What is alopecia areata and how is it managed?

woman lit from behind has a concerned expression as she holds a hairbrush in front of her with a substantial amount of hair in it, suggesting hair loss

Alopecia has been in the news recently. But what does it mean to have alopecia? Alopecia is a catch-all term that encompasses all types of hair loss. Hair loss is a common problem for many men and women, and most people will experience some type of hair loss during their lifetimes.

Alopecia areata (AA) occurs when the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. AA can affect the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or anywhere hair grows on the body.

What causes alopecia areata?

The immune system protects the body against foreign invaders like bacteria or allergens. When the immune system isn’t working as it should, it can attack hair follicle cells, making them prematurely enter their “resting” phase (called telogen), stopping hair growth.

The exact trigger for this immune response is unknown, although environmental factors, genetics, and stress may all play a role.

AA affects patients of all ethnicities and genders. It is one of the most common hair loss disorders. Most people who develop AA are younger than 30, but AA can occur at any age.

What does alopecia areata look like?

AA usually starts as a sudden appearance of small, round patches of hair loss without redness or scarring. Rarely, this can progress to a complete absence of body and scalp hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes.

The diagnosis is often made through an examination by a doctor (usually a dermatologist), and may involve use a of a dermoscope (skin surface microscope) to help. If it’s not clear that AA is the cause of hair loss, the doctor make take a scalp biopsy (removal of a small amount of skin) to help get a clearer diagnosis.

Nail changes are found in approximately 10% to 20% of patients, and may occur more commonly in children or those with severe cases.

Because AA is an autoimmune condition, it is not surprising that it may be associated with other immune-driven conditions such as vitiligo, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, celiac disease, lupus, allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, and thyroid diseases. Blood tests for thyroid dysfunction are often done to rule out thyroid conditions that affect hair loss.

AA frequently causes psychological and emotional distress and can negatively impact people’s self-esteem. People with AA have an increased risk for anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What is the prognosis for alopecia areata?

The natural course of AA is unpredictable; however, most people with AA achieve hair regrowth within a few years. Regrowth is most likely to occur in patients with milder hair loss. The AA subtype also contributes to the prognosis: the risk of progression from limited alopecia areata to complete scalp hair loss (alopecia totalis) or whole-body hair loss (alopecia universalis) is approximately 5% to 10%.

The most important indicators for prognosis are the extent of hair loss and the age when AA starts. People who develop AA at a younger age usually have the worst outcomes. Certain subtypes of AA may also be less responsive to treatment options.

What are current treatments for alopecia areata?

Before treatment is started, it is essential to have realistic expectations, and to know that at this time there is no cure for AA and that the goals of treatment are to suppress hair loss and promote regrowth. Due to the unpredictable nature of AA, recurrence can happen, with only 30% of patients experiencing long-lasting remissions.

The first treatment choice for patients with limited, patchy AA is topical steroids (applied at home by the patient) or locally injected steroids (applied by the doctor), because of the minimal side effects, ease of application, and excellent response in most low-severity cases. Occasionally, specific topical irritating medications are applied to the scalp to try to reset the autoimmune process and regrow hair. Some of these prescriptions are squaric acid or anthralin (which may have other brand names), and they are also applied during doctor’s office visits.

For rapidly progressing or more widespread alopecia, systemic steroids or other immunosuppressants can be used. Recently, a newer class of medications called JAK inhibitors has shown promise at improving even advanced AA, but there has been a high relapse rate if treatment is stopped. Nevertheless, many clinical trials are being done for new AA treatments.

Family and patient education, as well as psychological support, are essential in the management of AA. Prosthetic and cosmetic options, like wigs, are also options in more extensive or nonresponsive cases. Support groups can be found on the National Alopecia Areata Foundation website.

LATE: A common cause of dementia you’ve never heard of

photo of human brain scans on a computer screen

If dementia is a general term that means thinking and memory has deteriorated to the point that it interferes with day-to-day function, what are the top three disorders that cause dementia in older individuals?

Did you think of Alzheimer’s disease? Good! Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. Did you also think of vascular dementia or strokes? Excellent! Vascular dementia is the second most common cause. What about the third?

It’s not Lewy body dementia, although Lewy body dementia (encompassing both dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia) is the fourth most common cause. Individuals with this disorder often have features of Parkinson’s disease, visual hallucinations of people and animals, fluctuations in attention and alertness, and they may act out their dreams in bed.

It’s not frontotemporal dementia. Individuals with this disorder are often in their 60s or younger. They generally have problems with behavior or language.

So what’s the answer? It’s LATE, which stands for limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy.

