Navigating life's challenging moments can be incredibly tough, and in the United States, there's a concerning rise in "deaths from despair" – instances of suicide, drug overdose, or alcohol poisoning. When people face these extreme difficulties and are at risk, the usual approaches involve antidepressants and psychotherapy. However, a recent study from Harvard suggests that there's another avenue worth exploring: attending religious services.

Published online on May 6, 2020, by JAMA Psychiatry, the study delved into the self-reported religious service attendance of 110,000 white, middle-aged men and women over about 30 years. Surprisingly, the findings showed that those who attended religious services at least once a week had significantly lower risks of death from despair – a staggering 68% lower for women and 37% lower for men, compared to those who never attended.

Embarking on the journey to overcome addiction can be tough, and having a roadmap can make a significant difference. Research indicates that the following steps can guide you toward your recovery goals. Success is more likely when you embrace all five steps.

1. Set a meaningful quit date: Choose a date tied to a special event, birthday, or anniversary to mark the beginning of your journey.

2. Change your surroundings: Clear your home and workplace of any reminders of your addiction. Distance yourself from influences that might encourage your involvement with the substance or behavior you're trying to leave behind. Whether it's alcohol, drugs, or a specific behavior, eliminate related items from your space. If it's about quitting drinking, bid farewell to alcohol, bottle openers, wine glasses, and corkscrews. If it's gambling, remove playing cards, scratch tickets, or poker chips. Ensure others around you also respect your decision.

The talk of the town revolves around the latest wave of anti-obesity drugs, which are gaining popularity not just for their remarkable weight-loss outcomes but also for unexpected additional benefits. One standout medication, Semaglutide, originally introduced as Ozempic for diabetes and later as Wegovy for obesity, is causing a stir due to its potential to lead to a significant 15% to 20% reduction in body weight.

However, beyond mere weight loss, these medications, including others in the same category that mimic the natural hormone GLP-1, seem to possess an intriguing capability: curbing cravings for more than just food. People using GLP-1 drugs have reported decreased inclinations toward addictive and compulsive behaviors, such as alcohol consumption, smoking, excessive shopping, gambling, and even nail-biting.

Dr. Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, has heard similar anecdotes from her patients, particularly regarding reduced cravings for alcohol and sweets. The mechanism behind this phenomenon is not entirely clear, but it appears that GLP-1 drugs, in addition to suppressing appetite, may influence the brain's reward pathways, typically activated by substances like food, alcohol, and nicotine, as well as pleasurable activities such as gambling or shopping.

The potential advantages of GLP-1 medications go beyond weight loss, with Wegovy showing promise in lowering the risk of serious heart issues by 20%, according to a report from the drug's manufacturer in August 2023. This groundbreaking trial involving 18,000 people could mark the first instance of GLP-1 drugs providing cardiovascular benefits to overweight individuals without diabetes.

Dealing with the recurring discomfort of indigestion can be a bit perplexing, but fret not, as there are ways to handle those flare-ups without solely relying on medication.

Diving into the larger picture, it's essential to recognize that sluggish digestion is just one piece of the puzzle. Older adults, in particular, might find themselves grappling with conditions that can trigger regular indigestion, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, and food sensitivities such as lactose intolerance. Chronic indigestion is also often linked with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia, both of which entail persistent symptoms without a specific cause.

Fortunately, indigestion usually fades away on its own over time. Over-the-counter aids like antacid pills, liquids, or stomach-soothing medicines such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) can offer relief. Acid blockers like proton-pump inhibitors (e.g., omeprazole or lansoprazole) or H2 blockers (e.g., famotidine) are also potential options for managing heartburn.

Navigating the culinary landscape can also play a role in taming indigestion. Here's how you can make a difference:

- What: Pay attention to what you eat and drink when indigestion strikes, and consider cutting back on or avoiding problematic items like spicy and highly acidic foods, coffee, citrus- or tomato-based beverages, and processed or fatty foods.

