How Does Your Gut Impact Your Health?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 11, 2016

Beautiful vector illustration of bacterial flora in human internal organs. Abstract medicine concept. Useful for poster, indographics, placard, leaflet, brochure, print, book and ad graphic design.

Microorganisms in the gut produce important nutrients that are essential for your health.

Believe it or not, the bacteria and organisms living in your gut (constituting most of the human microbiome) affect your health more than you may think.

“The microbiome has as much influence on health and disease as our genomes and other environmental exposures,” said Dr. Lynn Bry, Director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center in the Department of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

Microbes (microorganisms) in the gut, for example, produce important nutrients. These include Vitamin K, which provides appropriate clotting of the blood, and B vitamins (such as Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12) that are essential for a healthy brain and production of blood cells. They are also essential in maturing the immune system, gut, and other tissues.

Diet has major effects upon microbial communities. Changes in diet, including sudden changes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake, can rapidly alter the composition of the microbes in the gut and also impact what they do. Other factors that affect microbiota include antibiotic exposures and even factors such as exercise and sleep.

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Preterm Birth May Increase Asthma Risk

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 2, 2014

Research suggests that preterm birth increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood.

Recently published research findings strongly suggest that preterm birth (prior to 37 weeks gestation) increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood. Furthermore, the risk of developing these conditions increases as the degree of prematurity increases.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH); Maastricht University Medical Centre and Maastricht University School of Public Health in the Netherlands; and The University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom reviewed and analyzed 30 studies investigating the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders among 1.5 million children. These studies were conducted between 1995 and the present, a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity.

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Food Allergies: Accurate Diagnosis Is Key

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 2, 2013

A physician-supervised food challenge is often needed to determine whether someone is truly allergic.

If you suspect that you or your child have food allergies, you may want to visit an allergist. “Unfortunately, food allergies are often over-diagnosed. For example, approximately 9 percent of the U.S. population tests positive for peanut allergy, yet only 2 percent are truly allergic,” says Dr. Jessica Savage, an allergist who sees both adults and children in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

If you test positive for a food allergy, your allergist may recommend a food challenge: eating the food under physician observation. Because food allergy testing is imprecise, this is often needed to truly determine if you are allergic or not, or if you have outgrown your allergies. After a successful food challenge, it is generally safe to reintroduce the suspect food into the diet.

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Important Information for Asthma Sufferers

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 12, 2013

Nearly ten percent of adults with asthma have a sensitivity to aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Do you experience watery eyes, stuffy nose, coughing, sinus pain, or chest tightness after taking pain medications like aspirin or ibuprofen? If so, you may have something known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD). Nearly ten percent of adults with asthma have AERD, which is characterized by a sensitivity to aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, nasal polyps, and recurrent sinus infections.

“This is a fairly common condition that is linked with a multitude of chronic health issues,” says Dr. Tanya M. Laidlaw, an allergist in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Desensitization Program. “Even with complete avoidance of aspirin and NSAIDs, people with AERD continue to experience ongoing symptoms.”

The good news is that AERD (also called Samter’s Triad) can often be effectively treated with aspirin desensitization, a therapy that involves slowly increasing doses of aspirin throughout the course of a single day. Most patients are treated in an outpatient clinic setting, where reactions are closely monitored and managed. After the desensitization, patients continue to take aspirin daily to maintain treatment response.

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Your Health: Ten Things that Really Matter (Part 3)

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital February 27, 2013

Tip #9: Be active!

To conclude American Heart Month, we’re featuring ten health tips that were presented by Brigham and Women’s Hospital women’s health experts, Dr. JoAnne Foody and Dr. Paula Johnson, at the Boston Go Red for Women Educational Forum. (Go Red for Women, sponsored by the American Heart Association, occurs each February to educate all women about the need to take care of their hearts.)

Men take note, these tips can benefit you, too – heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Check back with us as we publish new tips through the end of February.


Ask Me 3™ is a patient education program to promote communication between health care providers and patients to help improve health outcomes. The program encourages patients to understand the answers to three questions:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

Patients should be encouraged to ask their providers these three simple but essential questions in every health care interaction. Likewise, providers should always encourage their patients to understand the answers to these three questions. Studies show that people who thoroughly understand health instructions make fewer mistakes when they take their medicine or prepare for a medical procedure. They also may get well sooner or be able to better manage a chronic health condition.

TIP:  Bring all of your medications (including over the counter) to your annual physical.

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Thank You, Dr. Murray

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 19, 2012

Pamela and Patrick, parents of Alanna (donor) and Ryan (recipient), with their transplant surgeon, Dr. Craig Lillehei, at Boston Children's Hospital last year.

Dr. Joseph Murray, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1990 for his contributions to the field of human organ transplantation, passed away on November 26, 2012. He was 93 years old. A gifted surgeon, brilliant scientist, and devoted teacher, Dr. Murray and his team completed the first successful human organ transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in 1954, helping to forge the path for a new field in medicine that has since saved countless lives. Dr. Murray’s work has special meaning for a member of the BWH Marketing team, who shared her story.