What’s LATE?

In LATE, a protein called TDP-43 (which stands for transactive response DNA binding protein of 43 kDa) accumulates in brain cells. Once it accumulates, it injures and ultimately destroys the cells.

LATE generally damages many of the same areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease. These regions include

  • the amygdala, involved in emotional regulation
  • the hippocampus, involved in learning and memory
  • the temporal lobe, involved in words and their meanings
  • portions of the frontal lobes, involved with keeping information in mind and manipulating it.

What are the symptoms of LATE?

Because LATE affects many of the same brain regions as Alzheimer’s disease, it often presents with similar symptoms, including

  • memory loss (impairment in episodic memory)
  • trouble finding and understanding words (impairment in semantic memory)
  • trouble keeping information in mind (impairment in working memory)

How common is LATE?

By itself, LATE is estimated to cause about 15% to 20% of all dementias. Many people with dementia also have LATE pathology in addition to one or more other pathologies in their brain. For example, an individual may have the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s pathology, plus LATE pathology, plus ministrokes (vascular pathology). It turns out that about 40% of people with dementia have at least some LATE pathology in their brain. All of this means that LATE is, indeed, very common.

How is LATE diagnosed and why haven’t you heard of it before?

LATE can only be diagnosed with certainty at autopsy. However, we can get a hint that LATE might be present when an older individual shows the memory loss and word-finding problems common in Alzheimer’s disease, but special tests used to confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s come up negative.

The reason that you — and most clinicians — haven’t heard about LATE before is that we didn’t realize just how common it is. It was only when we began obtaining results of special tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in living individuals (such as with a lumbar puncture or amyloid PET scan) that we began seeing the prevalence of LATE.

Can LATE be treated?

Because LATE was (and still is) often confused with Alzheimer’s disease, it is almost certain that when the main drugs that are FDA-approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease were evaluated, individuals with LATE were included in those studies. This means that there is every reason to believe that drugs like donepezil (brand name Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), memantine (Namenda), and galantamine will all be effective for individuals with dementia due to LATE.

How can you find out more about LATE?

There has been an explosion of scientific papers about LATE in just the last few years. If you have a science background, you might want to peruse them or watch the wonderful scientific symposium on this disorder held by the National Institute on Aging (NIA). If you don’t have a science background, take a look at the NIA or Wikipedia pages on LATE.

A common virus may be one contributing cause of multiple sclerosis

Enlarged particles of the common human Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) shown in bright green, spiky blue, orange, and pink against a dark blue background

Discovering the cause of a disease is not easy. One reason is that the vast majority of diseases do not have a single cause. Instead, most diseases occur because multiple factors combine to cause the disease.

One factor is genes. Some people are born with one or more genes that make them vulnerable to a disease. Other factors come from your environment and behavior: what you eat, the air you breathe, the amount of physical activity you engage in, and habits such as smoking. Recent research finds that certain viruses may also be important contributing factors in causing multiple sclerosis (MS).

Multiple sclerosis harms cells in the brain and spinal cord — but why?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that can cause many neurological symptoms, including arm and leg weakness, loss of vision, and difficulty thinking, as well as severe fatigue. Over the past 50 years we’ve learned that MS is an autoimmune disease: in various ways, the immune system attacks the brain and/or the spinal cord, leading to the symptoms of the illness.

However, we haven’t figured out why: what causes the immune system to go on the attack? Over the years, several viruses have been proposed as causes of MS, only to have subsequent research show that they were not. That led some MS doctors and scientists to discount viruses as possible causes.

Yet growing evidence in recent years points to several viruses that may be triggers of MS. The strongest evidence is for Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This virus infects most people in developed nations like the US in their teen or young adult years.

Once a person is infected, the virus quietly remains alive in the body for the rest of a person’s life. In most people, it causes no health problems. But, rarely, it can cause certain cancers. Now, it has been linked to multiple sclerosis.

Delving deeper into a link between Epstein-Barr virus and MS

A large, long-term study from Harvard, published in the prestigious journal Science, attracted a lot of attention. Blood samples were repeatedly collected from 10 million US military personnel over 20 years. The samples were tested for evidence of infection with EBV.

Over the 20 years, some people in the study developed MS. The researchers compared two groups: people who were not infected with EBV when they entered military service, but then became infected later on; and people who remained uninfected by the virus. Those in the first group were 32 times more likely to develop MS than those in the second group. On average, symptoms of MS began about five years after a person became infected with EBV.