- How: Opt for smaller servings and eat at a more leisurely pace. Avoid multitasking while eating, as it hinders mindful consumption. Experiment with more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day.

- When: If indigestion tends to haunt your evenings or disturb your sleep, consider having dinner earlier and refraining from eating within two hours of bedtime to prevent overloading your stomach when digestion slows down.

When Jimmy Carter decided to embrace hospice care at his Georgia ranch earlier this year, it wasn't a resignation; it was a conscious choice to prioritize comfort and relish the joys of everyday moments. This decision, far from being perceived as "giving up," underscored a profound shift in understanding the purpose of hospice — a choice to savor life's richness during challenging times. Yet, many are still unaware of this transformative insight into hospice and palliative care, which could significantly enhance their ability to shape their lives during serious illness, according to Harvard experts.

Choosing hospice doesn't mean you're giving up getting medical care; it's focusing on comfort with the medical care you do receive, explains Dr. Carine Davila, a palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. This sentiment is echoed by Sarah Byrne-Martelli, a board-certified chaplain and bereavement coordinator, who emphasizes the importance of helping individuals envision the end of life as a time spent at home with loved ones, enjoying favorite shows and meals, rather than being confined to a hospital bed.

Understanding the nuances between palliative care and hospice is crucial. Palliative care extends support beyond end-of-life considerations, offering relief for those seriously ill at any stage. It acts as an extra layer of support for patients, families, and the healthcare teams involved. Conversely, hospice care is specifically tailored to enhance the comfort of individuals with serious illnesses, often extended to those with a prognosis of six months or less. However, many people, like President Carter, choose hospice even when the end of life may be further away.

Dealing with mental health is something we all face, and it's essential to talk openly about it. Even though the pandemic brought more awareness, there are still myths and stereotypes around mental health that we need to challenge.

Did you know that over 58 million American adults, which is more than one in five, live with mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder? Surprisingly, more women than men seek treatment for these challenges.

However, there's a lingering stigma around mental health, making it difficult for those dealing with these issues. Dr. Arthur Barsky from Brigham and Women's Hospital explains that this stigma can affect people's morale and recovery. Feeling labeled and isolated can worsen depression or anxiety, leading to problems like substance abuse or social withdrawal.

The good news is that science is helping break down these old beliefs. Advances like brain imaging show that certain mental disorders cause structural changes in the brain, reducing the stigma around mental health.

First, when we mention "one drink," we're referring to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor per day, distributed across the week, not binging on seven drinks in one night.

While recent studies might suggest otherwise, we align with the long-standing advice in the Harvard Health Letter, which is grounded in extensive research from distinguished nutrition scientists at Harvard and beyond. However, it's crucial to emphasize the term "generally" in your query. Nutritional practices, including alcohol consumption, may be beneficial for most but not all individuals, considering the diversity in age, gender, genes, and lifestyles.

Your genetic makeup and gender play pivotal roles in determining susceptibility to alcohol addiction, metabolic efficiency, and the impact on various organs. Moderate alcohol intake can positively alter body chemistry, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. On the flip side, excessive consumption can harm organs like the heart, brain, and liver, and it poses severe risks to a developing fetus in pregnant women. Additionally, alcohol addiction significantly contributes to traffic accidents and violent crime. The recent study you referred to, heavily influenced by death rates in developing nations, underlines the global variations in alcohol-related health issues, particularly evident in higher tuberculosis-related deaths.

We've all heard that loneliness and isolation can impact our health, but which one is worse? A recent Harvard study delved into this question, looking at nearly 14,000 people aged 50 or older over four years. The findings showed that both loneliness and isolation are linked to health problems, but each has its own impact.

Social isolation, which means living alone or not spending time with family and friends, was found to be a stronger predictor of physical decline and early death. On the other hand, loneliness was more connected to mental health issues like depression or feeling that life lacks meaning.

The study highlighted that both loneliness and isolation are significant and can feed into each other. The key takeaway is that staying connected to others is crucial in combating these feelings. If you ever feel lonely, whether or not it's because you're physically isolated, talking to your doctor might be a good idea. Remember, reaching out to others can make a big difference in how we feel.

