past the age of 114. The two so-called supercentenarians had about as many disease-promoting genes as individuals who did not live as long. But they also had about 50 possible longevity-associated gene variants, some of which were unexpected and had not been seen before. The researchers hypothesize that the genes linked with long life may somehow offset the disease-linked genes. This might then allow an extended lifespan. There’s no need to have your DNA sequenced to determine what genes you carry. It won’t change what you need to do now. Instead, simple, straightforward healthy habits like exercising every day and not smoking, can help you have the longest, healthiest life possible.

Limiting antibiotic use in farm animals will help reduce antibiotic resistance

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that farmers must limit the use of antibiotics called cephalosporins to prevent infections in seemingly healthy cows, pigs, chicken, and turkeys. According to the FDA, 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics are used each year in cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys purely for the sake of prevention. This practice has contributed to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are a growing threat to human health. Doctors often prescribe cephalosporins to stop common infections such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. They are also used before surgery. Unfortunately, more and more infections are resistant to cephalosporins. Doctors are being asked to prescribe antibiotics only when they are most needed. Farmers should do the same thing. Otherwise, antibiotics lose their power. Bacteria strains become drug-resistant. And people suffer.

Is it Alzheimer’s, or just a memory slip?

Former Editor, Harvard Health

Everyone has moments of forgetfulness—misplaced keys, a forgotten errand, the name of that movie you want to recommend but can’t get off the tip of your tongue. A certain amount of forgetfulness seems to be a normal byproduct of aging. But how do you know is forgetfulness signals something more serious, like Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia? According to “A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease,” an updated Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, by exploring several questions you may be able to get a clearer sense of normal versus worrisome forgetfulness: Is my loved one worried about the memory loss? Is he or she getting lost in familiar territory? Are word-finding problems common? Is your loved one losing the ability to socialize, or interest in it?

Multitasking—a medical and mental hazard

Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

During a recent check-up, my doctor snuck a look at her phone a couple times. I don’t think it had anything to do with my health or care, so it was mildly annoying—but I didn’t say anything. After reading a report about a man who almost died because of a doctor’s “multitasking mishap,” next time I’ll speak up. But new research suggests some big downsides to multitasking. According to the authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, a new book from Harvard Health Publishing, multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Instead try set shifting. This means consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand.

Twelve tips for healthier eating in 2012

Carolyn Schatz

Former Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

For many years, nutrition research focused on the benefits and risks of single nutrients, such as cholesterol, saturated fat, and antioxidants. Today, many researchers are exploring the health effects of foods and eating patterns, acknowledging that there are many important interactions within and among nutrients in the foods we eat. The result is a better understanding of what makes up a healthy eating plan. The January 2012 issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch offers 12 ways to break old dietary habits and build new ones. These include eating breakfast, piling on the fruits and vegetables, choosing healthy fats, replacing refined grains with whole grains, and eating mindfully.