Why Reading Is the Foundation of Good Health

woman-reading-book-outside-park

Reading is a skill most of us take for granted. When you see the front page of a newspaper or pull up your favorite health site, you probably don’t even think about the fact that you’re reading the words on the page. You just do it. But that ability doesn’t come naturally. Reading is a skill built during childhood that allows us to communicate and learn about the world around us. The troubles that come from illiteracy extend far beyond not being able to read the latest bestsellers. Today, we’re kicking off our Books Across America book drive, so it seems appropriate to discuss how difficult reading can impact your happiness, health, and well-being.

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6 Favorite Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

tomatoes

It’s truly amazing the variety of fruits and vegetables that are available in the grocery store all year round. From citrus fruits to tomatoes to squash to bell peppers, what the weather’s like outside has ceased to matter when it comes to what you can get at the store. While it’s great to have such variety all year, I notice a definite difference in the produce section when the weather starts to warm up. More variety is available and the fruits and vegetables often taste better than they did when I was buying them out of season.

Watch: The Best Fruits to Eat for Weight Loss

The warmer weather also means the opening of farmers markets, which offer fresh, flavorful and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. What should you be looking out for this summer? Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve been waiting for all winter.

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Taking Advantage of the Sunshine

Cute woman in the park with dandelions

The weather has finally started to heat up and I’ve really enjoyed being able to get outside and enjoy walks with Lisa and occasional games with my kids and grandkids. All that time outside has reminded me of the major benefits of time in the sun, but it’s also given me pause to think about some of the harms that can come with it. I want to help you get the most out of the sunshine this spring and summer, but also sound some cautionary sun safety reminders so you don’t damage your health in the long run.

Watch: 3 Simple Summer Safety Tips

The Benefits of Time in the Sun
Our ancestors spent most of their time outside so it should come as no surprise that our health and mood are often closely tied to how much time we get outdoors. You’ve probably experienced the major boost in how you feel when you get away from the computer screen to spend some time in the outdoors. While some of that effect probably has to do with the peace of natural settings and the ability to get away from stressful modern distractions, a lot of it also has to do with the sun. That’s because sunlight governs a variety of processes in our body that play a direct role in our health. Here are a few examples.

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Put a Face on Mental Illness

sad woman siting alone mental illness depression

While we’ve made big strides as a society in being accepting of people with all sorts of illnesses, mental illness is often an under-discussed, hidden disease. It’s often the family secret kept about an aunt or uncle who just doesn’t get talked about or the unexplained day off of work you hide from friends and coworkers. I’ve made a big effort recently to try and make mental health a centerpiece of the show to try and bring it out of the shadows and make it acceptable to talk about openly.

Watch: Why Americans Need to Talk About Mental Health

This May is Mental Health Month and this year’s goal is to help people share their story of mental illness with those around them. To give you a little motivation, I want to spend some time making the argument for why disclosing mental illness to others is so incredibly important, both for you and for those you share your story with. Read more  »

Getting the Vaccinations You Need

Flu Shot

While the good done by vaccines rarely makes the news, the last year has been a big one in vaccination progress. Rubella, a viral infection that leads to birth defects and miscarriage in pregnant women, was eliminated from the Americas around this time last year with more progress being made worldwide on eliminating it entirely. While fear of ebola was swirling this time last year, significant steps have been made towards a vaccine that will go through trials this year to prevent the infection. Finally, trials have also started this year for dengue and malaria vaccines, two of the world’s deadliest infections. But while you might not be affected by rubella, ebola, or dengue, chances are good you know someone who’s had shingles, pneumonia, or cervical cancer. It’s World Immunization Week and I want to bring you up to speed on how you could be using vaccines to keep you and your loved ones healthy. Read more  »

Poor Health for Some Means Problems for Us All

beautiful medical student close to becoming a doctor

One of the things that first drew me to medicine was that health problems touched all people. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, young or old, black or white, college-educated or didn’t finish high school, everyone gets sick at some point. As a doctor, I focus more on diseases than demographics. But over the course of my career, I’ve come to see how much your income, race, and education can matter in determining whether you get sick and what treatment you get as a result. The perfectly equal care I dreamed of providing as a medical student isn’t the reality for most patients in most health systems. It’s National Minority Health Month and I want to spend a few minutes talking about why minority health is so important, even if you don’t fall within a minority group yourself. Read more  »

