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Improving Your Diet In The New Year

If healthier eating is on your list of resolutions for 2012, look no further. The January 2012 issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch offers 12 ways to break old dietary habits and build new ones.

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. Here are five food- or meal-based ways to improve your diet that we list in the article (you can see all 12 on the Harvard Health website):

Pile on the vegetables and fruits. Their high fiber, mineral, and vitamin content make fruits and vegetables a critical component of any healthy diet. They’re also the source of beneficial plant chemicals not found in other foods or supplements.

Go for the good fats. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Understanding Hospital Delirium And Some Tips To Prevent It

No matter how sick my grandmother got or what her doctors said, she refused to go to the hospital because she thought it was a dangerous place. To some degree, she was right. Although hospitals can be places of healing, hospital stays can have serious downsides, too.

One that has been getting a lot of attention lately is the development of delirium in people who are hospitalized. Delirium is a sudden change in mental status characterized by confusion, disorientation, altered states of consciousness (from hyperalert to unrousable), an inability to focus, and sometimes hallucinations. It’s the most common complication of hospitalization among older people.

We wrote about treating and preventing hospital delirium earlier this year in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. In the New York Times “The New Old Age” blog, author Susan Seliger vividly describes her 85-year-old mother’s rapid descent into hospital delirium, and tips for preventing it.

Although delirium often recedes, it may have long-lasting aftereffects. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Dealing With Chronic Tinnitus

At one time or another, almost everyone experiences a ringing in their ears. It’s common after sitting through a loud concert or an exuberant football game, or after taking aspirin or an antibiotic for a while. But as many as 50 million Americans have chronic tinnitus (pronounced tih-NITE-us or TIN-ih-tus)—a constant ringing, whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or even shrieking. (If you don’t have tinnitus, you can get an idea of what people with the condition hear at the American Tinnitus Association’s Web site.)

Chronic tinnitus can be caused by a variety of things, from impacted ear wax to medications that damage nerves in the ear, middle ear infection, and even aging. Damage to hair cells in the ear’s cochlea (see the illustration below) are suspected as a common pathway for these causes. As I write in the September issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, chronic tinnitus can also be a symptom of Ménière’s disease, a disorder of the balance mechanism in the inner ear. (You can read the full article here.)

Managing tinnitus

When chronic tinnitus is caused by a definable problem, like Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Painful Bladder Condition Often Goes Undiagnosed In Women

Woman-stomach-painMillions of Americans—most of them women—suffer from a bladder condition known as interstitial cystitis. According to a new study of this disorder, fewer than 10% of women with symptoms of interstitial cystitis are actually diagnosed with the disorder, even though it severely affects their lives. Without a proper diagnosis, women with interstitial cystitis are missing out on treatments that might bring them some relief.

As I describe in an article in the August 2011 issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder condition that causes recurring bouts of pain and pressure in the bladder and pelvic area. Individuals with the condition usually have an urgent and frequent need to urinate—sometimes as often as 60 times a day. The pain and discomfort can be so excruciating that only about half of people with interstitial cystitis work full-time.

Researchers with the federally funded RAND Interstitial Cystitis Epidemiology (RICE) study surveyed nearly 150,000 households in the United States between 2007 and 2009. Based on data gathered during follow-up interviews, the RICE researchers estimated Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Good Health Information Can Save Lives

My colleagues at Harvard Health Publications and I have a mission: To provide accurate, reliable information that will help readers live healthier lives. We work hard to fulfill that mission, and the feedback we get from folks who read our newsletters, Special Health Reports, books, and online health information indicates we are on the right track. Every so often we hear something from a reader that makes me especially proud of the work we do.

This letter was recently sent to the editor of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch:

One of your mailings undoubtedly saved me a lot of grief. (My kids, anyway.) I was aware of a woman’s heart attack symptoms being different from a man’s, and your brochure contained a paragraph confirming that. Early in June I was packing for a trip to celebrate my brother’s 90th birthday, at the same time a ditching project was being done in my back lot. Trying to deal with several matters at the same time is a talent I’ve outgrown, at 88, so didn’t think too much of the sudden fatigue and vague aches I felt in jaw & arms. I crashed for a nap in my recliner, felt OK afterwards, and figured it was just stress. The next day I was ready to leave, but got to thinking of those symptoms, and the fact the brochure had arrived at just that time, and wondered if it was more than coincidence and maybe I should pay attention? Didn’t much like the idea of something happening out in the middle of nowhere, so took myself to the fire hall where an EMT was on duty. He ushered me into the ambulance, did an EKG, and soon I was being helicoptered on doctor’s orders to St. Joseph’s Hospital. There I had 3 stents installed, and they apparently are doing their job. Thank you! Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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