Alas, there are still lots of people who don’t get a flu shot every year which is something I simply don’t understand in large part because the potential downside seems to be so terrifically small.
So, unless someone one day clearly shows that getting a flu vaccine can impact your health negatively in an important way – like for example, making you more likely to get some type of flu in following flu seasons (this potential problem is being vigorously studied, by the way) – the positives that we do know from getting a flu shot every year have won the day in a large way.
Why do I say that?
For a start, the flu can be a severe infection with huge potential complications such as pneumonia and death so it’s important to remind flu-shot doubters that every year the flu kills thousands of North Americans, usually the very young, the very old, and those with diminished immunity or who have certain chronic illnesses, but some seasons flu also kills the healthy and vigorous in large numbers.
And then there’s this key reason: Herd immunity, meaning that the more people who are immunized against the flu, the more protection the vulnerable have against the flu.
And finally, every year, we learn more advantages from an annual flu vaccine, such as this recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco which found that even though the overall flu vaccine effectiveness was only 52 % in the recent flu season, young kids who got a flu vaccine had half the rate of being hospitalized with flu-related illness compared to kids who didn’t get a flu shot.
This fall, do yourself – and the rest of us – a favour and get a flu shot.
And try to convince those around you to get one too.
A common concern that pops up regularly in my email is about health records, namely, about who actually owns your medical records.
For once, I’m happy so say that the answer is pretty simple: you “own” all the health data that’s been accumulated about you, no matter where that data has been stored or by whom.
In other words, you own the record of your own health history and you own the record of your own pharmaceutical usage, although the people who took the “notes” own the actually physical source in which those notes have been stored.
But if you wish to switch health providers for some reason, the bottom line is straight-forward: you can do so and the owner of your health records must transfer that information to your new provider, something that’s much easier to do than it used to be since the widespread introduction of electronic forms of storing data.
And as always, when in doubt or if you have any questions, speak to your health professional directly about your concerns.
Here’s yet another reason to be cautious about jumping on the ASA bandwagon. A study has linked the regular use of ASA with a higher risk of age-related macular degeneration or AMD, a very debilitating form of eye disease in which the central part of the retina, the macula, is gradually destroyed, which leads to progressive inability to see.
Now, for many people, the benefits of taking ASA may – probably do – still outweigh the risks, but the key thing to remember is that there is no formula for this and the best thing to do (it should be mandatory, I think) is that anyone taking ASA regularly sit down and have a good discussion with their primary care doctor about the balance between the risks and benefits of ASA for their particular unique situation.
TV gets a very bad rap when it comes to assigning blame for our evident problems with obesity. Study after study has concluded that people who watch TV weigh way more than non-TV watchers. The former do less exercise, and they also tend to have much worse diets.
But two very key questions that remain unanswered by most of these studies are these: is it the TV watching that leads to the poorer health habits? Or do people with poor health habits choose to watch more TV?
And second, are all TV watchers equally at risk?
Well, seems to me that if there were no TV around, people who want to sit and eat fatty snacks would find other ways to fulfill their needs so I have long tended to absolve TV of much of the blame for why we’re fat and lazy (and yes, perhaps my views are coloured by the fact that I work on TV).
But there is a bit of evidence now to point to in order to back up what I believe: A European study published in the International Journal of Public Health has concluded that “news junkies” (mostly from TV, but also those who follow news on radio and in the press), tend to have healthier diets (specifically, they adhere more closely to a Mediterranean diet) than do people who are not avid news followers, which translates into eating more fruit and more fresh fish while consuming less meat.
In other words, TV viewing can actually improve health outcomes, which is why if you’re not doing it already, you should make a resolution to never – never, never – miss another episode of Health Headlines with Dr. Art Hister on Global TV.
Just suggesting this for your health, of course.
The good news is that you can lower your risk of stroke.
The bad news, at least for some of you, is that you have to eat your veggies.
A study (published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Medical Association) involving over 30,000 Swedish women, some of whom had pre-existing cardiovascular disease, found that those who ate the best diet in terms of anti-oxidant intake had a significantly lower risk of stroke than women who ate a poorer diet, which is no surprise, of course.
But what is a bit of a surprise is that the women eating an anti-oxidant-rich diet had a lower risk of stroke even if they had a history of heart disease.
In other words, and this should be no surprise, the people who likely gain the most from starting to follow a healthy health practice, which in this case is to eat your veggies, are also likely to gain the most from making that change.
Which doesn’t mean, of course, that those of us who are already doing the right things don’t have to emphasize doing them as much – it’s just that we start from a better place in that dash to live longer and healthier, so we don’t have nearly as much to gain from improving what we are already doing.
I know you’re probably sick of hearing by now about how you need to exercise more in order to prevent so many conditions, especially, of course, cardiovascular problems like heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.
In fact, exercise is such an effective “preventer” of illness, if it came in the form of a pill, everyone would be lining up to get more than their fair share to swallow.
But what’s so amazing about the benefits of exercise to me is that it’s not only the best weapon we have to fight off many conditions, it’s an effective tool to make a person feel better even after they’ve become sick with such conditions, and the latest evidence of that comes from a Spanish study presented at the recent American Stroke Association meeting.
In this study which involved 159 patients, the researchers concluded that the higher the level of fitness in a stroke victim, the better their chances of surviving the stroke with less damage.
That is, if you are unlucky enough to suffer a stroke, the wee bit of good news is that the more fit you were to begin with, the more effectively the anti-clotting drugs that prevent stroke damage if given shortly after a stroke will work on you.