Great news! The FDA recently gave the green light to the first-ever pill designed to help moms struggling with postpartum depression. This condition affects around one in seven new mothers, making it tough for them to connect with their babies in the months following childbirth.

The new drug, called zuranolone (Zurzuvae), works quickly and was officially approved on August 4, 2023. What's even better? It's a short two-week course. Until now, the only other approved medication for postpartum depression was brexanolone (Zulresso), but it needed to be given through a hospital-based IV.
A New Era of Personalized Care

Getting a breast cancer diagnosis can be scary, but things have changed a lot in how we treat it. Unlike the old days when everyone got the same treatment, now it's like having a personalized toolkit to fight the disease.

Survival rates have gone up, with only 5% of women at an average risk of dying within five years after a breast cancer diagnosis, down from 14% in the 1990s. Dr. Harold Burstein from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute explains, We may not always know why someone gets breast cancer, but the good news is that outcomes are improving.

Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach, scientists can now categorize breast tumors based on cell type. This allows for tailor-made combinations of treatments. Surgery is still common, but chemotherapy might be smaller or skipped. New drugs like immunotherapy and targeted therapies are giving doctors more options.

Breast cancer comes in different types, like ER-positive or HER2-positive. Knowing this helps doctors choose the best treatments. Thanks to research in the last decade, tests can now identify gene mutations, predict tumor growth, and help customize treatments.

For ER-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer, the use of chemotherapy has become more selective. Powerful tools allow doctors to decide if a patient really needs it. Medications like CDK4/6 inhibitors are also used for high-risk cases.

HER2-positive breast cancer, a more aggressive type, has seen progress with targeted therapies like Herceptin. A new approach pairs chemotherapy with proteins for better results with fewer side effects.

Seasonal affective disorder can be treated and managed with the use of light therapy and medicines.

The winter season brings chilly days and cozy vibes, but for some, it also ushers in a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that kicks in during late fall and winter, easing off with the arrival of spring. While the exact cause remains a mystery, researchers believe a lack of sunlight plays a pivotal role.

Dr. Richard Schwartz, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, emphasizes the significance of recognizing SAD as a serious condition. He notes, "People should not ignore the signs of SAD and should seek treatment if they appear, as left alone, SAD can escalate to serious health issues."

Sunlight and Your Mood

Sunlight exposure has a profound impact on our brains. It stimulates the hypothalamus, a brain region housing our internal sleep-wake clock. Insufficient light disrupts this clock, leading to an overproduction of the sleep hormone melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical. This chemical imbalance can result in feelings of low energy, lethargy, and depression.

SAD comes with other telltale signs, including diminished sexual desire, an inclination to overeat (especially comfort foods), and sleep disturbances. It also correlates with cognitive challenges like difficulties in concentration and memory. Dr. Schwartz adds, "As you become more lethargic from SAD, you are also less likely to exercise or socialize."

Several factors heighten the risk of SAD, such as a family history of SAD or depression and geographic location. People residing in northern states, where daylight diminishes significantly in fall and winter, are more prone to SAD than those in the south.

Childbirth, a timeless and sometimes unpredictable journey, has been an integral part of human experience. In the United States, where rates of avoidable complications and maternal deaths are surprisingly high, the demand for doulas is on the rise. Natalia Richey, interim chief midwife at Massachusetts General Hospital, notes an increasing interest in additional care during pregnancy and birth.

But what does a birth doula do? Unlike midwives or doctors, professional doulas offer emotional and physical support to women throughout pregnancy and the birthing process.

Here's a glimpse into doula care if you're considering it.

Doulas vs. Midwives

While midwives and doulas share some responsibilities, a crucial distinction exists: midwives provide medical care, whereas doulas focus on emotional and physical support. Midwives, like certified nurse-midwives, are trained nurses responsible for maintaining the physical health of both mother and baby during childbirth. On the other hand, doulas don't perform medical tasks; they specialize in helping laboring women stay comfortable and calm, employing various techniques like suggesting comfort measures and optimal positions.