What do these findings tell us? The study provides strong evidence that a new infection with EBV is one important factor — maybe even a necessary factor — in causing MS. But the story is more complicated than that. Think about this: About 95% of all humans become permanently infected with EBV by early adulthood, but fewer than 1% of people develop MS. So, just being infected with EBV doesn’t mean a person will get MS — far from it. Indeed, other factors besides EBV infection also must be involved in causing MS.

Those other factors almost certainly include being born with certain genes that make you vulnerable to getting MS. Being infected with other viruses, as well as EBV, also may be important factors.

But which viruses? In my opinion, growing evidence indicates that a “cousin” of EBV, called human herpesvirus-6A, also may be important in triggering MS. And the genes of endogenous retroviruses also may be factors.

What are endogenous retroviruses?

About 8% of the genes that we are born with come from ancient viruses called retroviruses. These viral organisms successfully inserted their genes into the genes of the animals that preceded, and led to, humans. Some of those genes can be turned on to make proteins that affect our immune systems. Finally, there is evidence that each of these viruses — EBV, human herpesvirus-6A, and endogenous retroviruses — can activate one another, and gang up to cause a disease.

Going forward: New research may offer new leads for prevention

If the Epstein-Barr virus is one important factor in causing multiple sclerosis, then it is possible that vaccines against EBV might lead to fewer cases of MS. Indeed, several scientific groups around the world are working on such vaccines.

One company that made the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 is working on an mRNA EBV vaccine. The National Institutes of Health also is developing a vaccine. However, it is unlikely we will know if they are effective against EBV, or against the development of MS, for at least a decade. Still, the linkage with this virus may prove to be an important milestone in ultimately conquering multiple sclerosis.

Long-lasting healthy changes: Doable and worthwhile

Graphic of the words "old habits" and "new habits" on torn blue paper

I’ve been a physician for 20 years now, and a strong proponent of lifestyle medicine for much of it. I know that it’s hard to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes, even when people know what to do and have the means to do it. Yet many studies and my own clinical experience as a Lifestyle Medicine-certified physician have shown me a few approaches that can help make long-lasting healthy lifestyle changes happen.

What is lifestyle medicine?

In the US, lifestyle medicine is built around six pillars: eating healthy foods; exercising regularly; easing stress; getting restful sleep; quitting addictive substances like tobacco and limiting alcohol; and nurturing social connections.

How will this help you? Here’s one example. A study published this summer in the Journal Neurology followed over 70,000 health professionals for more than two decades. Those who reported eating a diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables had a significantly lower risk of subjective memory loss — which is a sign of dementia — compared with those who did not.

A multitude of studies over many years have mined health data on this same cohort. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett observed that, based on these studies, four combined healthy lifestyle factors — a healthy diet, not smoking, engaging in moderate activity, and avoiding excess weight — could prevent about 70% to 80% of coronary heart disease and 90% of type 2 diabetes. The catch, he noted, is that only about 4% of people participating in these studies attained all four.

Abundant research shows healthy lifestyle factors protect us against serious, often disabling health problems: diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, heart disease, strokes, cancer, and more. Clearly, taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle can make a big difference in our lives, but it can be hard to change our habits. Below are a few tips to help you start on that path.

Find motivation

What motivates you? Where will you find good reasons to change? Yes, studies show that being at a healthy weight and shape is associated with a longer life and lower risk of many chronic diseases. However, in my experience, only emphasizing weight or waist size isn’t helpful for long-term healthy lifestyle change. Indeed, studies have shown that focusing too much on those numbers is associated with quitting a health kick, whereas small goals related to positive actions were associated with successful long-term lifestyle change.

Examples of this include aiming for at least 21 minutes of activity per day and/or five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. (These activity and nutrition goals are actually recommendations of the American Heart Association, FYI!) If we strive to live healthy so that we can live a long, healthy life, we have a greater chance of long-term success — which typically will result in weight and waist loss.

Put healthy habits on automatic

Healthy choices can become more automatic if you remove the “choice” part. For example, take the thinking out of every eating or activity decision by planning ahead for the week to come:

  • Choose a basic menu for meals and build in convenience. Focus on simple, healthy recipes. Frozen produce is healthful, easy to keep on hand, and sometimes less expensive than fresh. Shopping the salad bar costs more, but could help on busy nights.
  • Jot down your activity schedule. Choose some physical activity most days — the more vigorous and the longer the better, but anything counts! Even as little as 10 minutes of light to moderate activity per week has been associated with a longer life span.
  • Track food and activity choices each day. Using an app or notebook for this can help you become more aware and accountable. Try noting barriers, too, and brainstorm workarounds for overly busy days and other issues that push you off track.

