Living Healthy

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S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

Put Down the Heating Pad: Physical Therapists Say It Doesn’t Help

Physical therapy is about being, well, physical, new guidelines say. (Getty Images)

Physical therapy is about being, well, physical, new guidelines say. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

I have fond memories of listening to NPR while lounging at the physical therapist’s with a heating pad on my shoulder. Don’t do that, the nation’s physical therapists’ association says.

Heat therapy, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and other “passive physical agents” almost never help, according to a list released Monday by the Choosing Wisely campaign. Instead, they siphon time and money away from what you really want from a physical therapist — an exercise program that will restore strength and mobility.

Well, this is certainly going to make physical therapy less restful.

But seeing as I’ve been to several physical therapists over the years and they’ve all used this stuff, the fact that the American Physical Therapy Association put passive physical agents on top of their list of things not to do seems like big news. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
Continue reading

Searching for Happiness? Look for Meaning, Not Money

Happiness is about social ties, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

Happiness is about social ties and experiences, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

Do a quick search for “happiness” in Amazon books, and you’ll find more than 40,000 results. That’s a lot of people writing about happiness — and, presumably, a lot of people looking to find it.

“It’s typically not things or stuff, but experiences and relationships and the less tangible things in life.”

If you’re one of those people looking, you should know that finding happiness doesn’t mean you have to be cheerful and upbeat all the time. There’s more than one way to get there. Experts say even pessimists can be happy.

“There are a lot of things that we think will make us happy and don’t,” says Christine Carter, a sociologist at U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of the book “Raising Happiness.”

“In fact,” Carter says, “we are, as human beings, particularly bad at predicting what will make us happy. We think that we’re going to be much happier if we’re living in a bigger house or driving a different type of car or those really cute new shoes are going to make us happy.” Continue reading

West Nile Virus Infections in California at All-Time High (Map of Cases by County)

westnilevirus

West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

West Nile Virus infections in mosquitoes are at their highest recorded level ever in California. Last week, 52 new human cases were reported, bringing the total to 181.

Eight people have died from the illness.

“If you’re out there at a time of day when the mosquitoes are out — particularly at dawn and dusk — the risk of being bitten with an infected mosquito is higher than it’s been in the past,” said James Watt of the California Department of Public Health. Continue reading

Infants Given Sugar-Sweetened Beverages at Higher Risk for Obesity

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

By Brian Lau 

Were you at a Labor Day barbecue last weekend? Did you drink soda? Sweet tea? Or maybe vitamin water? Sugar-sweetened drinks are a known risk factor for obesity, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in four American adults consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Now, two new studies published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics found that 80 percent of 6-year-olds drank sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis. (The studies can be found here and here.)

And here’s the kicker: researchers found that 25 percent of infants also were given sugar-sweetened beverages at some point, and this consumption can be associated with health problems later.

One of the studies’ main findings was that babies given sugar-sweetened drinks during the first 6 months of life had a 92 percent greater risk of obesity by the time they were 6-years-old versus babies who were never given such drinks. Continue reading

Sleep Apps, Myths and More: Strategies for a Good Night’s Rest

(Flood G./Flickr)

(Flood G./Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

If you go to Apple’s App Store and search “sleep,” you’ll net over 2,000 results. Many of these apps play soothing white noise for a set period of time to help you fall asleep; others are simply alarm clocks. But many track your sleep, providing you with data about your nightly sleep quality, your average sleep time and more.

I must admit, I use Sleep Cycle to track my sleep, and my mom uses FitBit. So when sleep experts answered questions on KQED’s Forum Wednesday, I was more than happy to listen in.

Stanford’s famous sleep scientist, Professor William Dement, joined the panel and described one discovery of his original research that apparently led to the technology to track sleep: “During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the body is completely paralyzed except the eyes and the diaphragm.” Continue reading

Earthquake Safety: Stand In A Doorway?

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday's earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday’s earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t like earthquakes, yet I live in quake country. It’s a paradox.

To mitigate my worry, I err on the side of preparedness. But this post is not to lecture you about creating an earthquake kit (although it’s not hard to do). It’s to let you know what to do the moment the shaking starts.

And it’s to tell you what not to do.

Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway. Continue reading

As Aging White Man, Robin Williams Was Particularly at Risk for Suicide

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

You don’t really expect a professional baseball player to be the one person to articulate the effect Robin Williams had on much of the general public, but that was my feeling when I read this quote in today’s San Francisco Chronicle from Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who had once been thrilled to receive a congatulatory handshake from Williams. Said Lincecum:

He made things feel like they weren’t so bad.”

Remembering some of Williams’ early manic groundbreaking appearances on television and movies, the statement rang true, as did the chilling irony in its description of a man who seemingly had everything but clearly thought that things were that bad, after all.

The suicide rate for white men increased almost 40 percent between 1999 and 2011.

Considering his suicide, it’s not surprising that Williams’ publicist said Monday that the comedian suffered from severe depression. Williams also struggled with substance abuse issues for decades. Since his death, a national conversation has ensued on the insidious effects of depression, and how it can prove fatal even in those who, to the outside world, seemingly have everything to live for.

Around the country, media organizations have been interviewing mental health experts on the subject. The Chronicle talked to some who worried about the impact of Williams’ suicide on those struggling with depression. “I get concerned about people wondering if people as promising as him with all these resources available can’t make it, what are the chances for them?” Patricia Arean, a UCSF clinical psychologist and psychiatry professor, told the paper.

She said many people who are depressed often can’t find their way to the appropriate treatment if what they’re currently doing to address their condition isn’t working. Continue reading

5 Things You Should Know About Sun Protection

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Kathy Shield

It’s almost the end of summer. But not quite. There’s still plenty of time left to be outside – and plenty of opportunities to get sunburned if you’re not careful. Sun-damaged skin increases your risk of skin cancer down the road.

Rates of melanoma have been climbing for the last 30 years. KQED Forum recently called together three experts on sun damage and skin cancer, and we’ve distilled their recommendations here so you can protect yourself.

1. When Buying Sunscreen, The Right SPF is Everything
You’ve seen all those SPF number: 15, 50, 100. The takeaway here is that you should buy a product with an SPF between 15 and 50. Continue reading