Since 2010, the flu has resulted in about 500,000 hospitalizations yearly and contributed to about 25,000 deaths. That’s why the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) urges everyone 6 months and older to get vaccinated. But a recent survey disclosed that only 48% of adults said they had received a flu shot in the previous 12 months.

One reason for not receiving this valuable protection is based on the premise that the shot “doesn’t work,” but actual research indicates that the shot cuts your risk by about 50% or more. And even if you contract the flu, the symptoms will be mitigated with a reduced likelihood of serious complications—including death!

Another reason frequently given is that the shot may actually cause the flu. However, all the flu vaccines in use today contain an inactivated virus that can’t trigger the flu. But since the vaccine doesn’t eliminate entirely your chance of getting the flu, some people who develop flu-like symptoms after getting the shot wrongly blame the vaccine, or might be suffering from a condition that only mimics the flu.

Another excuse I hear for not getting the shot is that is contains a harmful amount of mercury. But this is a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal found in some vaccines, but if present, only in trace amounts. This kind of mercury—ethylmercury—is eliminated by the body more quickly than is methylmercury, the form in some seafood. Moreover, no research has ever linked this substance to any complications, including autism.


    For teens and adults: a quadrivalent vaccine is recommended, which protects against four flu strains.

For people 50 and older: Flublok Quadrivalent, which has triple the dose of other quadrivalents.

For people 65 and older: They have two choices—Fluzone High-Dose and Fluad. Both protect against three strains, but Fluzone has four times the dose and Fluad adds an ingredient to boost the immune system’s response, a property that leads me to recommend this latter choice.

Under all circumstances, do not fail to consider this protection, which can be obtained from you doctor, but also quickly and easily in many pharmacies such as Walgreen’s and CVS.



Soon after her husband died of colon cancer in 1998, Katie Couric, the journalist and television personality had a televised colonoscopy to promote the test. Rates of screening colonoscopies soared for at least a year. Or, call it the “Angelina Jolie effect”. In 2013, the actress wrote an editorial in the New York Times about the tests she had for genes (called BRCA) linked with breast and ovarian cancer, and how the positive result led her to have a double mastectomy. Soon after, rates of BRCA testing jumped.

Whatever you call it, the effect is real. When it comes to matters of health, celebrities can have an enormous impact.

It’s good when celebrities do good

The impulse to take a challenging or tragic medical experience and turn it into something that helps others is commendable. It may be easier to keep such matters private or avoid talking about them in public. But time and again, we see celebrities joining forces with health-promoting organizations, speaking out, and sharing their stories to help others in making decisions. Many have credited Katie Couric with removing the embarrassment associated with colonoscopy and showing how apparently easy it is.

But there is a downside

There are a number of ways celebrity pronouncements on matters of health can go wrong. For example, the information can be faulty or confusing. The forays of Jenny McCarthy (who claimed vaccines cause autism) and Gwyneth Paltrow (who recommended vaginal steams to “cleanse the uterus”) into matters of health and illness are examples of influence most doctors would consider unhelpful or even dangerous.

Although Katie Couric’s colonoscopy experience seemed like a brave and unique way to get her message across, she was 43 years old at the time. Since guidelines suggest people begin routine screening at age 50, she was actually not a good candidate for the test. Unless she had symptoms (such as intestinal bleeding), a strong family history of early colon cancer, or some other special circumstance that put her at higher than average risk for colon cancer, her colonoscopy could be considered unnecessary testing. And that could have led others to have unnecessary testing as well.

A recent study raises a similar concern about Angelina Jolie’s BRCA testing. It found that in the weeks after her editorial was published, testing increased by more than 60% (at an estimated cost of $13.5 million). However, mastectomy rates actually fell over the next two to six months, leading the authors to suggest that most of the additional women who had testing had negative results and therefore may have been poor candidates for testing in the first place. Of note, the study did not confirm whether those having the BRCA test had risk factors (especially a family history of early breast or ovarian cancer) that would make the test appropriate. Critics of the study have suggested that mastectomy rates within six months of testing is not an adequate measure of whether the tests were appropriate. Still, the point is worth considering. When a celebrity recommends a medical test or treatment, the audience is not limited to those who are most likely to benefit.