Understand how emotions affect you

If feeling stressed, angry, or sad is a trigger for overeating or another unhealthy activity, it’s important to recognize this. Writing down triggers over the course of a week can enhance your awareness. Building better stress management habits can help you stick to a healthy lifestyle plan. Getting sufficient restful sleep and scheduling personal time, regular activity, and possibly meditation, therapy, or even just chats with good friends are all steps in the right direction.

A healthy lifestyle is key to a long, healthy life, and is attainable. Success may require some thoughtful trial and error, but don’t give up! I have seen all kinds of patients at all ages make amazing changes, and you can, too.

Repeating the story: What to expect in the emergency department

Red and white sign outside a hospital with the word "Emergency" pointing toward the emergency department; it's nighttime and an ambulance is parked outside

Hospitals across the country are still scrambling to recover from the toll of an ever-shifting pandemic. What does that mean if you wind up in an emergency department (ED) due to an illness or accident? What should you know and what can you expect? As an emergency medicine doctor at a large teaching hospital, here are some key points to help you navigate a visit to the ED.

The starting line

In the chaos of an emergency department, odds are high that you will encounter a rotating crew of clinical and administrative staff. Their initial goal is to get each person registered for the visit, assess how urgently they need a clinician, and determine which treatment and diagnostic tests are needed. Usually, this is not a simple or quick process. Getting you the care you need hinges on first gathering the information you can provide, and then applying our skills and a range of tools to interpret it. Throughout this process you will be asked to repeat your story several times.

What brings you to the emergency room?

The opening question “What brings you to the emergency department?” is the portal of entry that allows emergency room clinicians to explore your ailment or concerns. The first time around, you’ll probably be eager to answer. The difficulty is the second, third, and fourth time the same question is asked. Yes, everyone is asking the same question, and you are telling the same story.

Good communication is key. We need correct, clear, and comprehensive information from you to guide your care in the emergency department. Seeking and getting accurate information reassures clinicians that informed and complete care is being delivered. Every discussion should welcome you into the conversation so that you may participate while clinicians make decisions.

Throughout your care, you should always be able to say, “Can you please explain what is happening?” or “Could you say that in a different way, because I’m not understanding you.” You can also ask “Is it possible to do this another way?” or “Can I take a break?” (In some instances, of course, that may not be possible.)

Who will you see?

Waiting in the emergency department is itself a journey, particularly at academic medical centers with deep health resources and personnel. At an academic ED like the one I work in, you might first speak with the triage nurse, who asks screening questions that will inform how quickly you need to be seen, then an assigned nurse, who might provide care for you for the entire visit, and later a resident or medical student.

The resident or student ultimately presents your case to me, an attending physician. Some EDs have physician assistants or nurse practitioners who work independently, or in collaboration with attendings. So you might see as many as five clinicians. Often when I ask people to repeat their story I hear, “I’m sorry, I’ve already told the story multiple times. Do we have to go through the process again?” I understand their preference to move the visit forward, not backward. But yes, I have them tell it again, even if it is a shorter version, hoping to glean details that help build a diagnosis.

Why will you wait?

There are many reasons for lengthy waits, which grew still longer at many EDs during the pandemic. First, uniting the team into one conversation is often difficult. Our patients arrive sporadically, procedures need to be performed, phone calls occur, family meetings arise, and so forth. Staggering the team is usually the most efficient way to function.

Teaching hospitals at academic medical centers train future doctors. By seeing you without supervision and discussing their medical decisions with experienced physicians like me, residents and students learn to form their own clinical judgment. Their independence during training helps keep our healthcare system afloat.

Equally important, spacing out interviews can help us find missed information to reach the correct diagnosis. In one case I vividly recall, a nurse initially thought a patient reporting pelvic pain had a urinary tract infection. Later, a junior resident and I asked clarifying questions, hoping to further uncover the root of her illness. We closely examined the location of pain and noticed extensive infection — a severe skin infection called necrotizing fasciitis. We immediately called the surgeons and radiology suite for an imaging scan to confirm the diagnosis and treat her as quickly as possible.

Why is teamwork so essential?

Often nurses, junior residents, or midlevel providers such as physician assistants catch details attending doctors miss during brief histories and physicals. No matter who identifies the diagnosis or orders the correct test, we work as a team. We gather information as a team and compare the data together. The benefit of repeating a history or exam is that gaps close and the best care becomes clear.

