Editor’s note: Dr. Anthony Komaroff’s first column in the People section can be found on Page 2D. “Ask Dr. K” will run on Mondays and Sundays.
Millions of American newspaper readers learned what might be ailing them from syndicated columnist Dr. Lawrence Lamb who was followed by Dr. Peter Gott.
Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff, who grew up reading Dr. Walter Alvarez’s medical column, takes over from Dr. Gott in today’s People section.
Gott is retiring after 28 years of writing his syndicated medical column.
“It’s very much like what I do with a patient in the examining room,” said Komaroff, a practicing physician, member of the Harvard Medical School faculty, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and editor-in-chief of Harvard Health Publications.
“The big difference is that I’m not proposing to diagnose and treat the patient,” he said.
The column is another way of doing the most important thing a doctor does for a patient — explaining, Komaroff said.
“It’s not the treatment choice that matters so much as telling the patient what it means to them,” he said.
“The big killers have not changed since I was a child,” said Komaroff, who is 70.
“I was born as the antibiotic began,” he said. “That changed the big killers. Before it was infectious diseases. Now, it’s chronic degenerative diseases — blood vessel disease and cancer.”
“Heart disease is the big killer of men and women but less so when I began medical school,” Komaroff said.
A woman is four to five times more likely to die from heart disease than cancer, he said.
“But take a poll among women on the street, and they’d say, without a thought, it’s breast cancer.”
What’s the single most important thing we can do to be healthier?
“It’s two things,” Komaroff said. “Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.”
“People don’t realize how powerful those two things are,” he said. “Diet and exercise reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 70 percent.”
Type 2 was once called adult-onset diabetes.
Komaroff imagines he’ll spend five to 10 hours a week on his column.
“I’ll do it when I have a gap in my schedule, weekends or nights,” he said. “I have assistants to pull together core facts, but I’ll do the writing.”
The newspaper column is just another way of communicating to people what they need to know about their health and the health of others.
Harvard’s health publications reach a large audience, Komaroff said.
“We get letters from women who say, ‘I read this in one of your publications and said, ‘My God, this is my husband.’”
Good communication between patient and doctor helps determine treatment.
“When I refer a patient to another doctor, I coach them in what to say to that doctor,” Komaroff said.
“I talk to interns and residents about the behaviors that encourage a patient to let his hair down and tell you what’s going on,” he said.
For all diseases, including Alzheimer’s, “It’s a combination of the genes you were born with and the environment you choose for yourself,” Komaroff said.
He does run across the occasional 100-year-old smoker, but it’s rare, the doctor said.