Do You Have Prediabetes?

prediabetes

Chances are you know someone with type 2 diabetes. In fact, 29 million Americans suffer from it, and if current trends continue, one in three adults will have type 2 diabetes by 2050. It’s one of the most dreaded chronic diseases we face. It results in elevated blood sugar because the body does not use insulin properly. Over time this elevated blood sugar can damage the eyes, kidneys, heart, nerves, and brain and even lead to amputations. Unfortunately, once you have type 2 diabetes you have it for life. It can be treated and well-controlled, but many people find that difficult.

Watch: Does Your Body Type Indicate Prediabetes? 

Luckily, there’s a way to tell if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes and change course before you get the disease. It’s called prediabetes and, unlike diabetes, it can be reversed. One in three Americans reading this may already have it and not even know it.

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Should You Really Choose Low-Fat Dairy?

milk720

If you’re worried about your health, you may be reaching for low-fat dairy products when you go shopping. After all, that’s what the US Dietary Guidelines and many health organizations recommend. Well, it turns out that there isn’t much evidence to back those recommendations up. And now two new studies out this week call into question the wisdom of that advice.

The first study looked at the relationship between the development of diabetes and dairy fat levels in the blood in participants from the Nurses’ Health and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The people in these studies had their blood tested and were then followed for decades. The researchers found that when they compared the people with the lowest levels of dairy fats in their blood with the people who had the highest levels–they actually saw that the people in the high-fat group had a more than 40 percent lower risk of developing diabetes. It’s not known exactly why this would be, but one theory is that dairy fats can help improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin (in diabetes the body becomes less sensitive to insulin).

The second study looked at the relationship between dairy consumption and the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese in over 8,000 people from the Women’s Health Study. Participants in this study completed a questionnaire about how much and how often they ate different types of dairy foods and were then followed, on average, for over a decade. The researchers found that people who said they ate the highest fat dairy products actually had an 8% lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than the people who ate low-fat products. This seems counterintuitive, because high fat dairy products have more calories, but it may be that the sensory experience of eating high fat dairy products is more satisfying and actually leads to people eating less calories overall. In addition some low-fat products are actually loaded with sugar–which means they end up having more calories than the full-fat versions.

So while the advice to choose low-fat dairy is based on the idea that we need to reduce the amount of saturated fat in our diets (the kind of fat found in animal products), these studies illustrate that sometimes just focusing on a single nutrient rather than thinking about a whole food can lead us astray.

The bottom line: if you’re not eating dairy, don’t start because of these studies. If you’re already a dairy consumer, these and other studies suggest you don’t stress over eating the high-fat versions. Eat what you like best, probably the good stuff–as close to the natural version as you can get. And of course, as with all things, eat in moderation.

Become an Organ Donor, Save a Life

organ donation

As a cardiothoracic surgeon, I’ve seen firsthand how an organ donation can literally give someone back their life. While we’ve come up with incredible ways to keep people alive even when they have an ailing heart, nothing comes close to a human heart donation. And it’s not just heart donations that change lives. Kidneys, lungs, livers, even eyes and skin, can all transform the lives of people who would otherwise be consigned to lifelong disease and even death. Because donated organs can be so transformative, I want to spend some time debunking a few of the myths that often hold people back from becoming organ donors.

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Getting the Jump on Allergy Season

sick woman allergies sneeze tissue

While most people get excited about the coming of spring, those with bad seasonal allergies know that it signals the arrival of a running nose, itching eyes, and a variety of other symptoms that can make life miserable. Fortunately, getting a head start on your allergy symptoms before the season starts can keep allergies at bay even when plants start releasing pollen in earnest. Rather than consigning yourself to the air-filtered indoors until summer rolls around, follow a few of these allergy-fighting tips to get yourself on track for a less sniffly allergy season.

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