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Managing Stress With Meditation

In the early 1970s, when Dr. Herbert Benson was defining and testing the techniques he presented to the world in his revolutionary book, The Relaxation Response, I was a hippie teenager learning transcendental meditation (TM). Flash forward about 40 years and I’m sitting in an amphitheater packed with a few hundred medical students, faculty, and staffers from Harvard Medical School listening to the iconic director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute explain the myriad benefits of the relaxation response.

The relaxation response is a self-induced quieting of brain activity. It leads to a body-wide slowdown and a feeling of well-being that have measurably positive effects on disorders caused by stress or made worse by it, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and many digestive disorders. As Dr. Benson describes in Stress Management, Read more »

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

Setting SMART Goals To Make Lasting Healthy Changes

Each year, countless people vow to get healthier: Lose five pounds. Exercise every day. Quit smoking. Unfortunately, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthier ones usually isn’t easy, and many ambitious attempts often fall short. But you’re more likely to succeed if you start by choosing the right goal.

Choosing a goal seems simple enough. If that muffin top is bothering you, you should plan to lose those extra 10 pounds, right? Not necessarily, says Dr. Edward Phillips, Director and Founder of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine and assistant professor of the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. If you tackle the goal you’re most likely to accomplish—rather than the goal you think you should make—you’re better able to achieve it and build up a head of steam to tackle tougher goals.

Listen to Dr. Phillips’ advice on how to make a healthy change that will last: 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*

Electronic Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit, But Are They Safe?

Kicking the cigarette habit is one of the best things that smokers can do for themselves. Nicotine replacement products, prescription medications, and counseling can all help. What about the newest tobacco substitute, the electronic cigarette? Despite the appeal of so-called e-cigarettes, we don’t know enough about their safety or effectiveness to give them the green light.

Electronic cigarettes come in a variety of shapes. Some look like cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, while others are disguised as pens or other more socially acceptable items. Whatever their shape, they all are built around a battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge that contains nicotine and other chemicals, and an atomizer that converts the chemicals into an inhalable vapor.

A study published this spring in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that electronic cigarettes may help smokers quit. Whether they are a safe way to quit is another question—preliminary studies from the FDA, New Zealand, and Greece raise some concerns.

There are three reasons to worry about electronic cigarettes. First, Read more »

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

The Growing Awareness Of Gluten And The Problems It Can Cause

I love bread, pasta, and many other foods made with wheat. Luckily, I can eat them all without having to worry about gluten. But I have to admit that the growing public awareness of gluten and the problems it can cause has got me thinking.

Gluten is an umbrella term for the proteins gliadin (in wheat), secalin (in rye), and hordein (in barley). Bakers know it as the substance that makes dough resilient and stretchy. In some people, gluten triggers an immune reaction and causes inflammation of the lining of the small intestine, which can eventually interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food. This is called celiac disease. Some of the more common symptoms of celiac disease are:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Foul-smelling stools
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rash

Some people have 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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