Doula Training and Licensing

It's important to note that doula training lacks standardized rules. Certification from over 100 independent organizations is common, although no formal licensing is required. While private insurers often don't cover doula care, some employers, like Walmart, assist in covering costs. As of February 2023, ten states and the District of Columbia offer Medicaid coverage for doula services.

Impact on Birth Outcomes

A 2023 analysis spanning 22 years and 16 studies found that doula support correlated with improved birth outcomes, including fewer C-sections, premature deliveries, and shorter labor. Emotional support from doulas was associated with reduced anxiety and stress in mothers, with notable improvements in breastfeeding success, especially among low-income women.
Ever notice those little white spots on your nails? Don't worry, they're usually not a big deal. It's like a mystery game to figure out why they showed up, but often, it's just because your nails experienced some minor bumps or rough treatment. Think of it like a badge of honor from a too-hasty manicure or tapping your fingers a bit too enthusiastically.

Oh, and if you've been rocking nail polish for ages without a break, your nails might rebel with some dry, white spots. It's like they're saying, "Hey, let us breathe!" There's also a chance a sneaky fungal infection is behind the scenes, leaving a white film on your nails. Sometimes, more serious stuff like low iron, kidney issues, or liver scarring can play a part in turning your nails half or mostly white.

Finding relief for the discomfort of atopic dermatitis, a common form of eczema, can be a daily challenge. This skin condition, characterized by inflammation and itching, can disrupt sleep, social activities, and various aspects of daily life.

If simple remedies like gentle cleansing and regular moisturizing don't offer relief, your healthcare provider might suggest a prescription cream for your skin. A recent study has narrowed down the most effective options for managing atopic dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis is a persistent inflammatory skin disease that often affects areas like the face, hands, feet, or skin folds behind the elbows or knees. The exact cause is uncertain, with factors like genetics, the environment, and an overactive immune system contributing to inflammation and persistent itching. The notorious itch-scratch cycle worsens the rash, causing tearing, oozing, and crusting, which can be painful.

The study, evaluating over 200 trials involving more than 43,000 people with atopic dermatitis, sheds light on the effectiveness of various prescription creams and ointments. These treatments fall into five categories, including topical corticosteroids, Janus kinase inhibitors, PDE4 inhibitors, calcineurin inhibitors, and other topicals like antibiotics and prescription moisturizers.

The research aimed to identify medications that significantly improved patients' quality of life, reduced severity, itch, sleep disturbances, or flare-ups, caused fewer serious side effects, and were discontinued the least due to adverse effects.

The standout winners in the study were two calcineurin inhibitors, namely pimecrolimus (Elidel) and tacrolimus (Protopic), along with moderate-potency topical corticosteroids like fluocinolone acetonide (Synalar cream 0.025%) and triamcinolone acetonide (Kenalog cream/ointment 0.1%).

Plantar fasciitis is a pretty common and sometimes painful foot problem that many people around the world deal with. It usually hits folks who are on the move, between the ages of 25 and 65. This condition kicks in when the plantar fascia, a band of tissue under your foot that helps keep the arch in shape, gets worked too hard or stretched too much. Over time, this can lead to inflammation and, you guessed it, pain.

Now, spotting plantar fasciitis can be a slow build-up or hit you out of the blue, especially after pushing yourself physically. Being aware of the signs is key for early action and managing it properly.

The classic signs of plantar fasciitis include:
- Feeling pain on the bottom of your foot, near the heel. It could be a constant ache or a sharp stab.

- Waking up to some serious heel or foot discomfort in the morning or after a good rest. Luckily, it tends to ease up after a bit of walking around.

- Noticing that the pain tends to get worse after physical activity but isn't really bothering you during the exercise itself. Climbing stairs can be a real pain.

- Feeling tenderness when you touch the area, especially close to the heel.

- Dealing with foot stiffness, especially when you first get out of bed or after sitting for a while. This stiffness can make walking a bit tricky.