A part of the history that was previously skipped is covered. A part of the exam that wasn’t done can be performed. Perhaps you’ll remember enlightening details you had previously forgotten to tell us. Or, as time ticks by, initially mild abdominal pain that offered a hazy clue progresses during repeat exams to severe abdominal pain, and now an imaging study can help make a final diagnosis.

When you’re a patient, it’s hard to wait. It's hard to repeat your story. We know it; we’ve been patients, too. But the system, while not perfect, is built to protect you from the impact of missed information. And in some hospitals, the systems we rely on help train future clinicians — the highly skilled doctors, nurses, and specialized practitioners who will help care for you and many others throughout the years to come.

Tick season is expanding: Protect yourself against Lyme disease


In parts of the United States and Canada, warming temperatures driven by climate change may be contributing to a rise in tick-borne illnesses. Ticks are now thriving in a wider geographic range, and appearing earlier and sticking around later in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. That means we need to stay vigilant about protecting ourselves against ticks that cause Lyme disease and other illnesses— even during winter months in many warmer states and provinces.

Here's a timely reminder about why preventing Lyme disease is important, and a refresher on steps you can take to avoid tick bites.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is best known for its classic symptom, a bull’s-eye red rash that appears after a bite from an infected tick (scroll down to see photos of classic and non-classic rashes). However, 20% to 30% of people do not develop a rash. And a rash can be easy to miss because ticks tend to bite in dark body folds such as the groin, armpit, behind the ears, or on the scalp. Some people have flulike symptoms such as a headache, fever, chills, fatigue, and aching joints. So if you notice a rash or have these symptoms, call your doctor for advice. At this stage, prompt antibiotic treatment can wipe out the bacterial infection.

When people don’t receive treatment because they didn’t see the rash or didn't have other early symptoms, the bacteria can spread to different parts of the body. Not only can the bacteria itself cause problems, but the body’s immune system can over-respond to the infection. Either process, or sometimes both, may harm joints, the heart, and/or the nervous system. And some people treated for any stage of Lyme disease develop post-Lyme disease syndrome, which can cause a range of debilitating symptoms that include fatigue, brain fog, and depression.

How to avoid getting Lyme disease

Preventing tick bites is the best way to avoid Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) may be infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. If you live in one of the areas where the incidence of Lyme disease is high, these steps can help.

Know where ticks are likely lurking. Ticks usually crawl up from leaves or blades of grass on the ground to the legs. So be extra careful when walking through fields or meadows and on hikes where you may brush up against bushes, leaves, or trees. Try to walk on well-cleared paths.

Wear protective clothing. Long pants tucked into socks is the best way to keep ticks from crawling up under the pant leg. Lighter-colored clothing can make ticks easier to see.

Use repellents. You can buy clothing that’s pretreated with the insecticide permethrin (which repels ticks). Or you can spray your own clothes and shoes; just be sure to follow the directions carefully. On all exposed skin, use a product that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), IR3535, para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. This search tool from the EPA can help you find a product best suited for your needs. Pay attention to the concentration of active ingredients: for example, at least 20% but not more than 50% with DEET; between 5% to 20% with picaridin; and 10% to 30% with oil of lemon eucalyptus. Many products come in pump spray bottles or as sticks or wipes, which may make them easier to apply where needed.

Get a tick check. After spending time in tick-infested areas, ask a partner to check you for ticks in areas on your body that you can’t see very well. The common bite areas are the back of the knee, the groin, under the arms, under the breasts in women, behind the ears, and at the back of the neck. The tick species that transmits Lyme disease is about the size of a sesame seed. Note that a tick has to be attached to your skin for 24 to 36 hours for it to transmit enough bacteria to give you the disease.

Power your paddle sports with three great exercises

two kayaks and a paddle board on the beach adjacent to a lake

For my birthday last year, I received paddleboard lessons. I was always curious about the popular water sport and watched in fascination as people stood on almost-invisible boards, paddling along as if walking on water.

Paddleboarding was everything I expected and then some. Still, I quickly realized that it is a serious workout, like all paddle sports, such as kayaking and canoeing. It may look effortless, floating along and casually dipping a paddle in water. But much goes on beneath the surface, so to speak. As warmer weather beckons and paddle season arrives, it pays to get key muscles in shape before heading out on the water.

Tuning up muscles: Focus on core, back, arms, and shoulders

“Paddling a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard relies on muscles that we likely haven’t used much during winter,” says Kathleen Salas, a physical therapist with Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. “Even if you regularly weight train, the continuous and repetitive motions involved in paddling require endurance and control of specific muscles that need to be properly stretched and strengthened.”

While paddling can be a whole-body effort (even your legs contribute), three areas do the most work and thus need the most conditioning: the core, back, and arms and shoulders.

