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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3 Things You Don’t Know About Diabetes Risk

Diabetes blood sugar reading

It seems like almost every day I hear something new about type 2 diabetes. Whether it’s a new medication or a discovery about an aspect of the biology behind the disease, our understanding of diabetes is constantly improving. But even with our increasing and evolving knowledge, I find that too many of my patients remain unaware of their risk for the disease. To help get you up to speed on the risk you — and your friends or family — may face, here’s a review of the three most common gaps I see in people’s knowledge about diabetes and the risk factors for the disease.

Watch: How Diabetes Affects You? 

You Can Have Diabetes and Not Know It
When I break a new diagnosis of diabetes to a patient, I often hear these words: “But I feel fine!” Many people don’t realize that diabetes is typically a silent disease and can remain so for years — even decades. It occasionally sends out small signals, but those symptoms may not be obvious to you or may come on so gradually that you get used to them without noticing. Having diabetes isn’t like picking up the flu or having a heart attack. It develops gradually and its effects can be hidden from view until it’s too late.

Because diabetes can be so hard to diagnose just using symptoms, doctors use a variety of other questions and tests to determine if you’re at high risk and need further workup. Here’s some good news: If you’re uncertain about your risk level, you can find out more information yourself. As part of their annual Alert Day, the American Diabetes Association offers a quick quiz to see if you might be at risk. This quiz won’t reveal if you have diabetes — but it will tell you if you’re at risk, and should see a doctor for further investigation. The earlier you catch diabetes, the earlier you can stop its devastating health effects.

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Why It’s Important to Take Action to Fight Rare Cancers

Cycle for Survival

This time of the year is particularly inspiring for me because it marks the end of months of fundraising and events around the country for Cycle for Survival. Started by Jennifer Goodman Linn and her husband, Cycle for Survival raises money for rare cancer research. Every year, thousands of people (including some here on the Dr. Oz team) fundraise to support research into what causes these cancers and how we might go about treating them. Why research these cancers if they’re so rare? Because taken together, rare cancers aren’t actually so rare. About half of all cancer diagnoses are rare cancers — that means that even if you haven’t heard of them, they impact the lives of thousands of people. Today, I want to spend some time talking about rare cancers and how you can help win the battle against these devastating diseases.

The Problem With Focusing on Common Cancers
Cancers like breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancer often make the news and for good reason. Together, these cancers kill hundreds of thousands of American every year and affect many more who are lucky enough to beat cancer. Our efforts in fighting many of these cancers has helped save countless lives. Rare cancers, on the other hand, affect fewer than 200,000 people at any given time in the United States. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking that number doesn’t sound so rare. In fact, when you tally up the total number of people who fall into that rare cancer category, it ends up being about half of all people with cancer including all cancers that occur in children. Read more  »

3 Easy Steps to Better Sleep

woman-sleeping

I talk a lot about sleep on the show and for good reason: Sleep is incredibly important to your health and has an impact on just about everything you do. Sleeping better can boost your focus, productivity, positive emotions, help lower your weight and blood pressure and can decrease your risk for diseases like heart disease and diabetes. In spite of that, many people aren’t getting enough sleep each night. While sometimes the reason is obvious, other causes of poor sleep may not be as clear. This week is Sleep Awareness Week, which makes it a great time to talk about what you could be doing to boost the quality of your sleep and your overall health. Check out these three easy steps that can help move you towards better sleep and better overall health.

Step 1: Find Out If You Snore
This first step helps you look for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that has been thought to affect anywhere from one in 20 to one in five people. Why such a huge range? The problem is, most people don’t know they have sleep apnea. That’s because of how the condition works: Structures of the throat block off your airway during sleep, which causes you to stop breathing. This wakes your body up, gasping for air, but you fall back asleep before you even realize you’re awake. In severe cases, this can happen hundreds of times a night. It’s no wonder, then, that people with sleep apnea wake up exhausted even after eight hours of “sleep.” Why is this a problem? Aside from the high blood pressure and other increased risk of diseases like heart disease and stroke, this sleep deprivation makes falling asleep behind the wheel a serious and dangerous possibility.

Watch: Do you know your sleep type?

Snoring is a very common symptom of sleep apnea because when those floppy tissues in the throat fall onto the airway, they vibrate back and forth to make that snoring noise. Snoring indicates that your airway is crowded and that you might be at risk for sleep apnea. Another key sign is waking up after a long night of sleep without feeling rested. Being obese, being a smoker or having a thick neck can all also contribute to your risk for sleep apnea. If you’re not sure if you snore, ask your spouse or significant other if they’ve noticed snoring or gasping noises. Friends who might have been around when you’re sleeping can also be a good source of information. The best way to get diagnosed is with an official sleep study, which your doctor will prescribe if they suspect sleep apnea is the cause of your sleep problems.

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Leap Forward Into Your Best Spring Yet

Athlete running road silhouette

I always look forward to the extra leap year day. The bonus February day gives me an extra opportunity to reflect on the year so far before March and the spring season arrive. With warmer weather right around the corner, now is the perfect time to look back on your goals for this year and figure out what changes you need to make to stay on track in 2016.

Pull Out Those New Year’s Resolutions

While it might be painful to think about the rosy hopes and dreams you had on January 1 that still remain woefully far from completion, it’s important to assess your progress to get yourself back on track. Statistically, a little more than one in three of you have probably abandoned your resolutions by this point. A few notes for this group first. I’m willing to bet many of you who have given up would be willing to give those goals a second try with a few modifications. Heading into a new month and new season is the perfect time to give them another go. Ask yourself what did or didn’t work. Why weren’t you able to exercise as much as you wanted? What kept you from staying on that diet? Why haven’t you paid off that credit card debt yet? Looking back at what didn’t work can help you make a better, more realistic goal that you can work towards. It’s okay to rehash your New Year’s resolutions and start over in March.

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