Living Healthy

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This Year’s Flu Shot Less-Than-Perfect, But Get It Anyway

This Oakland child received a nasal spray flu vaccine at a clinic in Oakland. (James Tensuan/KQED)

This Oakland child received a nasal spray flu vaccine at a clinic in Oakland. (James Tensuan/KQED)

By Rob Stein, NPR

As expected, this year’s flu vaccine looks like it’s pretty much of a dud.

The vaccine only appears to cut the chances that someone will end up sick with the flu by 23 percent, according to the first estimate of the vaccine’s effectiveness by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC had predicted this year’s vaccine wouldn’t work very well because the main strain of the flu virus that’s circulating this year, known as an H3N2 virus, mutated slightly after the vaccine was created. That enables the virus to evade the immune system response created by getting vaccinated. Continue reading

Children Need Rest After A Concussion, But How Much?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Liza Gross

Every parent must balance the thrill of watching a child excel at a favorite sport with the fear that competition brings the risk of serious injury. That fear gripped my sister last year, when my nephew, then 10-years-old, played back-to-back soccer games against two rough teams.

Strict rest seemed to provide no additional benefit and even had some unintended consequences.

After a solid blow sent him tumbling to the ground in the first game, he took several hard hits in the second, including a nasty elbow to the back of the head as he tried to get up. Feeling dizzy, he raised his hand to leave the game, a first for him. He sat out the remainder of the game and felt lousy the rest the day.

Thankfully, my nephew quickly recovered without more serious symptoms. But each year over 173,000 children 19 and under suffer sports-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions.

Treating a concussion calls for resting body and mind until acute symptoms such as headache, dizziness and concentration troubles fade, and then allowing a gradual return to normal activities. Some children must avoid all activity — including computer time and even reading. Continue reading

Beyond Carb-Cutting: Resolutions After A Trauma — Sleep, Play, Love

(J R/Flickr)

(J R/Flickr) 

By Rachel Zimmerman, WBUR

A friend, trying to cheer me up over the holidays, suggested I find comfort in this fact: “The worst year of your life is coming to an end.”

In 2014 I became a widow, and my two young children lost their father. Needless to say our perspective and priorities have shifted radically.

Last year at this time, my New Year’s resolutions revolved around carbs, and eating fewer of them. This year, carbs are the least of my worries. My resolutions for 2015 are all about trying to let go of any notion of perfection and seek what my mother calls “crumbs of pleasure” — connection, peace and actual joy on the heels of a life-altering tragedy that could easily have pushed me into bed (with lots of comforting carbs) for a long time. Continue reading

Using Both Phone Support and Websites Help Smokers Kick the Habit

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

If you’re resolved to quit smoking this year, it’s arguably the one best thing you could do for your health. But it’s not easy, so every bit of help is a good thing.

People who used both state-sponsored telephone quit lines and newer Web-based services to quit smoking were more successful, compared with people who just used one service, a study finds.

That might be because using the two different kinds of help makes it easier to quit, according to the study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published Wednesday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Or it could mean that they’re more motivated, the researchers say — motivated enough to track down and try the different tools. Continue reading

Top 5 Stories on State of Health in 2014

President Obama took a victory lap on Apr. 1 as the first open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act came to a close and millions had signed up. A story about the ACA was in State of Health's top five posts this year. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama took a victory lap on Apr. 1 as the first open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act came to a close and millions had signed up. A story about the ACA was in State of Health’s top five posts this year. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been a big year in health: the launch of the Affordable Care Act, an ongoing Ebola epidemic and the first soda tax in the country, passed by Berkeley voters.

Here on State of Health, all those stories got plenty of attention from you, the readers. But the Top 5 might surprise you. We crunched the numbers and here are the posts that netted the most views this year.

1) What Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Tragic Death Teaches Us About Addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' in Los Angeles, California, last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ in Los Angeles, California, last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

We all know the sad details. In February, Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. He had been an addict as a young man, but given up drugs and alcohol at 22. His relapse cost him his life. But what troubled me most after his death were the heartless social media attacks about his “selfishness” and “poor choices.” Continue reading

How Much Drinking Causes A Hangover?

(ckelly/Flickr)

(ckelly/Flickr)

Editor’s Note: this story originally ran Dec. 30, 2013.

Medically, the condition is called “veisalgia” — from the Norwegian kveis or “uneasiness following debauchery,” and the Greek algia, otherwise known as “pain.”

But you probably just call it a hangover.

The helpful PR coordinators at the American College of Physicians resent information about a review, published back in 2000, titled simply The Alcohol Hangover. “More than 4700 articles have been written about alcohol intoxication (from 1965 to 1999), but only 108 have addressed alcohol hangover,” the researchers, all at UC San Francisco at the time, wrote.

But you probably don’t care about how much research has been done, you just want to know how many drinks cause a hangover. Continue reading

Dieting Done Right: Healthy Weight-Loss Strategies

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Oh yes, this is it: the last few days of the holidays, meaning that after midnight Wednesday, when the New Year rings in, several tens of millions of Americans will start thinking about how to take off the pounds they started putting on back in November — or before that.

When I googled “diet” just now, I got more results than there are people in this country. No surprise that weight loss is pretty much “everyone’s No. 1 resolution,” said Dr. Jennifer Slovis, who leads the weight management program at Kaiser Oakland. She joined a discussion about weight loss on KQED’s Forum Monday morning.

The first thing they did on the show was dispatch the idea that fad diets can work for you long term. “We really only support evidence-based therapies,” said Katie Ferraro, a registered dietitian and professor at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing. “Unfortunately, those are kind of boring: ‘Eat less and exercise more’ are not the sexiest messages out there.”

While you should avoid fad diets, the Forum guests all agreed that individuals have flexibility in how they get to “eating less and exercising more.” Continue reading

Look Out for Nasty Flu Season, CDC Says

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

By Rob Stein, NPR

We may be in for a nasty flu season. That’s the warning out today from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is worried because the most common strain of flu virus circulating in the United States is one called H3N2. In previous years, H3N2 strains have tended to send more people to the hospital than other strains — and cause more deaths, especially among the elderly, children and people with other health problems.

Another concern is that more than half of the H3N2 viruses tested so far this year have “drifted,” meaning they have mutated slightly from the strain used to make this year’s flu vaccine. Continue reading

How Obesity Spills Over Into Our Sex Lives

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Irene Noguchi

Journalist Sarah Varney’s book might make you think twice the next time you step on a scale.

Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and that extra weight increases the risk of all kinds of physical health problems.

But Varney looked at an under-reported area — how being significantly overweight contributes to sexual problems, both emotional and physical — in her new book “XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis is Complicating America’s Love Life.”

For starters being overweight or obese leads to riskier sexual behavior for girls and women and erectile dysfunction for men, she described recently on KQED’s Forum. Continue reading

Scientists Show Dogs Really Do Understand What We Say

(emdot/Flickr)

(emdot/Flickr)

By Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR

Scientists — and anyone who lives with a canine — know that dogs pay close attention to the emotion in our voices. They listen for whether our tone is friendly or mean, how the pitch goes up or down and even the rhythms in our speech.

But what about the meaning of the words we say?

Sure, a few studies have reported on super smart dogs that know hundreds of words. And Chaser, a border collie in South Carolina, even learned 1,022 nouns and commands to go with them.

But otherwise, there’s little evidence that dogs differentiate between speech with meaningful words from sounds that contain only inflections, says neurobiologist Attila Andics, at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest. Continue reading