  • Core. Your core comprises several muscles, but the main ones for paddling include the rectus abdominis (that famed “six-pack”) and the obliques, located on the side and front of your abdomen. The core acts as the epicenter around which every movement revolves — from twisting to bending to stabilizing your trunk to generate power.
  • Back: Paddling engages most of the back muscles, but the ones that carry the most load are the latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as the lats, and the erector spinae. The lats are the large V-shaped muscles that connect your arms to your vertebral column. They help protect and stabilize your spine while providing shoulder and back strength. The erector spinae, a group of muscles that runs the length of the spine on the left and right, helps with rotation.
  • Arms and shoulders: Every paddle stroke engages the muscles in your arms (biceps) and the top of your shoulder (deltoids).

Many exercises specifically target these muscles, but here are three that can work multiple paddling muscles in one move. Add them to your workouts to help you get ready for paddling season. If you haven’t done these exercises before, try the first two without weights until you can do the movement smoothly and with good form.

Three great exercises to prep for paddling

Wood chop

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Muscles worked: Deltoids, obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae
Reps: 8–12 on each side
Sets: 1–3
Rest: 30–90 seconds between sets

Starting position: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell with both hands. Hinge forward at your hips and bend your knees to sit back into a slight squat. Rotate your torso to the right and extend your arms to hold the dumbbell on the outside of your right knee.

Movement: Straighten your legs to stand up as you rotate your torso to the left and raise the weight diagonally across your body and up to the left, above your shoulder, while keeping your arms extended. In a chopping motion, slowly bring the dumbbell down and across your body toward the outside of your right knee. This is one rep. Finish all reps, then repeat on the other side. This completes one set.

Tips and techniques:

  • Keep your spine neutral and your shoulders down and back
  • Reach only as far as is comfortable.
  • Keep your knees no farther forward than your toes when you squat.

Make it easier: Do the exercise without a dumbbell.

Make it harder: Use a heavier dumbbell.

Bent-over row



Muscles worked: Latissimus dorsi, deltoids, biceps
Reps: 8–12
Sets: 1–3
Rest: 30–90 seconds between sets

Starting position: Stand with a weight in your left hand and a bench or sturdy chair on your right side. Place your right hand and knee on the bench or chair seat. Let your left arm hang directly under your left shoulder, fully extended toward the floor. Your spine should be neutral, and your shoulders and hips squared.

Movement: Squeeze your shoulder blades together, then bend your elbow to slowly lift the weight toward your ribs. Return to the starting position. Finish all reps, then repeat with the opposite arm. This completes one set.

Tips and techniques:

  • Keep your shoulders squared throughout.
  • Keep your elbow close to your side as you lift the weight.
  • Keep your head in line with your spine.

Make it easier: Use a lighter weight.

Make it harder: Use a heavier weight.




Muscles worked: Deltoids, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae
Reps: 8–12
Sets: 1–3
Rest: 30–90 seconds between sets

Starting position: Lie face down on the floor with your arms extended, palms down, and legs extended.

Movement: Simultaneously lift your arms, head, chest, and legs off the floor as high as is comfortable. Hold. Return to the starting position.

Tips and techniques:

  • Tighten your buttocks before lifting.
  • Don’t look up.
  • Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears.

Make it easier: Lift your right arm and left leg while keeping the opposite arm and leg on the floor. Switch sides with each rep.

Make it harder: Hold in the “up” position for three to five seconds before lowering.

Summer camp 2022: Having fun and staying safe

A boy and three girls walking in the woods with hiking sticks; out of focus trees are leafy green, suggesting summertime

It’s time to make summer plans, and for many families those plans include summer camp. After the past couple of years, the idea of getting out of the house, being active, and seeing other children sounds very appealing.

While COVID-19 is still with us, vaccines and the fact that so many people have gotten sick and developed some natural immunity has made activities like summer camp less treacherous. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that families don’t need to think about COVID-19 as they make their plans, because they still do.

What to do before signing up for summer camp this year

Before even thinking about camp, take into account your family’s particular risk factors. If children are 5 or older and haven’t been vaccinated, now is the time to get the vaccine. If you have any questions or concerns about the vaccine, please talk to your doctor. While you are at it, make sure that children are up to date on routine childhood vaccinations. Many children have gotten behind because of the pandemic.

Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of camp if your child

  • isn’t or can’t be vaccinated, since it’s important to think about factors that might make getting COVID riskier.
  • has health problems like asthma or congenital heart disease that put them at higher risk of complications of COVID-19.
  • has a weakened immune system for any reason. Whether or not your child is vaccinated, it’s always important to check in with their doctor before sending them to camp, or any group activity.

