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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*

“Your Medical Mind” Explores Factors That Influence A Patient’s Medical Decisions

Recently, I had a conversation with Shannon Brownlee (the widely respected science journalist and acting director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation) about whether men should continue to have access to the PSA test for prostate cancer screening, despite the overwhelming evidence that it extends few, if any, lives and harms many more men than it benefits. She felt that if patients could be provided with truly unbiased information and appropriate decision aids, they should still be able to choose to have the test (and have it covered by medical insurance). Believing that one of the most important roles of doctors is to prevent patients from making bad decisions, I disagreed.

After reading Your Medical Mind, the new book by Harvard oncologist and New Yorker columnist Jerome Groopman, I think he would probably side with Brownlee’s point of view. Groopman, whose authoring credits include the 2007 bestseller How Doctors Think, and wife Pamela Hartzband, MD have written a kind of sequel to that book that could have easily been titled How Patients Think. Drawing on interviews with dozens of patients about a wide variety of medical decisions – from starting a cholesterol-lowering drug, to having knee surgery, to accepting or refusing heroic end-of-life interventions – the authors Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

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*

Harvard Revamps MyPlate To Create A Guide To Healthy Eating

Back in June, federal authorities unveiled MyPlate, an icon designed to help Americans follow healthy eating patterns. It’s a nice, colorful image that was a welcome successor to the misguided MyPyramid. But it doesn’t offer much in the way of useful information.

A group of my colleagues at Harvard Health Publications worked with nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health to create a better version. We call it the Healthy Eating Plate. “We gave MyPlate a makeover to 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 and Editor in Chief of Harvard Health Publications.

The Healthy Eating Plate uses visual elements of MyPlate as a starting point, because the government’s icon is already becoming a recognized teaching tool. But the resemblance ends there: Read more »

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

Heart Health Related To Satisfaction With Life

For centuries, health providers have focused on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. This time-honored paradigm has generated phenomenal advances in medicine, especially during the last 60 years. It has also created a bit of an image problem for providers. That’s because the paradigm encourages consumers to perceive health care as a negative good; an economic term describing a bundle of products and services that we use because we must, not because we want to. Recent trends towards empowered consumers are a symptom of this problem more than a solution to it, as I described here.

greatbigbeautifultomorrow 300x199 Positive Health and the HeartRecently, the concept of Positive Health has emerged as a possible antidote for the malaise.

Pioneered by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman, Positive Health encourages us to identify and promote positive health assets—which Seligman describes as strengths that contribute to a healthier, more fulfilling life and yes, improved life expectancy as well. According to Seligman, “people desire well-being in its own right and they desire it above and beyond the relief of their suffering.”

Proponents of Positive Health have proposed that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*

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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