So, why does this happen? Plantar fasciitis is like a protest from your foot's tissue, shouting "enough!" when it gets overworked or strained. It can be triggered by constant stress from activities like standing or running, and sometimes even significant weight gain, like during pregnancy.

Certain things can make you more likely to go through this foot ordeal:
- Having foot arch issues, whether they're too flat or too high.
- Doing long-distance or downhill running on uneven surfaces.
- Carrying some extra weight.
- Having a tight Achilles tendon.
- Wearing shoes without enough arch support or with too-soft soles.
- Suddenly changing how active you are.

If you suspect you're dealing with plantar fasciitis or are stuck with persistent foot pain, it's a good idea to see your doctor for the full scoop and a plan to tackle it. They'll check your foot for signs like tenderness, high or flat arches, and limited ankle flexibility.

Take a moment to check your skin regularly for potential issues. A routine full-body skin exam can help catch early signs of skin cancer and other concerns.

Consider looking at your entire skin, not just your face. Regular self-exams every three to six months are recommended. Use a full-length mirror, a handheld mirror for hard-to-see spots, and a magnifying glass for smaller areas. If possible, ask someone for assistance to ensure you don't miss anything.

Here's a simple guide for your self-check:

- Examine your face, neck, ears (especially behind them), and scalp. Use a comb or blow dryer to improve visibility.

- Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Raise your arms and check your left and right sides.

- Bend your elbows and carefully inspect your fingernails, palm, back of each hand, forearms, and upper arms.

- Check the back, front, and sides of your legs. Also, examine the skin on your buttocks and genital area.

- Sit down and examine your feet, including the soles, spaces between your toes, and toenails.

Elevating Cardio Fitness: A Potential Shield Against Common Cancers in Men

Staying in good shape with activities like jogging or cycling might actually help guys fend off some serious health issues. According to a study shared in the journals on June 29, 2023, being in better cardio shape seems to reduce the chances of men facing a tough time with colon, lung, or prostate cancer.

Sometimes, certain thoughts just won't leave us alone – they keep playing over and over, like a song stuck in your head. If it's just a random tune, it's annoying but not a big deal. But a sticky thought is different; it causes distress, you can't shake it off, and it messes with your day, explains a mental health expert.

These persistent thoughts can pop up due to stress or an underlying issue like anxiety, depression, OCD, or PTSD. For example, if you're dealing with generalized anxiety, you might have sticky thoughts about upcoming events or financial worries. Depression can bring on thoughts of failure or loneliness, while OCD might have you obsessing over germs. PTSD, linked to traumatic experiences, can replay distressing scenes in your mind.

Sticky thoughts aren't just a mental annoyance – they can mess with your concentration, fuel feelings of shame and fear, and even harm your self-esteem. Over time, they might lead to social isolation, making some folks reluctant to leave home.
As people age, their metabolism tends to slow down, and burning calories becomes more challenging. Decreased testosterone levels and reduced physical activity may lead to a decline in muscle mass, contributing to an accumulation of body fat. A health professional notes that excess calories, when not burned off, get stored as fat, potentially resulting in increased body fat.

The critical issue lies in the type of fat and its location. While subcutaneous fat under the skin might not pose significant health risks, visceral fat, stored around vital organs within the abdominal cavity, can elevate heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Waist measurement is a practical way to gauge visceral fat, with a waistline of a certain measurement signaling excess visceral fat.

Question. I read an article about a doctor's research that says eating more protein and fat can help with weight loss and better health. But the article also mentions that these foods contain saturated fat, which we were told to limit. Can you explain why this is confusing?

Answer. You're right that we've been told to limit saturated fat because it can raise harmful cholesterol levels. However, there is disagreement about how much we should limit it. Some experts say 5-6% of our daily calories, while others say 10% is okay. A dietitian suggests a middle ground of 7%, which is the amount found in the Mediterranean-style diet mentioned in the article.

The dietitian analyzed the menu in the article and found that it had the right amount of saturated fat for a heart-healthy diet.

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