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Avoiding health risks at the farmers’ market

Watch out for unpasteurized products, and ask vendors about food safety.

There's something magical about strolling through a farmers' market on a crisp autumn morning. The fruit and vegetables seem fresher there than they do in a store — apples taste tarter, tomatoes seem redder and riper. It's a farm-to-table connection that puts you in touch with nature and the harvest.

Maybe that's partly behind the explosion of farmers' markets across the country, climbing from about 2,000 markets in 1994 to more than 8,600 today, according to the Farmers Market Coalition. "It's a great way to get fresh produce and try different foods you may not have come across before. But it should be enjoyed with caution," urges Dr. Simi Padival, an infectious disease specialist with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Daily aspirin users 75 or older: Consider taking a stomach-protecting drug

Research we're watching

Roughly half of Americans ages 75 or older take a daily, low-dose aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke. New research suggests these people might benefit from taking a stomach-protecting drug to prevent a higher-than-expected risk of gastro­intestinal (GI) bleeding.

The study, published online June 13, 2017, by The Lancet, involved nearly 3,200 people who were prescribed aspirin because of a previous heart attack or stroke. Researchers followed them for up to 10 years to see how many were hospitalized for bleeding — a well-known side effect of aspirin use. Upper GI bleeding usually results from a stomach ulcer, which can cause anemia, heartburn, and abdominal pain.

When does long-term acid reflux become a serious issue?

On call

Q. I have had acid reflux for many years, but it is well controlled with a proton-pump inhibitor. However, I am concerned about long-term damage from my reflux, even though I feel fine now. Should I have an upper endoscopy to look for possible damage?

A. Long-term acid reflux can damage the esophagus and may lead to a condition known as Barrett's esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer. Barrett's affects about 3% to 10% of older men, but within this group the risk of developing esophageal cancer is only about four in every 1,000 cases. Over all, men with Barrett's are more likely to die from another cause.

The finer points of acupuncture

This ancient practice can be used alone or with conventional therapy to help ease your pain.


 Image: © zilli/Thinkstock

Men looking for an easy and effective means to manage pain should consider acupuncture.

"There are many different types of pain — neuropathic, muscular, degenerative joint — all of which can make management complex," says Hugo Lopez, a licensed acupuncturist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. "Sometimes you need to treat not just the physical components, but also the psychological ones, and that is where acupuncture can help, as it addresses both problems."

Harvard researchers link diverticulitis to red meat

News briefs

Red meat is associated with an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Now, a study published online Jan. 9, 2017, by the journal Gut suggests that eating red meat is associated with an increased risk for developing diverticulitis. This occurs when tiny pouches in the wall of the large intestine become inflamed, potentially causing cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and even rectal bleeding. We don't really know what causes diverticulitis, so researchers explored possible dietary links. They analyzed health and diet information reported by more than 46,000 men (ages 40 to 75) over 26 years. Men who ate the most red meat per week (about 13 servings) were 58% more likely to develop diverticulitis during the study period, compared with men who ate the least red meat per week (1.2 servings). The association was strongest for unprocessed red meat like steak. However, the risk for developing diverticulitis was 20% lower when people in the study substituted poultry or fish for a serving of unprocessed red meat each day. The findings don't prove that red meat causes diverticulitis, but other studies have suggested red meat may be a factor in diverticular disease.

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