Questions to ask any camp you’re considering

These days, most communities have dropped mask mandates. While it’s certainly nice to not have to wear one — and to see people’s faces — masks do make a difference when it comes to preventing the spread of infection. COVID-19 is still causing illness and is likely to be with us beyond this summer. Before signing up for camp there are things parents should think about — and questions they should ask.

Where is the camp, and where are the campers and staff from? A local day camp with children and staff mostly from a town with low numbers of COVID cases is going to be lower-risk than one in a community with higher numbers, or one that draws from many different communities, including some with higher numbers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a database of case numbers by county.

What is the vaccination status of the staff and campers? Ideally, all eligible staff and campers should be vaccinated — with not just their primary series, but any booster doses they are eligible to receive.

How is the camp screening for symptoms or exposures, and what guidelines do they have in place? This is most important when there are unvaccinated staff or campers, or in areas of higher case counts. The camp should have a plan for screening campers and staff for symptoms, with appropriate plans for staying home, testing, and quarantine based on the results of those screenings. Find out how exposures outside of camp will be handled for campers and staff. Sleepaway camps should have designated quarantine space, and access to testing. Ask about their testing requirements, as well.

Are activities mostly indoors or mostly outdoors? The more outdoor activities, the better. Indoor activities are safest in well-ventilated spaces.

What is the policy on wearing masks? Wearing a mask for 10 days after testing positive for COVID or being in close contact with someone who has it is essential to help others stay healthy. (Also follow recommendations for quarantine or isolation described in this tool from the CDC.) Masks may also be a good idea for indoor situations where people are close together — and some staff and campers might simply feel more comfortable wearing a mask. The camp should have a culture that allows those who choose to wear masks to feel comfortable doing so.

What is the plan for shared equipment and surfaces? One is far more likely to catch an infection from a person than a surface, but it’s important that anything that multiple people touch be wiped down regularly.

What is the plan for hand washing? Regular hand washing with soap and water or hand sanitizer is important to limit the spread of germs, including the virus that causes COVID-19. Parents should ask how often campers will be washing their hands, and about the availability of hand sanitizer.

What is the plan for meals? Eating together increases the risk of transmission of COVID-19. The risk is lower if people eat outdoors or have some space to spread out — and if they bring their own food rather than sharing.

As much as we may all feel done with COVID-19, the reality is that COVID-19 isn’t done with us. Children need the experiences camp can bring, especially after their lives have been so disrupted — and with just a few precautions, they can have fun and be safe too.

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Eating disorders spike among children and teens: What parents should know

A small wooden pawn sees itself reflected in a round mirror in a distorted way as much heavier; concept of eating disorders

During the pandemic, we have seen many more children and teens go to the emergency room with mental health problems. And there has been a notable rise in eating disorders, particularly among adolescent girls. Eating disorders include a range of unhealthy relationships with food and concerns about weight.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are common. In fact, one in seven men and one in five women experiences an eating disorder by age 40, and in 95% of those cases, the disorder begins by age 25. Many kinds of eating disorders may affect children and teens:

  • Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an extreme fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia nervosa often see themselves as overweight when they are at a healthy weight, and even when they are greatly underweight. There are two forms of anorexia nervosa: The restrictive form is when people greatly limit what and how much they eat in order to control their weight. In the binge-purge type, people limit what and how much they eat, but also binge and purge — that is, they will eat a large amount at once and try to get rid of the extra calories through vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or excessive exercise.
  • Bulimia nervosa involves binging and purging but without limiting what and how much a person eats.
  • Binge eating disorder is when people binge eat but don’t purge or restrict. This is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States.
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is most common in childhood. The person limits the amount or type of food they eat, but not because they are worried about their weight. For example, someone with inflammatory bowel disease may associate eating with pain and discomfort, and so may avoid eating. Children with sensory issues may find the smell, texture, or taste of certain foods deeply unpleasant, and so will refuse to eat them. This is more than just “picky eating” and can lead to malnutrition.

Misunderstandings about eating disorders

When most people think of eating disorders, they think of someone who is overly thin. However, you can have an eating disorder and have a normal weight, or even be overweight. The most important thing that many people don’t realize about eating disorders is that they are a serious mental health issue and can be very dangerous. They can affect and damage many parts of the body — and can even be lethal. Of all the kinds of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa is the one that is most likely to lead to death.

