The CDC is telling doctors to prescribe more antiviral flu medications, because, “If you get them early, they could keep you out of the hospital and might even save your life.” But the FDA explicitly prohibits the drugs’ makers from making claims that these drugs can reduce hospitalizations or deaths, and scientists who’ve reviewed the evidence on these flu drugs say they’ve only been shown to reduce the duration of symptoms. Who’s right? Read more in my latest FiveThirtyEight story here, then listen to an audio discussion about the story.
Heart-warming broadcast homecomings have become the public face of post-deployment family reunions, but the intense happiness of these moments can mask the challenges that lie ahead as military families navigate life after their loved ones return from war. “We call it reunion porn,” says Amy Bushatz, managing editor of Military.com’s SpouseBuzz blog and the wife of an infantry soldier. “The feeling among the people I work with and my readers is that it’s not a fair representation.” The happy welcomes tell only the “mushy reunion half of the story,” she says. “What happens when he gets home? Not just that night, but three weeks from then?”
In my latest Washington Post column, I answer questions about how to find help for mental health problems such as: Where can you find a mental health professional? What’s the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a social worker? The piece also explains what to look for in a provider and outlines the factors that best predict successful treatment. Read it here.
It seems as though nearly everyone who has heard of CrossFit has an opinion about it — even people who have never tried it. Aficionados claim that this brand of high-intensity workouts is a fast and fun way to get fit. Critics say that it’s a fast track to injury.
Read more of my latest Washington Post column here.
Washington Post, April 7, 2014
Spring, with its longer days, blooming flowers and rising temperatures might seem like a time of peak happiness, but some studies indicate that suicides are more common in the spring and summer months than in December. Researchers don’t know why they’re higher in these seasons, but they say that friends and loved ones should not be lulled into thinking a brighter season necessarily means a brighter mood for someone who is struggling with mental health issues. Intervention is important no matter the month.
Read the rest at The Washington Post: Understanding suicide, which is surprisingly common in spring.
A new Canadian study adds to the amassing research suggesting that most of what mammography has done is turn healthy people into sick, but grateful cancer survivors. It’s time to change our goals. We should be aiming to save lives, not create as many cancer patients as we possibly can.
Recently a reader wrote me to ask how patients can perform background checks on their doctors, to make sure that they’re in good standing. He had a reason for asking: A few years ago, he said, he’d agreed to have a spinal fusion performed by an apparently well-regarded surgeon. The operation left him worse off than when he started, and he later discovered that there were numerous malpractice lawsuits pending against the surgeon.
How do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? My latest Washington Post column offers ways to check your MD’s background.
A generation ago, an oncologist might have gone years without encountering a case of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a precancerous breast lesion. But widespread mammography has led to a sevenfold increase in the number of new cases of DCIS. This steep rise has some experts worried, as screening’s ability to find these precancerous lesions has outstripped knowledge about how to classify DCIS and how to treat it. At a recent state-of-the-science conference, scientists debated whether the word “carcinoma” should be removed from the name, in hopes of reducing fear and stemming a trend of overtreatment of this noninvasive pre-cancer.
Washington Post, December 13, 2013
Early dementia is difficult to distinguish from mild cognitive impairment, those minor memory blips that sneak up as we age. About one in five people older than 75 have such blips, and most cases never progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s, Spence says. Some memory lapses that may seem like dementia are actually something else. In a study published last year, Danish researchers revisited the records of nearly 900 patients thought to have dementia and discovered that 41 percent of them had received faulty diagnoses.
Read the rest at The Washington Post: Why you may want to avoid a dementia test
I interviewed more than a dozen experts for this Consumer Reports investigation into the safety of chicken sold in grocery stores. Consumer Reports scientists tested more than 300 samples from chickens purchased in 26 states. The results showed that 97% of the breasts we tested harbored bacteria that could make you sick.
Run Yourself Smarter: How exercise boosts your brain
New Scientist, November 15, 2013
pdf here: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
The latest science on exercise and the brain suggests that exercise isn’t an enhancer of normal cognition, it’s a necessary condition. Physical activity has been show to improve brain health across every stage of life.
