Harvard Health Publishing Staff


Posts by Harvard Health Publishing Staff

The type of fat you eat matters!

Media coverage of a study published in the medical journal BMJ last month left the impression that eating saturated fat is not harmful to one’s health. These news stories left out an important point. Low–saturated-fat diets, in which those fats are replaced with even less healthful food (refined carbohydrates, for example), may not be any healthier than diets higher in saturated fats. Experts generally agree that the overall quality of a person’s diet matters more than any one particular food or food group. That said, the type of fat you eat is important, so choose foods with healthy unsaturated fat (fish, nuts, and most plant oils), limit foods high in saturated fat (butter, whole milk, cheese, coconut and palm oil, and red meats), and avoid foods with trans fat altogether.

5 steps for preventing kidney stones

If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, you surely remember it. The pain can be unbearable, coming in waves until the tiny stone passes through your urinary plumbing and out of the body. For many, kidney stones aren’t a one-time thing: in about half of people who have had one, another appears within seven years without preventive measures. Preventing kidney stones isn’t complicated but it does take some determination. Prevention efforts include drinking plenty of water, getting enough calcium from food, cutting back on salt (sodium), limiting animal protein, and avoiding stone-forming foods like beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and others.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful

What harm can having too little of a vitamin do? Consider this: Over the course of two months, a 62-year-old man developed numbness and a “pins and needles” sensation in his hands, had trouble walking, experienced severe joint pain, began turning yellow, and became progressively short of breath. The cause was lack of vitamin B12 in his bloodstream, according to a case report from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital published in The New England Journal of Medicine. It could have been worse—a severe vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to deep depression, paranoia and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell, and more, according to another article in tomorrow’s New England Journal. Some people, like strict vegetarians, don’t take in enough vitamin B12 every days. Others, like many older people and those who have had weight-loss surgery or live with celiac disease or other digestive condition don’t absorb enough of the vitamin. Daily supplements can help.

Leg clots (aka deep-vein thrombosis): an immediate and long-term health hazard

Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is the medical term for a blood clot that forms in a leg vein. This condition puts more than one-quarter million Americans in the hospital each year, and complications from it are responsible for upwards of 100,000 deaths. DVT can threaten health immediately if a piece of the clot breaks away and lodges in the lungs. This is called pulmonary embolism. Almost all DVT-related deaths are due to pulmonary embolism. It can also pose a long-term problem if the clot damages the vein. This is called post-phlebitis syndrome. A new study shows injecting a clot-busting drug directly into a DVT can help prevent post-phlebitis syndrome.

Erectile dysfunction often a warning sign of heart disease

For many men, trouble getting or keeping an erection, formally known as erectile dysfunction, is often an early warning sign of heart disease or other circulatory problems. Atherosclerosis, the same disease process that clogs coronary arteries with cholesterol-filled plaque, does the same thing to the arteries that supply blood to the penis. Since an erection depends on extra blood flow to the penis, any obstructions can prevent an erection from occurring. According to Erectile Dysfunction, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, blood vessel problems are the leading cause of erectile dysfunction and serve as an early warning sign of trouble in the heart or elsewhere in the circulatory system. Simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising more, or stopping smoking can improve erections, as can Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs, devices, and sex therapy.

Harvard to USDA: Check out the Healthy Eating Plate

Colleagues at Harvard Health Publishing collaborated with nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health to create the Healthy Eating Plate. “We provide consumers with an easy to use but specific guide to healthy eating based on the best science available,” says Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.. (Click here for […]

Heat is hard on the heart; simple precautions can ease the strain

The combination of brutal heat and humidity can be downright dangerous to people with heart disease and other chronic conditions. They may have trouble getting rid of extra body heat, or the process may strain the already–overworked heart and arteries. Taking it easy, finding air conditioning, and drinking plenty of water (not sugary soda or fruit juice or caffeinated beverages) can help beat the heat. It’s also important to be aware of the warning signs of heat illness—nausea or vomiting, unusual fatigue, headache, disorientation or confusion, or muscle twitches—and call for help right away.

Strengthening your core: Right and wrong ways to do lunges, squats, and planks

Your body’s core—the girdle of muscles, bones, and joints that connects your upper and lower body—gives you stability and helps power the moves you make every day. Whether it’s bending to pick up a laundry basket, paddling a kayak, or reaching to pull a vase from the top shelf of a cabinet, a strong and flexible core makes the move more fluid, efficient, and robust. Strong, well-balanced core muscles can also improve your posture and help prevent back injuries. Exercise and fitness programs increasingly focus on the core. Lunges, squats, and planks (a move that looks a bit like a push-up and is often substituted for sit-ups) are key moves in most good core workouts. But it’s important to pay attention to proper form to protect you from injury and help you gain the most benefit from each exercise.

Protect your heart when shoveling snow

Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks. Emergency departments in the snow-belt gear up for extra cases when enough of the white stuff has fallen to force folks out of their homes armed with shovels or snow blowers. What’s the connection? Many people who shovel snow rarely exercise. Picking up a shovel and […]

Could too much calcium cause heart disease?

Get the calcium you need through dietary sources. Oh, the ruckus a single study raised many years ago. A report about calcium and cardiovascular disease had people from San Diego to Caribou, Maine worriedly calling their doctors worried about calcium supplements. Here’s what prompted the concern: New Zealand researchers pooled the results of 11 randomized, controlled trials—the […]