But this is only a small sample of so much mischief reverberating in our media. Both Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Travis Stork and his co-hosts (The Doctors) are licensed physicians (celebrities?), but despite their credentials, seem to be willing to dispense unproven, false or misleading information. Many other so-called “authorities” lack even these credentials and, as you might anticipate, they dole out copious misinformation to an unsuspecting—and often uncritical—public. One example (of many) concerning Ozy was a charge brought by the U.S.  Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that he was involved in a scam to deceive consumers through fake news sites and bogus weight loss claims: Oz had touted the use of the dietary supplement Pure Green Coffee as a potent weight loss treatment that supposedly burns fat. He claimed falsely that users of this product could lose 20 pounds in four weeks, 16% of body fat in 12 weeks, and 30 pounds and four-to-six inches of belly fat in 3 to 5 months. Sounds too good to be true—yes it was! According to representatives of the FTC, “Not only did these defendants trick consumers with their phony weight loss claims, they also compounded the deception by advertising on pretended news sites.”

The bottom line

For any medical test or treatment, ask whether it’s likely to be helpful. The answer may be straightforward. For example, a well-studied and well-accepted screening test may be recommended based only on your age and gender. But in many cases, the answer may rely on a considerable amount of judgment based on how likely it is that you have—or may develop—a particular condition, the ability of the test to detect it, and the impact of the test result on treatment decisions. For example, if a person has knee pain that’s mild and well-controlled with exercises, it may make little sense to have an MRI, as the results are highly unlikely to affect treatment.

If your doctor recommends a test or treatment, make sure you understand why. And if it’s a celebrity making the recommendation, do yourself a favor: run it by your own doctor—and not the TV variety!






      Skipping breakfast, unhealthy diets, and overeating are known to contribute to weight gain, but new research suggests the simple act of eating too fast may also promote obesity.

After 5 years of follow-up of 1083 Japanese men and women who rated their eating speed during a yearly health exam, new-onset obesity was diagnosed in 11.6% of fast eaters, 6.5% of normal eaters, and 2.3% of slow eaters. Fast eaters also saw greater gains in waist circumference as well as overall body weight, according to data reported at the American Heart Association 2017 Scientific Sessions.

“If you feel your own eating speed is faster than other people in daily life, you may have a risk factor for obesity, a risk factor for diabetes”, according to author Dr Takayuki Yamaji (Miyoshi Central Hospital, Hiroshima, Japan)..

This is not the first time the association has been observed, with another study, among 8941 Japanese adults reporting that fast eating correlated with a 30% risk-adjusted increase in obesity compared with slower eating. Several studies have also shown that fast eating contributes to the new onset of obesity, in part because it prompts overeating.

“If you chew your food many times, you spend more time at meals, you’re more likely to feel full,” Yamaji said. “It takes about 20 minutes for signals from your stomach indicating that you are full to reach your brain.”  Eating fast also causes acute glucose fluctuations, he said. As a result, oxidative stress is increased which leads to increased insulin resistance, decreased insulin secretion, and can further lead to hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar levels). Fast eaters were also significantly more likely than slow eaters to have higher levels of fasting blood glucose (sugar) and lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, though triglycerides and blood pressure were similar.

Fast eaters were less likely than normal or slow eaters to report drinking alcohol everyday but also significantly more likely to eat dinner 2 hours before sleeping at least three times a week, snack after dinner three or more times a week, and to have gained weight in the past year.

Even after adjustment for multiple potential confounders, however, risk of new-onset obesity remained significantly higher among fast eaters than normal eaters or slow eaters.

Dr Scott Grundy (University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas), who was not involved with the study, said “This is not a subject that I’ve seen in the literature, but it’s worth consideration and future research. It’s an interesting idea.” He also noted that it seems reasonable that people who eat too fast may also eat too much.

Yamaji suggests this can be particularly perilous as Americans consume holiday meals, where the sentiment is often whoever eats the fastest gets the most. “Festive meals tend to have more calories. Please eat slowly and be careful not to eat too much,” he cautioned.


This information raises the age-old question: Does correlation mean causation? That is, does fast eating cause obesity, or do people who eat rapidly possess other (maybe unknown) characteristics that destine them to become obese even if they were to slow their eating pace? Moreover, do Japanese differ in other ways that may invalidate these conclusions? Such questions extend to all sorts of scientific investigation—even political—as exemplified our rising stock market since the election of Trump. Did Trump cause the market to rise, or would it have risen anyway of its own volition. You can supply lots of other examples by observing a plethora of current and historical events. Unfortunately, in these historical or societal situations, there is almost no way to gain definitive answers.

In the case of rapid eating, however, we could design an intervention in which we enlist two normal groups—one instructed to eat slowly, and the other, to eat rapidly. After several months of careful follow-up, weight differences between the groups are tabulated. If, after such study, excessive weight accumulation is found in the rapid-eaters, then we are positioned to form a more accurate conclusion that eating fast truly causes more weight gain.

In the meantime, it certainly doesn’t hurt to eat slowly and chew your food well!