What my doctor neglected to tell me is that a mammogram was, in my case, more likely to hurt than help me. Few doctors take the time to mention the risks of mammography — especially, the danger of overdiagnosis —that a mammogram might lead a patient to get needled, sliced, zapped with radiation and possibly treated with tamoxifen, a drug that increases risk of uterine cancer, for a breast lesion that wasn’t life-threatening in the first place.
Most people believe that breast cancer is inevitably a progressive disease that will kill you if you don’t remove it in time. According to this idea, which I call the relentless progression model, every big cancer is harmful, every small one is less so and every cancer is curable if only you catch it in time. It’s an appealing, intuitive idea — except that a growing body of research suggests that it’s wrong.
Read the rest at The Washington Post: I’m just saying no to mammography: Why the numbers are in my favor
Do bike helmet laws really save people?
Washington Post, June 3, 2013
Mandatory helmet laws, like one brought up in the Maryland legislature this winter, might seem like a no-brainer. Yet when the medical journal BMJ polled its readers in 2011, 68 percent of the respondents opposed mandatory helmet laws. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) also opposes mandatory helmet laws, and its members testified againstMaryland House Bill 339, which never made it out of committee before the legislative session ended in April.
Proponents of helmet laws say that they reduce injuries. But evidence for this claim remains mixed.
Read the rest at the Washington Post: Do bike helmet laws really save people?
Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements
They’re expensive, they don’t improve performance, and they might make you test positive for dope.
Slate, July 26, 2012
Hardy is among a growing number of athletes who have traced a positive doping test back to a tainted supplement. Swimmer Kicker Vencill and cyclists Flavia Oliveira andScott Moninger (an acquaintance of mine), also tested positive after taking supplements, and 400-meter gold medalist LaShawn Merritt linked his positive dope test to a product called Extenz that he picked up at 7-Eleven. The problem is so prevalent that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has developed an educational campaign for athletes, called Supplements 411.
Supplements are risky thanks in part to a piece of legislation passed in 1994 called the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act. The DSHEA essentially deregulated dietary supplements, including vitamins, herbs, protein shake mixes, nutritional supplements, and other powders and pills that millions of people of all levels of athletic ability might take to improve their health. Most people assume that if a product is available on store shelves, it must be OK. But supplements are not required to be evaluated or proven safe or effective before they’re sold. New rules finalized in 2007 gave the FDA power to regulate the manufacturing and packaging of supplements, but the agency’s ability to police supplement companies remains limited by DSHEA. Its chief author and most powerful advocate is Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose home state of Utah is home to much of the U.S. supplement industry. Hatch, who attributes his good health to the supplements he takes each day, fought a recent amendment to increase the FDA’s ability to regulate the industry.
Read the rest at Slate: Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements
It May Be Fake, but Trust Me—It’ll Work
Slate, March 16, 2011
When is it kosher for doctors to prescribe placebos? It’s a question I explore in this Slate piece.
The change in mammogram guidelines After a federal panel pulled back its recommendations for screenings, a debate continues to rage about the wisdom or risk of it.
The Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2011
Here, I write about the US Preventative Services Task Force breast cancer screening guidelines and explain why the Task Force recommended against routine mammography for women in their 40′s.
How to chose a health charity.
How to vet a charity before you give.
The Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2010
The downside of awareness campaigns
Despite the pink ribbon push, cancer deaths have dropped only slightly. And the focus on awareness may be pushing more women into treatment unnecessarily.
The Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2010
When you’re hurt, speed recovery by finding the best specialist for your injury.
Runner’s World, July 2010
The Big 7 Body Breakdowns
How to avoid (and recover from) the most common running injuries.
Treat and Prevent Running Injuries
Runner’s World, March 2011
Rational Arguments: Convincing the Public to Accept New Medical Guidelines
In the age of “truthiness” it’s not the evidence, but the narrative that matters most.
Miller-McCune, April 20, 2010
There are Many Ways to Share Bad News
More people are using electronic forms of communication to share medical news and updates. Web pages, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and blogs can spread the word quickly, but critics believe such news demands a more personal approach.
Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2010
Hospice Care Helps Patients and Loved Ones
Here’s what you need to know about this increasingly popular end-of-life care.
Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2010
The Trouble With Mammograms
The exams lead to overdiagnosis, causing women to go through treatment for breast cancers that wouldn’t kill them.
Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2009