When I first starting working at BWH, I was on my way to a meeting when I came across the display about Dr. Joseph E. Murray. I’d long been aware of his pioneering work in kidney transplants, but standing there reading about it and seeing his Nobel  medal in person was quite a moving experience for me.

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Confused about Flu Vaccinations? Get the Flu Facts.

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 4, 2012

Flu season begins in October and peaks in February. Even getting the flu vaccine in January or February may provide protection, especially if the flu season peaks late.

Contributor: Dr. Paul Sax is Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. His clinical interests include infectious diseases, such as influenza, the Zika virus, and HIV/AIDS.


Each fall, you probably see lots of messages urging you to get your annual flu vaccine.  But do you know why you need a flu vaccine every year and when is the best time to get vaccinated?  Read on to get the flu facts.

  • What is the flu? 

Influenza (flu) is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by flu viruses.  Symptoms of the flu include fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and a nonproductive cough. There are three major groups of flu viruses: Types A, B, or C. Within each group there are many different strains of flu viruses and they change frequently. Type A and B flu strains cause the most serious illness.

Seasonal flu is not a specific type of flu virus.  It refers to the group of flu viruses that cause illness each year from late fall to early winter.  These viruses usually reappear each winter in slightly different forms.  Each spring, public health experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) review scientific information to determine which flu viruses are most likely to cause illness in the upcoming flu season.

According to a study by the CDC, more than 200,000 people in the United States, on average, are hospitalized each year for illnesses associated with seasonal influenza virus infections. The flu also can be deadly. From 1976 to 2006, estimates of annual flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from 3,000 to nearly 49,000 people.

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Crowdsourcing Medical Innovation

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital November 28, 2012

Dr. Robert Green, winner of the first BRIght Futures Prize.

On November 15, 2012, the Biomedical Research Institute (BRI) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) held its first Research Day.  The day-long public celebration featured a discussion on the importance of medical research and included 150 poster presentations by leading BWH researchers on today’s hottest health topics, such as obesity, healthy aging, and personalized medicine.

But the highlight of BWH Research Day was the announcement of Dr. Robert Green as the winner of the $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize.  Just as exciting: the use of crowdsourcing, or relying on the collective wisdom of groups, to choose the winner.

Dr. Green was named the winner after nearly 6,500 people from around the world voted for the three finalists online.  Dr. Green and his research team are searching for effective and responsible ways to use DNA sequencing technology in newborns to help families understand a child’s genetic risk for developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

In addition to Dr. Green’s project, the other finalists included a project jointly led by Drs. Phil DeJager and Elizabeth Karlson, whose proposal focused on using genetics and electronic health records to treat multiple sclerosis and a project led by Dr. Robert Plenge, whose proposal focused on the use of technology to unravel the mysteries of the immune system. Read our recent blog post to learn and view more about all three projects.

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Looking for an Election with Three Great Candidates?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 4, 2012

We have three great medical research ideas – but only one prize.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Biomedical Research Institute (BRI) is going to award its first-ever $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize to one of three entrants next month, and they’re looking for your help.

Earlier this year, the BRI asked BWH staff to submit provocative medical questions that they would like to see answered by their research colleagues. From these responses, BRI leadership selected two themes and invited the BWH research community to design research projects to address these themes. These three projects were selected as finalists:


Exploring Genome Sequencing of Newborns – to determine responsible ways to use DNA sequencing to enhance patient care.

Robert C. Green, MD, MPH, BWH Division of Genetics, Department of Medicine

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Fighting Germs on a New Battlefront

Posted by Blog Administrator April 9, 2012

Germs and Vaccines

Recent BWH research about germs and how our body fights them can help us build better vaccines.

Science is ever-evolving. What we know about germs and how our body fights them is no exception – and it’s leading BWH researchers to build better vaccines.

In high school biology, I recall watching an animation of immune cells fighting off germs. In the animation, a virus – pictured as a gooey ball covered in spiky nodules – enters the blood stream, a fluid mixture of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The white blood cells (our immune cells, including both T- and B-cells) suddenly spring into action, identify the invading force, and attack it. The germ (and any offspring it introduced to the system) is killed. But the immune cells file that germ type in their memory and, like soldiers on guard, stand ever-ready to attack – this time stronger and faster – should that germ type ever try to invade again.

According to the latest research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, that old animation isn’t entirely wrong. But it’s not the whole story either.

It’s true that germs – which can take the form of viruses, bacteria, or fungi and can invade our body through our skin, GI tract, lungs, or oral or reproductive linings – set disease in motion. And although my high school animation wasn’t clear on this part, scientists have long known that our T-cells don’t just wait in the blood stream. If a germ enters through the skin, for instance, the T-cells rush there, enter the tissues, and kill the virus.

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