What parents need to know: Signs of eating disorders

It’s not surprising that eating disorders have been on the rise in children and teens during the pandemic, given the disruption, isolation, and stress — and excessive time on social media — that it has brought. It’s important that parents watch for possible signs that their child or teen could have an eating disorder, including:

  • changes in what, when, and how much they eat
  • being restrictive or regimented about their eating
  • unusual weight fluctuations
  • expressing unhappiness with their body or their weight
  • exercising much more than usual
  • spending a lot of time in the bathroom.

If it even crosses your mind that your child might have an eating disorder, remember that eating disorders are not about choice. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression play a big role; emotional suffering often underlies eating disorders. And research shows that when you undereat or overeat, it affects the brain processes that control hunger and food intake, reinforcing the eating disorder.

If you have concerns, talk to your child — and talk to your doctor. Even if you are wrong, it may lead to an important conversation about healthy eating and body image that could help prevent a future eating disorder. And if you are right, the sooner your child gets help, the better.

New Harvard tool helps fact-check cancer claims

A word cloud illustrating "myth" and "reality" in blue words against white background with silver pen; contrasting phrases include "urban legend," "data, "fake," and "proof"

The internet is full of warnings about things that cause cancer. Watch out for antiperspirants, scented candles, and bras, dubious web sites or sensational posts on social media warn. Steer clear of disposable chopsticks, microwaves, radon gas, and more. Scary or misleading claims are so plentiful that it’s hard to know which ones to take seriously. "We’ve seen that a lot of people have unnecessary fears about things that might cause cancer, or they’re overly cautious about things that aren’t based on science," notes Timothy Rebbeck, a cancer researcher and the Vincent L. Gregory, Jr., Professor of Cancer Prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

To cut through the confusion, Rebbeck and his colleagues have developed a free tool to help.

What is the Cancer FactFinder?

The Cancer FactFinder was developed jointly by experts at the Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Center for Cancer Equity and Engagement at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. It offers reliable information about whether certain cancer claims are true. "It’s a place to go when you’ve heard something and you’re not sure what to make of it," Rebbeck says.

Log on to Cancer FactFinder and you can:

  • Search cancer claims. Type in a particular term (such as "scented candles") or simply scroll through all of the claims the team has investigated. "We have about 70 right now. We’ll continue to update them and add more over time," Rebbeck says.
  • Learn how claims are fact-checked. The Cancer FactFinder team uses expert opinion from leading scientists and health organizations, as well as scientific evidence from human studies. Note: animal studies are not considered. "It could be that cancer is induced in lab animals by feeding them a particular compound or rubbing it on them. That doesn’t mean it causes cancer in humans," Rebbeck says.
  • Learn who’s on the Cancer FactFinder team. In addition to Rebbeck and his colleagues, there’s a mix of scientific experts and community advocates from groups including
    • BayState Health
    • Boston Cancer Support
    • Boston University
    • Men of Color Health Awareness
    • Silent Spring Institute
    • Yale University.

What can you look up?

Vetted claims on Cancer FactFinder range from A to almost Z — from an acidic diet to wax that’s sprayed onto fruit and vegetables.

Each listing gives you an immediate idea if there’s something to the claim, based on the balance of evidence in humans. A green checkmark means the claim is most likely true. A red X means the claim is probably false. A question mark indicates that there isn’t enough evidence yet to determine if there’s a cancer link. You’ll learn what the science says, how to reduce risk for a particular cancer, and where you can get additional trustworthy information on a topic.

A cancer fact-check in action

Let’s say, for instance, that you plan to join friends on a hike through a park, and you stop by the store for bug spray to ward off mosquitoes and ticks, which you know can cause illnesses like West Nile disease and Lyme disease. As you peruse the options, you remember someone mentioning that bug spray is linked to cancer.

Instead of worrying, you can go to Cancer FactFinder and type in "bug spray." You’ll see a red X signaling that bug spray hasn’t been found to cause cancer in humans. You’ll also see

  • which chemicals have sparked bug spray concerns
  • how to use bug spray properly
  • how to avoid concerns about certain ingredients by using alternative repellents.

Or say you just want to educate yourself about various cancer claims. Remember the ones mentioned so far? Turns out that claims of cancer linked to bras, antiperspirants, disposable chopsticks, microwaves, acidic diets, and wax sprayed on fruits and vegetables are false. Claims of cancer from radon gas and the frequent use of scented candles are true.

The ultimate goal, Rebbeck says, is empowerment.

"We want everyone to start asking questions, learn how to get reliable information, think about what it means for them, and talk to their families and doctors about lifestyle choices. We’re hoping that’s the endpoint of this."